Yesterday, I interviewed two occupational therapists for a freelance story that I’m writing for a local parenting magazine. When I arrived at their office, they met me in the reception area and shook my hand. They ushered me into a conference room, where I plunked down my little digital voice recorder and my legal pad, and I started asking questions. After the interview wound up, one of them gave me a tour of their office, and I got to see all the treatment rooms, the gyms, and the toys and equipment they use to help their young patients. It was a great visit. I got a really good sense of what they do and where they do it.
As a freelancer, I tend to conduct the majority of my interviews on the phone. This is by necessity, unfortunately. I often have to interview people who don’t live anywhere near me, or whose lives are so busy that I’m just lucky to squeeze a fifteen-minute phone call onto their packed schedule.
But occasionally, I still get to meet someone in person, and I always enjoy it so much more. The interviews are always so much better, too. You know the old adage, “Show, don’t tell”? You can also apply those words to an interview. You should look for what people are showing you about themselves, not just what they’re telling you. You get a much better picture of that person.
Take the woman I interviewed last fall for a profile story for a Vanderbilt publication. The woman was inspired by her recent diagnosis of diabetes to completely overhaul her entire life to improve her health. It was so much fun to meet her in person and to really see the results of her diet and exercise plan. I could see for myself that she was tall and svelte; I was able to describe her physique and the positive attitude that she projected based on what I saw. The story was much stronger as a result.
Or how about the young anchorwoman whom I interviewed for a story for Desert Magazine a couple of years ago? I met her at her house, a few hours before she was leaving for work at a Palm Springs television news station. I saw the tangle of shoes peeking out from under the sofa. I saw her young son’s toys strewn across the living room. I saw her briefcase full of work that she’d brought home from the office. I met her husband. I saw how her eyebrows furrowed when she talked about trying to juggle her two great loves: her family and her career. I was inspired by those details when it was time for me to sit down and write her story.
So I will always relish the chance to meet a source in person, to see them face to face. I’ve been conducting interviews for so long that I rarely ever get nervous before one; instead, I look forward to it. I know that I’m receiving a great opportunity.
Not that I ever turn down phone interviews. They definitely have their place. They’re especially useful when you just need to ask someone a few quick questions. Or when you know the person pretty well and are just checking in. Or you’re on deadline, and your time is very limited. Or it’s the only way to reach the person. Sometimes, you’re so busy, a phone call’s all you can do, too.
But it’s just nice to be able to meet the people I interview. I like to think I write better stories from those meetings, too.