Getting Great Interviews


In my time I’ve interviewed many different types of people. None of them were particularly famous, but all of them were interesting.

Interviews are one of the most under-utilized forms of content, and both bloggers and webmasters are guilty of overlooking it. Most people assume that they’ll never be able to interview anyone of interest to their readers, but most of the time this isn’t the case at all.

In this article, I want to show you how to lock-in great interviews with interesting people.

Who to interview

Your interviewees don’t need to be famous, but they do need to be of interest to your readers, and they need to be contactable via the web. Celebrities of any kind generally don’t offer a direct means to contact them (for obvious reasons), so you can shelf those aspirations for now.

Most people won’t agree to do an interview unless there’s something in it for them, whether it be publicity, raising their profile, getting their ideas out there, and so on. To fulfill at least one of these needs the interviewee should be confident that the interview will have an audience. The more prominent the interviewee, the bigger the audience will have to be to make it worth their while. Keep this in mind when deciding who you might try to contact.

Some suggested interviewees for your topic

  • Experts (university professors, highly experienced people, etc.)
  • Prominent bloggers/site-owners
  • Well-known community members (forum veterans, moderators)
  • People succeeding in the field
  • Idea-makers and innovators
  • Authors/journalists
  • People you know (must be of interest to others)

How to get in contact

For bloggers and webmasters you’ll most likely be able to get an e-mail address from where they write. For members of online communities you can usually get in contact via profiles or e-mail links in comments.

For people who aren’t specifically known for their web presence, find out their name and Google them. You might find a personal site, or a blog, with contact details.

If you know where a person works you might be able to contact them via the website of their employer.

If you’re interviewing someone who writes for the print media, chances are you can get their e-mail address by calling up the place they write for. They might also be contactable via the online version of their articles.

How to ask for an interview

For the purposes of this article I’m going to assume your requesting the interview via e-mail, but the basic principles apply for any form of contact.

Write a descriptive subject line
If your target is a prominent figure they probably receive a lot of e-mails each day and may not even open e-mails which don’t explain what they are about. Your e-mail subject should mention that you’re requesting an interview.

Explain who you are
Include your name, first and foremost, and then introduce your site.

Explain why you’d like to interview the person
Who are your readers and why do you think the potential interviewee would be of interest to them?

How many questions
Tell your interviewee approximately how many questions you’re going to ask. This will give them an idea of the time commitment involved. The lower the number the more likely they are to accept, but the end result will be a less comprehensive interview.

This comes back to the cost/benefit issue. If your subject is busy and prominent then they will not want to answer more than a few questions. The more exposure your subject stands to gain from the interview the more time they’ll be willing to invest.

End with the benefits
How many people do you expect will read the interview? The higher you can talk up this figure the better. If you get a lot of visitors per day then it’s fine to mention the daily figure. If your site is light on traffic you might want to say how many people you think will see the interview over the period of a week.

Most importantly:

  • Be polite and deferential
  • Write as you would at school or work — spell properly, use caps, and so on
  • Link to your site so they can see what they’re associating themselves with
  • Never include the questions in your first e-mail

The last tip I’ll leave you with is don’t be afraid of rejection. Don’t hold back on e-mailing a potentially great interviewee because you think they’re out of your league.

You’d be surprised at the kinds of people who will agree to a quick e-mail interview and, even if you do get rejected, they will probably either politely decline or simply not respond. Hardly stuff to shatter the ego.

Next week I’ll discuss what questions to ask and, most importantly, how to ask them.

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