I thought I would share how I conduct phone interviews and what little tips and tricks I have learnt along the way to ensure they are successful and run smoothly.
Some of you will need to be able to utilise this skill as part of your job, in particular people working in the journalism profession, so these tips are very useful for developing phone etiquette.
Good Equipment is Essential:
In order to ensure you get a crisp and clear recording, you will need good equipment. I recommend the following.
You Will Need:
– Phone (Mobile or Landline) – I prefer to use a mobile as it has better functionality during a phone call. You will also find you will have other options such as WiFi, should your signal be poor, and vice versa.
– Recording Device – When working from home, I tend to record interviews from my laptop. It has a great recording device built in and makes for easy transcription. You can also use a Dictaphone to store recordings. I prefer to use Dictaphone’s only when I do not have access to my laptop.
– Storage Device – Save and back up files on an external hard drive. You can never be too organised when it comes to ensuring you have copies of recordings.
– Pen & Paper – I know everything is digital these days, but having a pen and paper with you whilst you are listening to the interviewee helps for jotting down those key quotes and any additional notes, ideas or questions that spring to mind whilst the person is talking.
The Perfect Set Up:
It is so important that you choose to do your phone interview in a quiet place, away from other interfering background noises. As the sound coming from a phone will be distinctively muffled, you need to make sure you are limiting any other sounds from making the recording harder to transcribe.
Having your questions written out in a chronological way means that you will be able to keep the interview focused and prevent both yourself and the interviewee going off on a tangent. Try not to stick to it too religiously however, as that can suggest that you are not paying attention to the responses of the interviewee. You may find that their answers encourage you to ask an entirely different question, so just use it as a rough guide.
One of the biggest lessons I learnt when it came to planning, is you can never have enough questions. Come up with more than you think you will need and I will guarantee you, you will use them all up.
I also keep hold of all the questions I have ever asked and store them on file for certain types of interview. For example, when interviewing a band about an album release, I can manipulate the question to suit the artist. It’s a great way to save yourself time for future interviews.
Have a Back-Up Plan:
More often than not, things just won’t go to plan. Your Dictaphone can run out of memory, your phone can die whilst it’s recording…anything can happen. My biggest piece of advice is to have a back-up plan in place. But make sure you have it recording the entire thing so there is no missing segments of the interview. You can listen back to the recordings, keep the clearer version and erase the back up.
Make Your Presence Known:
The first main issue you will face with a phone interview, is the communication barriers. There is no way to silently reassure the speaker that you are paying attention with body language like eye contact or the occasional nod of the head. Make sure to be extra polite when speaking to the person on the phone as you both cannot see physical body language and expressions.
Reassure and Acknowledge the Interviewee:
This is so important when conducting an interview. Make sure to make distinct grunts and occasional phrases like ‘Yes’ and ‘Mmm’. Not only does this confirm to the interviewee that they are actually being listened to, but it will naturally make the conversation less awkward.
It is important though, that you do not make too many of these noises or interject with speech and cause overlaps. This makes it incredibly hard to deduce what is being said when you can hear two people’s voices on the recording.
Interviewing a Group:
My biggest advice when interviewing a group of people, like a band for instance, would be to get the group to say their name before they speak. That way you do not misquote anyone and you can create distinctive sentences.
OK so the interview may have been conducted and published six months but that doesn’t mean you should delete the recording. Often they become good points of reference and should you receive any questions regarding quotes, you have evidence to support the person said what they did.
I hope this has been useful and restored some confidence into how to conduct a good phone interview.
Let me know in the comments below if you would like to read more journalism related posts.