The prospect of contacting a stranger out of the blue - or "cold calling" - can be one of the most intimidating aspects of the interview process (even for experienced sociologists and journalists!).
A good way to deal with this problem is to draft a form letter (or email) and to use it every time you want to line up an interview. A good form letter:
- Takes no more than 10-15 seconds to read.
- Introduces you and the project. Always include a link to prior episodes (this is polite, and it often helps to claim institutional legitimacy for you as a credible interviewer)
- Suggests why you'd like to interview the addressee. It's particularly important to clearly state why you think that their insights might be useful for your envisioned audience.
- Saves technical details for a later. It's a good idea to discuss set-up in a follow-up email, only after they've agreed to be interviewed.
- Includes your thanks and contact information.
Drafting an interview schedule
The list of scripted questions you'll use in an interview is called the "interview schedule". There are no hard-fast rules for building a good list of questions - it's a skill that develops with practice!
In general, though, you should try to design questions that set up your interviewee to do 90% of the talking. Here are a few tips from the FoodWords team:
- Aim for 5-6 questions per 30 minutes of content. Anything longer than that becomes pretty long for the general listening audience.
- Avoid "stacking" questions. That is, try not to ask your interviewee a second question before allowing them to answer the first. If your prompt contains more than question - no matter how related they might seem to you - there's a good chance that they'll forget one or give you a very muddled answer.
- Do your homework in order to ask informed questions, but remember that your audience hasn't! It's great to give context like "I really enjoyed what you wrote about..." or "You've stood up for X in the past...", but ask your guest tell their own back-story. It's better to position yourself as an outsider to most topics, even if you're not!
- Consider how well your schedule transitions from one topic to another. This will help your interviewee focus, and it will also create opportunities for you to productively interrupt if they begin to drift off topic.
- Emulate other great interviewers! We're big fans of:
- Fresh Air's Terry Gross
- Studs Terkel
- Radiolab's Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich
- This American Life's Ira Glass
- Bullseye's Jesse Thorn
- Robert Weiss, author of Learning From Strangers
Once you've drafted an interview schedule, send it to your interviewee so that they can prepare ahead of time.
At this time, it's appropriate to arrange a time and place to conduct the interview. When choosing a location, it's important to consider the following:
- Do not conduct the interview in a public space or outdoors where you cannot limit ambient noise.
- If interviewing in-person, consider offering to conduct the interview at their workplace or yours, or at the university campus if at all possible. If interviewing via call, make sure to conduct the interview in a place with a very fast internet connection (most home networks are not adequate).
- Ensure that you'll have a power source for your computer.
- Include specific directions (if applicable) and make sure to set a rough time limit for the interview in advance.