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Today is an interview day and the final week before Bread ‘n Molasses September goes live. So far, everything seems to be right on schedule. I’m feeling pretty good about articles I’ve written and the overall content of the new issue.

When I say today is an interview day what I mean is I have interviews scheduled for stories I plan to write.

I tend to get a little worked up before an interview. I think it’s because you never know beforehand how it’s going to turn out. Nine times out of ten everything goes very well and I leave the interview energised and looking forward to writing the article.

But then there’s that tenth time and the whole thing turns into a complete disaster.

Some people just aren’t good interview subjects. They tend to be very closemouthed and typically don’t volunteer any information. They’ll answer your questions but that’s all. They also tend to be very short in their replies, so no matter what questions you ask, no matter how many different ways you phrase a question in order to get a response, they don’t give you much to work with in their response.

It’s not intentional, they’re not trying to withhold information on purpose, different people communicate differently and that’s just the way they do it. But it’s a lot of mental work to interview someone like that, because you really have to pull the information out of them.

Normally, I prepare a list of about seven questions for the person I’m going to interview. Based on that amount of questions a typical interview will last anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour depending on what sorts of other thoughts or questions come up during the conversation. They’re usually pretty broad questions to give the person I’m interviewing a lot of room to tell me anything they want.

The prepared questions help me to maintain control over the interview so when the conversation veers way off into territory I didn’t even know existed, I just have to ask the next question on my list to put it back on track. It’s like my road map for the interview. I’m the navigator and I have to get us back on track when the person I’m interviewing drives down all these roads that aren’t even on the map.

So, preparing the questions requires some thought to make sure I’ve got all the bases covered and the questions are ordered so our conversation will flow and won’t seem choppy. To do that I role-play in my mind, asking my questions and anticipating what the person I’m about to interview will answer. This not only helps me to get the best order for the questions, but also it better prepares me to deal with any surprise twists and turns that might come out in the conversation.

A trick to get people to elaborate more is to be silent. For example, if I ask a narrow question like, “How long have you been in business?”

The person I’m interviewing might answer simply, “Ten years.”

But if I don’t jump right in with the next question, if I let the silence go almost to the point of being uncomfortable, most people will add to their answer to fill the silence.

“Yeah, when I first started everybody said I was crazy, that sort of thing would never fly around here, but I took my time and . . .” And that’s when you’ll get all the best stuff and the good quotes for the article.

But the closemouthed interviewee won’t say anything else no matter how long you let the silence grow. I’ve timed silences before. A full minute or minute and a half of complete silence is a very uncomfortable feeling, even when I’m totally aware of why I’m doing it.

I know I’m in that kind of an interview when I’ve asked my seven questions, they’ve answered, and we’ve been talking for just a few minutes and all I’ve got is a half dozen words scribbled on a sheet of paper to show for it. That’s when I know I’m in trouble.

You’ve really got to do some fast thinking in that sort of a situation to come up with another dozen or so questions that might pull some kind of substantial response from the interviewee. You’ve got to get the information somehow because if you’ve reached the interview stage, you’re committed to writing an article, if for no other reason than the person you’re interviewing will be looking for it in your publication.

Thankfully, those types of interviews don’t happen very often. Usually, I end up having enough information for two stories, let alone one. Still, I get a little nervous before an interview, wondering which way it will go and if I’m well enough prepared to rebound should it go quick and quietly.

I bet you didn’t know interviewing required so much work.

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