A great article begins with a great interview. During my internship at Young Post, I had the privilege of being the interviewer as well as the interviewee, and I found both experiences taught me a lot. Perhaps it was fate, but after being stuck in Taipei airport in Taiwan for one night, and arriving one day late for my internship, YP interviewed me about my thoughts on the delay.
Knowing what I said would be quoted in the newspaper for all of Hong Kong to read, definitely added weight to my words. I found myself wondering if what I had said would be too biased, or face unwanted consequences, especially since the delay had generated mixed opinions. I guess this is something politicians and celebrities constantly have to worry about - or maybe regular interviews mean they have grown accustomed to the power of their words.
I was later asked to conduct phone interviews with representatives from two companies for a cover story. I was initially quite nervous, but also excited that YP was entrusting me with this responsibility. My first task was to brainstorm possible questions for the interviews. This was where I learned about the importance of asking strong, open-ended questions that give the subjects the opportunity to elaborate on their answers.
I actually got so carried away making sure I had everything covered that I forgot to write down the most basic questions, such as the name and position of the interviewees - essentials for every interview.
Once my questions had been reviewed and approved, it was time for the call. For me, dialling was the most nerve-wracking part. I double-checked the recorder was plugged in, and after dialling the phone number, waited with a pounding heart for someone to pick up.
What if I dialled the wrong number? Will they pick up? It's ringing … what do I say again?
All of these thoughts kept running through my head during that agonising wait. Until … "Hello?" I knew I had to get rid of all the nervousness, and get my game face on. I was very lucky that my first interviewee was a student, as it meant our conversation was quite light-hearted. Nevertheless, compared to face-to-face interviews, a phone interview is more difficult. Good interviews are all about the interviewee feeling comfortable, so that they reveal more information. Because there is no eye contact or body language in a phone interview, it's harder to get interviewees to feel comfortable, and there's the risk that the interview can feel more like an interrogation!
However, I soon learned to make up for the lack of face-to-face contact through my tone, the language I used, and my voice, and I managed to have a detailed conversation that lasted for 45 minutes.
My next goal: avoid saying "uh" every five minutes.
Also, the transition from question to question was still quite awkward.
As I had discovered, phone interviews, and interviews in general, do not just consist of a list of questions asked systematically and answers recorded.
Journalists have to feed off the interviewee's responses, clarify parts that are unclear, as well as allow the interview to develop naturally. They also have to think up new questions on the spot, all the while making sure the information will support the angle they need to write about.
Since the perspective of the subject is the core of the interview, I found myself altering some of my original questions and coming up with more. It was an exciting prospect, because whenever something new was introduced, it just generated more questions.
Also, I found out that it's not just interviewers who get butterflies in their stomachs. During my second interview, which included a conference call with the head of a company and the PR, I actually forgot to record it - thankfully I only missed the introductions. I won't ever forget the experience of joining my first-ever conference call, because just as the subject was enthusiastically introducing his ideas, he accidentally left the conference call mid-sentence, leaving the PR and myself on the line, waiting until he realised his mistake.
As myself and the PR waited, we chatted, and I found out that the head of the company was quite nervous about our interview. I was so surprised; I honestly thought I was the only one who would be nervous.
Thankfully, he joined our interview after a few minutes. I am proud to say, by that time, my "uhs" and "ums" were drastically reduced.
This experience not only allowed me to improve my skills as a journalist, but also helped boost my communication skills.