What makes a good interviewee?

After I blogged last Thursday about interviewing and the things I enjoyed about it, I started to think about the people I interviewed as a reporter.

What makes a good interviewee? Bottom line, for me, is someone who is articulate and has something to say that is worth hearing.

Sometimes people underestimate their ability to express themselves well. Some think, wrongly, that what they have to say won’t be interesting or relevant to readers. Others, um, err in the opposite direction.

Interviewees who love their work or hobby (if that’s what they’re being interviewed about), and who are good at what they do, bring something special to an interview. I’ve been surprised more than once that a subject I thought might be boring turned out to be unexpectedly interesting.

It’s also good when interviewees use regular language instead of jargon, especially those whose fields of expertise are specialized. It’s not just that jargon is esoteric, understood by a select few; it’s that sometimes jargon serves as a generic catch-all, masking a more specific meaning. Easy example: “best practices.”

Some interviewees write things down that they want to remember to include in an interview. Reflecting, and clarifying one’s thoughts beforehand often makes for a better and more coherent conversation. But reading complete answers doesn’t work. As a rule, people don’t talk the way they write, and sometimes those written answers end up sounding like “fake” quotes. They’re also likely to disrupt the flow of a good interview.

People often asked me before an interview how long the interview would take. If I’d never met the person, it was hard to predict, because some people are talkers, and some aren’t. But I found, in the end, that whether or not a person is a talker doesn’t predict how interesting an interview will be, or how easy or difficult it will be to write up.

That’s all for today… but definitely not all there is to say about interviewing.

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3 thoughts on “What makes a good interviewee?

  1. Argh – interviews; my Achilles heel! These are great insights from a more experienced writer than I. I hate talking on the phone and have not done a single interview where I wasn’t nervous to death ahead of time. I’m always amazed by people who run businesses or have interests who don’t seem to a) know anything special about what they do, or b) care all that much about what they do, at least not enough to tell me about it. One old trick I always use at the end is to ask, “is there anything I’ve forgotten to ask, anything else you think people need to know about ___?” I get the best stuff from this question!

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