This is an interview guide I wrote for a friend who was interviewing an artist for a radio story. You can use this guide as a primer for any kind of interview because the principles can be applied anywhere.
To get the best answers out of your subject, you’ll want to give them a chance to warm up. Only the most brilliant public speakers can start spouting gems without any prompting. In most cases you’ll want to ask your subject some preliminary questions to get them physically comfortable, comfortable with you, and to get their mental juices flowing.
These questions help tells you what the subject really wants to talk about and it makes them a participant in the process. An interview can feel like an interrogation; this makes it more collaborative.
I find it takes about 7–10 minutes of talking before your subject is able to articulate clear, honest answers to your deep questions. So I like to ask gentle questions to ease them in. This is also good opportunity to follow tangents which reveal questions you haven’t thought of. I like to ask questions that engage the subject’s senses.
Divide a list of questions into categories. Conversations are rarely linear, and if your subject veers down a particularly fascinating rabbit hole, you’ll want to follow them. Categories let you easily glance at the headings and find relevant questions as your subject moves between topics. This can also help you move back to a topic if you want to revisit something.
What you don’t want to do is bulldoze through your questions in order, which is a common error. You’ll end up missing what the subject is saying because you’re focused on the next question in the list. That’s why I’d even recommend not numbering your questions (use bullets) to really drive the point home.
It’s useful to think of some questions with a wrap-up feel to bring the interview full circle.