Conduct Proper Interviews

Audio interviews can be exciting, informative and moving. Or boring to yawn. Because a successful interview does not only live from the topic. It requires empathy, precise research, a structured questioning technique and good rhetoric. So how do I prepare a good interview? How do I tickle explosive information or true emotions out of my counterpart? And how far can I actually go in order not to make my interviewee my opponent?

As a teacher, you are predestined to conduct good interviews. You prepare your lesson in detail, have profound knowledge of the subject and consider relevant questions. You work out a guideline and know what information should be on the blackboard at the end of the lesson. All these aspects also play an important role in the interview technique. Leading an audio interview can give your students important communication, research and social skills. The following section explains how you can teach them the basics in a practical way.


1) Preparation

What topic or aspect would you like to talk about? Limit the topic as clearly as possible in order to receive only relevant information.

Which questions would you like to clarify, and who would be a good contact person?

What is the aim of the interview and what information would you like to have?

Where and when should the interview take place? Which technical equipment (recording device, camera, microphone, light etc.) is necessary?

Inform yourself in advance about the topic, the person and possible opposing positions.

Which guiding questions should structure your interview?

Outline a possible course of conversation (dramaturgy) and also plan in variations.

Formulate questions and corresponding detailed information in order to be able to support the questions with facts.

2) The implementation

After the greeting you should help to create a pleasant conversation situation. A little small talk before the first question relaxes the mood and creates a positive initial situation. Get in with a simple question and make sure you adopt an open posture. Ask only one question at a time and give your interviewee enough time to answer.

Keep eye contact and signal attention. Use mainly open questions (“W” questions; see “Question types” info box below) to encourage your interviewer to talk. If you want to demand a clear position, you can also use closed questions. If you have not understood an answer or if your question has not been answered sufficiently, you can and should ask friendly questions.

Listen actively, show honest interest and stay flexible. Always keep the lead and be polite when something bothers you (e.g. too fast speeches, short or excessive answers). Stick to facts, stay objective and never talk more than your counterpart.

3) The conclusion

Summarize the most important information once again and have it confirmed for you. Check whether all questions relevant to you have been answered. If necessary, clarify whether all information and names from the interview may be used. Thank you for the interview and say goodbye to your interviewee appropriately.

When cutting your audio tape, let yourself be guided by the thought that you will find a form that corresponds to the actual course of the conversation. Stay at a critical distance and still be guided by a certain respect for your interviewee.

Opening the microphone spontaneously when chatting has often brought out the best original tones. Problematic questions are rather saved for the end. I often ask questions about cluster technology: let’s take the example of tolls. I imagine four sub-themes on which I want to ask the interviewee: the planned procedure in Germany, the legal scope, regulations in other EU states, and their criticism of the German plans. Should the interviewee switch to the next cluster topic instead of clearly answering the first question, I will bring him back. What was not answered in a sufficiently comprehensible way, I ask again.

One should also not be afraid to ask a question in three different variants if the interviewee evades it! Until the “question/answer chemistry” is right: “Now I have understood you! Because: I am representative for the radio listener here. Only when the question has really (and precisely) been answered do I tick off the cluster. And: Listen carefully, also to be able to bring along a next topic.

Every interview, every original sound I make, should make me think about it: I have no right to bore the listener or spectator, and no right to reaffirm what he knows.

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