In part one of this series on improving your content marketing by taking a journalistic approach, I talked about how to think like a journalist in the content planning/story gathering stage. But once you’ve decided on a great topic for your next piece of content, how do you go about developing the content for that story like a journalist? One of the best ways to do this is through the tried and true method used by journalists and writers of all kinds for countless years: interviews!

When it comes to gathering information and quotes for a good story, journalists know what’s up. Conducting good interviews is one of the best skills you can develop as a journalist—and it goes the same for content writers and marketers. Unfortunately, many content creators who aren’t trained and practiced in the art of interviewing others will struggle with this part. It may seem like any easy task, but if you’ve ever attempted to interview someone for a story, it can actually be quite tough, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing—not to mention if the interviewee is also inexperienced, or if they have an agenda different from your own. But no worries, I’m going to give you some simple methods for conducting rockstar-like interviews that get you the info and quotes you need for a killer story.

Here are my top 5 tips for nailing the role of interviewer like a journalism pro:

1. Show up prepared.

Being prepared is always a good idea. Do background research on the person you’re interviewing, as well as their company/cause, publicly stated opinions, or anything else relevant to the interview topic. Write out the questions you absolutely must get answers to ahead of time. Make sure you get through them at some point in the interview—some might be answered before you even have to ask, and others might need to be asked more than once, or in different ways, to make sure you get the information you need. Sometimes it’s helpful to send questions to your interviewee ahead of time if it’s possible and won’t compromise the integrity of your story.

2. Develop rapport before diving in.

Small talk is your friend here. Most of the time, you want to put the interviewee at ease, so they don’t tense up, overthink, or freeze when you’re diving into your questions. If you help them feel comfortable right away, you’re much more likely to get the kind of quotes that will make your story sing! It’s also a good idea to let your interviewee know what to expect in the upcoming interview as far as time allotted, number and type of questions, etc.

3. Let the conversation flow naturally.

Preparation is great, but don’t let your pre-written questions completely steer the entire interview. You can use them as guideposts to come back to throughout the interview, but keep in mind that letting the conversation flow naturally—rather than doing a rapid-fire Q&A—will always make for a better time for everyone involved, and it will give you way better fodder for content. In fact, it’s often the questions or topics you don’t plan ahead of time that give you the best quotes and “story meat” when you sit down to write. Try to relax and allow for serendipity!

4. Take notes.

Always take great notes during an interview—but don’t disengage from the conversation! You may want to record the interview if it’s possible, as this can help put you at ease and not feel pressured to write down every single word the interviewee says. That said, never completely rely on a recording for a written piece of content—it will make things extremely tedious and time-consuming if you have to review a long audio file before and during the writing phase. Just use the recording as a backup for when your notes fail you, or to verify an exact quote if necessary.

5. Close the interview gracefully.

Always thank the person for their time, whether the interview went well or not. Make sure to get their preferred method of contact so you can reach out with any follow-up questions should they arise during the writing process. 

OK, that’s it for this segment—but stay tuned for part three of this series, when I’ll bring it all home with tips for how to take a journalistic approach in the critical content writing phase!