Writers, even shy ones occasionally have to interview people in order to get the information they cannot get through other research avenues.
Interviewing a stranger can be so easy if you keep in mind one simple idea: people love to talk about themselves. That’s what makes interviewing them a snap once you break the ice.
So, how do you do that?
Provide the person whom you plan to interview with your objective.
For example, you might say, “As part of its latest recruiting effort, the Department of Homeland Security has asked that I write a piece about your experiences while training to become an agent.”
A statement like this sharpens your subject’s focus as s/he responds during the interview. If your subject drifts off topic while speaking to you, bring it back just by prefacing your queries with, “during your training experience…”
Many people become nervous when being interviewed. Others, who are more experienced, will be calm when peppered with questions. Since you probably won’t know ahead of time which type of person you will be dealing with, do not lead with a question.
For an inexperienced interviewee, telling you about his/her background can be more relaxing than worrying about how to respond to certain questions. For the latter, s/he expects that you will ask the same questions that others have asked and will likely have “canned” answers already prepared. Obtaining background information from these subjects often exposes parts of the story that have never been told before.
Tell your subject that you’d like some background
before you ask your questions of him or her.
Begin this way; “Tell me about how you first became interested in security.” Be careful to avoid asking a direct question.
Really listen to what s/he has to say because it may help you ask better questions, cover a particular tidbit in more detail, or find a direction for your story that you never anticipated during your preparation for the interview.
Respond periodically, reaffirming those things that s/he chooses to discuss. If you are well-versed in the subject matter, you may be able to simply agree or provide understanding. If not, a simple comment like, “That’s interesting, I never knew the level of commitment it would take to train to become a DHS agent,” will acknowledge that you are listening to what the person is saying and make him/her feel comfortable to continue.
This “telling” by your subject and responding by you sets the tone of the question and answer format. When the person seems to be winding down with the background information they have chosen to share, simply ask your first question. It should feel seamless as you have already broken the ice.