365 NOLA Adventures

Developing My Interviewing Chops

Anyone who knows anything about the New York Giants and New York Mets will understand why I don’t want to talk about the New York Giants and New York Mets today. So let’s get right into it!

I recently got asked to write a series for Very Local New Orleans in which I interview a representative from every brewery in and around the city. This is exciting for no less than three reasons:

  1. I like beer and I drink a pretty good amount of it. It’s something I’m thrilled to learn more about! For example, in the first interview for the series, I chatted with Eric Jensen, the owner of Parleaux Beer Lab. I learned about how they use different types of yeast to make different tasting beers. For example, if you’ve ever met someone who doesn’t think they like beer, it’s very likely because they don’t like the taste of beer yeast, which is used to create most of the beers we drink.

    But Parleaux creates multiple “mixed-culture” beers using different kinds of yeast. By doing this, they can create beers that taste more like a sauvignon blanc, for example, than an English ale. They make beers that taste like ciders. They’ve even got a beer right now that tastes like a peach bellini. As mixed cultures age, their tastes also change, giving Parleaux even more options to experiment with. That’s something not many other breweries — if any other breweries — in the region are doing at this level.

    Anyway, I learned a ton and I hope you will too, so check out the interview! Learning while working is a huge reason I was excited to write as a career. Second only to being able to work in my underwear while eating a meatball hero.

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    Eric, of Parleaux Beer Lab, and his son, Arlo, discussing their favorite brews.
  2. The more steady gigs, the better! There are a lot of breweries, which means I’ll be able to write one of these every other week for months. That’s good news!
  3. I think interviewing is a really important and difficult art form, and I admire those who can do it well. I want to get better, and this is a way to develop that skill set.

So I’m starting to dig around for tips on how to conduct more successful interviews. I’m sure there’s a book out there I should buy — maybe read a biography or two on reporters considered to be some of the best at their craft.

But I started with this Forbes article, 9 Tips on Conducting Great Interviews, by Shel Israel, who has conducted thousands of interviews over his long career.

Most of the tips were news to me, because I don’t have any formal training, but some of it is intuitive. Where it got really interesting to me, though, was how several of his tips seemed to envelope the idea of being comfortable in ambiguity.

When Nervous Matt Haines rolls into an interview, I’ve got my list of questions, and I type furiously while the subject speaks. I definitely ask unscripted follow-up questions — and I think those are some of my better questions — but the idea of coming in unscripted and letting it fly sounds terrifying.

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Mr. Israel, however, says he’ll do research but oftentimes is not walking in with a set of questions. And he tries to ask a lot of open-ended questions, which gives his interviewee the opportunity to move toward topics they happen to be interested in discussing that day. He says one of his jobs is to listen carefully while they wander and to make split-second decisions on whether the conversation is moving toward things that might be interesting to his audience, versus when it’s drifting toward — for example — boring corporate-speak that he needs to cut-off.

He also says he has to choose when and how to press deeper, versus when to back off. If someone’s not answering the question, why are they not answering the question? Is it because I’m not asking it well, because it’s an embarrassing answer, or because of something else?

And, finally, he says it’s not his job to bash or elevate the interviewee. His job is to give the information to the reader and let them decide. As someone who has a strong desire to be liked by…everyone…that’s a tough one for me, but a goal worth pursuing!

All stuff to consider as I try to develop my interviewing chops!

Any interviewers you really love? I’d love to hear your opinion, so I can look further into them! Thanks!

And — if you like what you’re reading — follow me here, and on FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM and TWITTER! And don’t forget to check out Parleaux Beer Lab!

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