Write Tip: 10 Tips For Doing A Good Interview–As Both Interviewer and Subject

Interviews are a fact of life for successful people–especially entertainment people like writers. At some point, you’ll be asked to do an interview about your work. How do you prepare? How do you stay calm and fight nerves? How do you overcome introversion or shyness? Interviews require different things from an interviewer and an interviewee. I do both, so here’s some suggestions to help you in whichever role you find yourself.

As INTERVIEWEE:

1) Be Yourself. The interview was requested because of a desire by readers and the interviewer to know the person behind the stories. So don’t let them down. Be you. Yes, you should try not to be you at your most obnoxious, but don’t overdo it either. Relax, take a deep breath, and be honest.

2) Ask To See The Questions In Advance. Most interviewers will happily supply a list of potential questions in advance. If they don’t, don’t assume they’re out to trip you up or embarrass you. They may just be unorganized. But if they do, go over them, think through and practice potential answers, trying to smooth out the rough edges so you can give them good soundbytes. Public speaking takes practice and even if the interview takes place in private or by email, it will be published in a public foreign so practice makes perfect.

3) Practice. As I started to say above, practice is a vital part of your preparations. Ask someone you trust–your agent or a friend or spouse–to interview you. Sit down like you would in a real interview and field questions. When you stumble, stop, and do it again. Get used to talking about yourself. It’s something many of us are not good at and never comfortable with. That’s okay but you should at least be able to exude confidence and calmness. And that may take practice.

4) Be Prepared To Say No.  You don’t have to talk about anything that makes you uncomfortable. Sort out in advance where your boundaries are and stick to them. Personal and professional can and should be separated for your own mental health. Some people are more comfortable sharing things than you might be. That’s fine. Being yourself means knowing where to draw line and not being afraid to do so.

5) Have Fun. Interviews are more fun both to participate in and read if you have a sense of humor. Don’t be afraid to use it. Figure out the things you like about what you do and share them with a healthy dose of humility. People like those who can laugh at themselves. And your attitude goes a long way in helping you fight off nervousness and relax.

6) Keep It Short. Don’t ramble on and on. Be as concise as you can in answering questions. It’s the interviewer’s job to ask follow up questions if he or she needs or wants to know more. Besides, holding back leaves you with more to talk about later in the interview. Don’t use all you’ve got on the first few questions.

7) Know The Audience. Who’s the interview for? Fellow writers? Talk about how you write, why you write, what your writing day and approach to craft are like. Readers? Where’d the ideas come from? What are the themes and how did you develop them? Who are these characters and why did you write them the way you did? Etc. Knowing who will be the target audience for the interview will help you comfortably shape your answers to  keep them interested.

8 ) Dress Comfortably.  It’s not a job interview. So don’t dress to impress. Dress to be comfortable so you can just relax. If you like wearing a tie, wear one, but if you don’t leave it at home. Don’t dress hot. Don’t dress cold. Be yourself but look presentable so neither you nor the interviewer are distracted by other issues. You’re there to relax and have a conversation. Make that easy on yourself.

9) Arrive Early. Don’t put the pressure on yourself of running late if you can help it. You don’t want to be disheveled or out of breath. You want to be able to relax. So arrive a few minutes early to give yourself a chance to get comfortable with the location and the interviewer before you get down to business.

10) Bring Bottled Water. Many interviewers will provide this for you. Sometimes your publicist will. Don’t be afraid to ask in advance and, if you forget, ask when you arrive. Have cool water to drink when your throat gets dry. Skip the soda or juice or other thick liquids which coat your throat or cause belching or otherwise inhibit smooth speech. Just have water so you can stay lubricated when you need to.

There’s 10 Tips to help you as subject of an interview. Now here’s 10 more for conducting one.

