How to Deal With Interview Anxiety
No matter what type of writing you do—even fiction—you will no doubt have to conduct interviews at some point. Interviewing can be far less daunting if you keep in mind its primary purpose—to collect quotes, anecdotes, and facts you can’t find anywhere else.
In any interview, there are at least two people, you and the person you’re interviewing, and both can cause stress and anxiety.
Know It All
The first source of anxiety is you. Maybe you’re introverted or you’re afraid that you’re going to make foolish mistakes or you know you aren’t as knowledgeable about your subject as you’d like to be.
One of the best weapons for fighting anxiety is research. Whenever possible, find out more about the person you’re scheduled to interview than you’ll ever need to know. When you’re armed with a lot of facts, you can formulate intelligent questions based on the background information you’ve acquired. That works great when you’re interviewing someone famous and there’s a wealth of information available on the person, but what if you need to interview someone who has received little or no publicity: a local artist or a missionary or a first-time author or an obscure political candidate?
Most people are thrilled to have the opportunity to talk about the things in life that are most important to them. When interviewing “unknowns,” you’re in a great position to draw out what you want to know, because they haven’t been asked the same questions over and over again. You’re giving them a forum to bring attention to their work. You’re doing them a service, and they’ll love you for it.
Prepare a list of questions whenever possible, but don’t become a slave to it. Once you’ve asked the most important questions, inconspicuously refer to the list only when you’ve exhausted a particular line of questioning—or when you’re stuck. The more you lose yourself during an interview and concentrate on the other person, the better the interview will go. Ask questions based on what your subject just said. You can’t do that if you’re not listening. Let your subject talk—and don’t be afraid of silence. Pause to allow your subject to continue his thought. Don’t express your own opinions.
Distilled down to its essence, the job of an interviewer is to ask questions—even seemingly stupid ones. Never be afraid to admit your ignorance, especially when you sense that your subject will be sympathetic toward you. You need to be discerning; some people will not be so merciful. And you can plead ignorance only when you have a legitimate reason for doing so; you cannot use it as an excuse for not doing your homework when you had the opportunity to do it.
She’s Only Human
A second source of anxiety is the person you’re interviewing. You have no control over that person, but you can control your reactions to her. Maybe she intimidates you, or maybe you’re one of his biggest fans (don’t ask for an autograph!). Those are barriers to getting a good interview.
Do whatever it takes to keep from being star-struck or intimidated—even if it means imagining that the person just tripped—whatever it takes to remind yourself that he’s human. The bottom line is that we’re all flesh and blood. Always keep that in mind when you’re interviewing and writing about other people.
One footnote about interview anxiety: Whenever possible, take notes and tape the interview. Note-taking keeps you focused, and you can quickly scribble notes for follow-up questions in the margins. Tape recordings are too unreliable to be used as a primary method. You can reduce a lot of stress by using both methods.
Always keep in mind the purpose of the interview: to collect quotes, anecdotes, and facts you can’t find anywhere else. See yourself as an information-gatherer—and relax.