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Joanne Fritz

Save Time and Energy When Turning Interviews into Content

By July 18, 2011

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Whether you're a nonprofit consultant or a nonprofit staffer working in development or communications, you probably conduct interviews that you then turn into content for your blog, newsletter, annual report or other materials.

Getting organized for those interviews is essential, whether you are working with experts in the field (what I usually do) or your constituents in order to capture their stories. You can save time, energy, and get better results with a little time management and planning.

Here are a few tips from my own experience:

  • Pick the right person to interview. That means you must be clear about what results you are after. Do you want a simple reaction to something, such as a new program your org has started? Do you hope to end up with a five-point checklist of how to do something? Or do you want to elicit the feelings of someone who is facing a particular crisis? Once you know just what you hope to accomplish with the interview, you are in a better position to pick the right person.

  • Ask for the interview well in advance. Unless you're covering a breaking news story, you likely have the luxury of letting the interviewee know in plenty of time that you'd like to interview them. Most people are more comfortable if they have a few days to think about what they might say to you. I like to set up interviews at least a week out if possible. I email the person and provide information about who I am, and why I'd like to do the interview.

  • Frame the interview in advance. One or two days before the interview, email the person and outline what you are interested in finding out. Tell him about the audience you'll be writing for, and how you will be using the interview. Provide a short list of questions you will likely ask.

    This email will serve as a reminder of the upcoming interview, and give the person time to think more specifically about their answers. He or she will be much more concise during the interview as a result, saving time all around. Of course, once you're into the interview you can follow up with more questions as they occur to you. Make your questions as open-ended as possible. Don't ask questions that can be answered with a yes or no. Ask questions that are thought provoking. Setting up the questions beforehand also makes it a snap to take notes during the interview.

  • Use the person's expertise to help you frame the interview. Sometimes, I interview experts about topics I don't really understand. In that case, I ask the interviewee to write an outline of what they want to say and send it to me. I then use that as a guide for the interview. An expert will likely be willing to do this.

    For instance, when I was interviewing an expert recently about how to choose a donor management system, I used this technique, and it was successful for both me and the expert. Notice that the question posed is specific: how to choose a donor management system. The expert knew the answer and the steps involved so it was easy to jot down what those were. During the interview I asked more questions that delved a little deeper into the subject or clarified the information.

  • Consider an email interview. If the person is comfortable with writing, send a list of questions and let the person answer them. This works well with experts who are accustomed to writing their own material. You can set up the article as a Q&A, just cleaning up the grammar, spelling and syntax of the answers. I used this technique when I interviewed the author of a recent book about outcomes management. He was happy to furnish the answers to my questions, and the interview was a break from the usual review that I might have done.

    Don't use this approach with just anyone, however. Most of us do better orally expressing ourselves. It would likely be a burden, for example, for a donor or other supporter to answer your questions in writing.

  • Record the interview and take notes. Ask permission to record the interview to stay on the right side of the law. Never rely just on a recording, however. It's a terrible feeling to find after an interview that the recorder thingie didn't work after all.

    Most of my interviews are by phone so I both record and take notes. I use Skype for my interviews and use a headphone and mic so that my hands are free to take notes on my computer. I can record with a Skype add on called "Pamela" or use the built in recording device on my computer. By now I can write my articles from my notes, perhaps just checking the recording to make sure I got the quotes right. When I first started doing interviews though, I transcribed those recordings or got them transcribed.

  • Write your content as soon as possible after the interview. It will take half the time it would if you let it sit and grow dim in your memory. Then send the draft of your article or blog post to the person you interviewed. Now, if you're writing for the Washington Post, you probably would not do this. But, for most of us, there is no harm in letting the interviewee see your work and offer a correction if needed.

  • Say thanks profusely. Sow some good will by being thankful for the interviewee's time and care.

Interviews needn't be time consuming or nerve wracking when you prepare yourself and the person you're interviewing. Picking the right person, framing the interview beforehand, and paying attention to the details will make quick work of the task and provide some of your best content.

Do you have tips for interviews? I'd be especially interested in tips for interviewing constituents of your nonprofit. Please use the comments to chime in.

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Photo: Magictorch/Getty Images

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