Keeping sources on the subject in short phone interviews
You’re on deadline and only have 15 minutes with a source before you need to hang up and move onto another previously scheduled phone interview. But your source wants to talk and talk and talk. And not necessarily about the matter at hand.
Sound familiar? If you’ve written for any length of time, you’ve run across the run-on interview subject, the CEO, scientist or professor who just won’t stop talking.
Sometimes letting an interviewee talk is great, especially when that idle chitchat leads to ideas for related stories. In fact, when I have the time, at the end of an interview I’ll encourage subjects to talk by asking them questions like “So, what else are you working on these days?” or “What else is happening at your company that’s interesting?”
But when you’re working on deadline, have multiple interviews scheduled one after the other or are otherwise operating under severe time constraints, you need to get in, get the info, then get off the phone.
In those cases, I use a few different tactics:
* Email ahead of time so the source knows you’ve got a short window.
* When contacting a source – or a source’s PR department – ahead of an interview, give them an idea of what ground you need to cover, either in a sentence or two or by sending questions in advance. That way they can bone up on the subject and will be less likely to ramble.
* When you call, remind them of your time limit by saying something like: “Hi, thanks for taking my call. As I mentioned in my email, I have 15 minutes before my next call. There are really 3 major points I’d like to cover in this interview…” and take it from there.
* Near the end of the interview, remind the source that you only have 5 minutes left or say something like “This will be my last question” so they get the hint.
Also, if you email ahead of time to set up an interview and you’ve never talked to the source before, you can send background about the publication you’re writing for or the specifics of the story in the message so you don’t need to spend time going over those details during your call. If you’re cold calling, keep intros to a minimum. If you’re talking to a regular source they’ll know you & you can cut to the chase.
If you’re looking for more help with interviews, here’s some suggestions for good questions to ask in an interview.