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How to host a great interview to tell your charity's story

Journalist Marcus Webb shares his top tips

How to host a great interview to tell your charity’s story. Ask great questions, share their experiences and tell a great story

An interview is a fantastic way to tell somebody’s story, whether that person is a fundraiser, a patron, a member of your team, or someone who’s benefitted from your charity’s work. Find a fascinating interviewee, get them to share their experiences, and you’ve got yourself an engaging event that can be run either in-person or online. Here are some tips on how to prepare for an interview with a live audience…

1. Set the scene

As a rule, it’s best to assume that not everyone in your audience knows much about the person you’re speaking to. A brief, flattering introduction isn’t only an opportunity to set the scene; it’s a chance to get both your interviewee and the audience excited about what’s to follow.

2. Put your interviewee at ease

It’s nerve-racking enough being interviewed in private. It’s even scarier when you have to think on your feet in front of a live audience. You don’t want your interviewee to be nervous because that will affect the quality of their answers and make everyone present feel a bit uncomfortable. Ideally they’ll be relaxed, open and engaging, so start things off with some friendly conversation and maybe a softball question or two.

3. Prepare – but not too much

The main reason you should prepare properly for your interview is that it’s respectful to your interviewee – turning up not knowing the first thing about their life or their work isn’t a good look. But don’t go overboard with your preparation. There’s much to be said for entering interviews as a curious outsider rather than an expert, who’s ready to listen, learn and allow the conversation to evolve naturally rather than rigidly following a prepared list of questions. Halfway between know-nothing and know-all – that’s the sweet spot!

4. Keep a clipboard as a crutch

The brain is capable of funny things – and it’s not inconceivable that you’ll briefly forget your interviewee’s name at the very wrong moment. Carry a clipboard with the essentials written down, and jot down the great questions that pop into your head while your interviewee is talking. There’s every chance you'll have forgotten them a few minutes later.

5. Plant some questions

If you're doing an audience Q&A, be warned – things can get very awkward very quickly if nobody in the audience has any questions. In some cases planting questions veers towards the unethical (if the BBC hires you to host Question Time, we strongly suggest you don’t use this strategy) but for less politically sensitive interviews it’s a good idea to set up two or three pals in the audience with decent questions so you can turn to them if nobody else puts up their hand. It might spare everyone a few blushes.

6. Ask the obvious questions – and the less obvious ones

There's a reason some questions appear obvious – they get straight to the heart of what people want to know. There's no need to avoid questions simply because they appear predictable, but make sure that other questions are a bit more inspired. If your interviewee does a lot of interviews, there’s a danger they’ll enter autopilot mode if you don’t throw in the occasional curveball.

7. Keep yourself out

There are few things more irritating than an interviewer who seems determined to make it all about themselves. Put aside your ego and remember that it's not about you!

8. Sort out the tech

It’s amazing how many otherwise successful interviews – both online and in person – are undermined by technical hiccups. If it’s a live event make sure you do a run-through before the audience arrives to check microphones, lighting, A/V etc. And if you’re doing it online, spend some time before you go live ensuring that all participants are equipped with decent lighting, sound and internet connections, and take whatever steps are necessary to avoid anyone having to use the newly immortal phrase, "You’re on mute!"

9. Don't forget to record

Whether it’s an in-person event or a Zoom meeting, you should make an audio or video recording of your event so those who couldn’t attend in real-time can catch up later. It’s great content for your website, and the sort of thing that could be edited for a podcast.

10. Make sure to cover what your interviewee wants to cover

Your interviewee is giving up their time to speak with you, so return the favour and give them an opportunity to promote whatever it may be they want to promote. And remember to say thank you at the end!

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