As INTERVIEWER:

1) Do Your Research. Research not just the subject, but read their books. Read past interviews they’ve done. Talk with people who have met them. Get to know how they talk, their speech cadence, typical vocabulary, hobbies, marital status and anything else which can help you. The more knowledgable you are, the more comfortable they’ll be. Know which subjects to avoid, too. Unless you’re working for a tabloid, your goal should be to make both yourself and the subject look good.

2) Prepare Your Question In Advance.  Don’t wing it. Follow-up questions can be done on the fly but your main questions should be written down and refined before you show up. Whether you memorize them or read them off a cue sheet is up to you but have them ready. Know what the intended audience wants to know so you can word your questions appropriately. Also know what the interview subject most wants to discuss so that you can be sure and ask about that. Be prepared.

3) Dress Appropriately. Like the subject of your interview, things will go better if you’re relaxed, but don’t show up looking like you just got out of bed. Be well groomed and well attired. It doesn’t require wearing a suit and tie, just not dirty or torn clothes and shoes. Look professional, even if it’s casual. So the interviewee feels respected and takes you seriously. A confident interviewee is a better interview.

4) Practice. Just like the interviewee needs practice so do you. Once your questions are prepared, run through them. Practice enunciating and talking slower than you might normally so that you articulate well and can be understood. Think up follow up questions which might need to be asked based on various answers the subject provides. Get comfortable with your wording so that you can avoid confusion and stay in control.

5) It’s Your Job To Set The Tone. If you’re relaxed, the subject will feel more relaxed. If you’re tense, so will the other person be. So be prepared to set the appropriate tone. People who are relaxed and comfortable talk more freely and longer.  Make it like a conversation between friends, not a police interrogation and you’ll have more success not only getting through interviews but scheduling the next one.

6) Choose A Good Location. You need a location where both of you can sit comfortable and relax with minimum distractions. If you’re interviewing a celebrity of any level, you don’t want fans interrupting for autographs every five seconds. You don’t want tons of friends hollering ‘hellos’ across the room at either of you. The best location would be somewhere quiet and out of the way, not public. Follow Hollywood’s example and scout the location, even if it’s an hour before. Give yourself time to adjust what needs adjusting, even the location itself.

7) Don’t Be Late. The Subject can be late but you can’t. Keeping somebody waiting whom you’ve scheduled for an interview is not just unprofessional, it’s rude. They are giving you their time out of a probably busy schedule. Any time you miss, will be time you lose, if they have somewhere else to be right after. Also, you’ll want time to relax and feel prepared so be on time. Early even.

8 ) Bring Liquids. Don’t let yourself or your subject suffer from dry throat. Have bottled water or a pitcher of water and cups ready to help lubricate your throats as needed. Don’t even let them ask. Just have it there where they can see it and help themselves. Your preparedness is part of setting the right tone to help them be comfortable as quickly as possible. And your consideration will go a long way in helping a stranger feel like you’re a friend.

9) Make Small Talk. Before you jump right in, make sure the person is comfortable with you. If you’ve met before, it may require only a few quick greetings, but if not, a bit of small talk goes a long way. Ask them about their day, offer water, make sure their happy with their chair, etc. Set a the relaxed tone with your attitude of treating them with respect and care and they’ll assume you’ll do that through the interview and feel much more at ease quickly.

10) Get It Right. Don’t put words in their mouths. If something’s missing or unclear as you review the interview notes or recording after, call or email to follow up. Clarify. Don’t assume. One of your goals is to capture their voice, so be sure it’s them, not you. On the other hand, take out any pauses or stutters or stumbles. Fix obvious bad grammar. Make them look and sound good. They’ll be pleased with you and both they, their publicist, and their friends will be more willing to interview with you in the future.

Well, those are 10 Tips For Conducting Interviews from a guy who has done a lot of them. I hope all 20 tips in this post are helpful. If nothing else, you can understand the responsibilities and concerns of both sides of the interview. Going in informed is always helpful. Have other tip? We’d love to hear them in the comments. Don’t be shy. We’re here to help each other.

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Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

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