Saturday, September 11, 2010

[The Interview Feature] Types of Interviews

Foreword: Last week Amanda and I discussed the motivations and prep work that go behind an interview. This week we are talking about the types of interviews and how the interviewee influences the length and the style of the interview. Among certain topics, we will discuss the tailored and the static interviews. Or more likely, Amanda will ask and I will be the resident know-it-all.

Amanda: Once you have picked your victim (mwah ha ha!), does that affect the type of interview you will conduct?

Harry: As any good serial killer will tell you, you need to stalk your victims thoroughly and learn all their habits. Where they eat, what they eat, what they read and their preferred choice as far as toilet paper goes. All these are essential. The same applies to good interviewing [even though the comparison is slightly creepy], because it gets the interviewer tuned to the wavelength of the author.

This beneficial in two ways. One, you as an interviewer seem professional [unless I’m delusional about the impressions I make], who knows how to do this. Two, it gets the most out of the conversation and the interview is the best it can be. There is no point in being overly serious when talking to an easy-going author or dropping jokes when speaking to a restraint author.

Amanda: Are some people suited to a different style of interview?

Harry: Yes, I believe so as much as I don’t believe in labeling and categorizing people. I believe that given the right circumstances, a person can be suited for any and every type of conversation. I also believe the same to be valid about interviews, but even so, a person is predisposed to one or two conversation models [judging by myself and the interactions I’ve had with authors and people in general].

I am not as skilled to discern how an author will react to my questions and how he prefers to be interviewed. The written interviews don’t give that kind of information. Now, if the author has podcasts online, I can hear in his voice, whether he likes it shorter or longer, more serious or lighter.

Amanda: Is there ever any benefit of simply asking the same questions of every person you interview? Should you always tailor?

Harry: Yes and no. If you interview an author, then you really want to know more about their work, a book in particular and the author as a person. It’s also safe to assume that you want to learn different things from different authors. It’s common sense to tailor. Otherwise, it shows you are interviewing for the sake of having content on your blog. For the sake of the argument, lets say you’re consistent in what you ask and are comfortable asking [very curious] about a limited number of topics. Then you will receive the satisfaction from the interview, but your readers will eventually get fed up with the same questions.

However, repeating questions works when you’re doing a group interview [kinda obvious]. I believe that has the best examples of how the group interview works. Though, I guess, these interviews group all the answers together. So not exactly what you have in mind. This can also work, when you want to establish a trend and ask authors the same, then sum it up and analyze.

Amanda: How many questions makes a decent length interview? Do some authors prefer shorter interviews to longer? Are you ever given any real guidance or should you just decide yourself?

Harry: There is no universally accepted length. I usually go between 15-20 questions, since I feel comfortable with the longer form. Sometimes though, I can’t personally keep to the number, because I do not feel as nosy about a particular person or because there has been no spark between me and the interviewee. The length is determined by these two factors. If the interviewer is shameless in his/hers nosiness then the interview will be longer and vice versa. The second factor is how well the interviewer clicks with the interviewee. Sometimes the chemistry is not there and the interview shortens or is skinny.

But to answer your question, I think that authors, who reply with one or two sentences on average are best candidates for short interviews. Fewer questions, shorter answers. It just feels proportioned. Authors who answer with multiple paragraphs are more likely to enjoy a much longer interview. Again, proportion-wise speaking.

Amanda: How do you make it sound as though you are conducting an actual conversation in an interview when you have to send across specific questions, and don't know the responses beforehand?

Harry: I send a batch of questions first [six to ten]. When I receive the answers I send a follow-up and then connect the questions with the answers. It’s like plastic surgery. Not entirely organic as far as the flow is considered, but not stilted as sending the whole set of questions. It’s not that hard to do, especially when discussing topics you enjoy. However, there are some truly awesome conversations [not interviews, not really], where the initiator asks a question and the whole is a natural question-reply. I consider Mark Charan Newton’s recent conversation with Alden Bell as the purest and most awesome example of the conversational interview.

Amanda: When is it more beneficial to do a very short interview? What kinds of questions would you ask then to keep it sweet and snappy?

Harry: Two reasons come to mind. One, when you want to be funny and the interview is a way to get a good laugh with the author [given that you know the author]. Two, when you don’t know the author’s work. A version of the last would be promoting a work of the author, which you have not yet read. If you are conducting an interview for any other reason, then a longer chat would be a better option.

I’ve yet to do a gag-interview. I do enjoy some cheekiness here and there, but interrogation is my true vocation. When I start asking questions, I mean business [even if the result is not as I want it to be] and that’s that. Now, for the second scenario. I’d say trust your gut and ask the very first questions that pop. What’s the book about? What makes it different from the evil competition, thus worthy of our attention? Everyone has a different set of go-to questions that are the first to come to mind.

1 comment:

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