TV and radio presenter, columnist, author: it’s no surprise that Emma Barnett (@emmabarnett) is one of the UK’s top award-winning journalists.
By day, she is a presenter of Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio4. By night, she co-hosts BBC2’s flagship current affairs programme, Newsnight. Her groundbreaking book, ‘Period: it’s about bloody time’ is just out in paperback.
At our latest ‘in conversation’ Emma shared her insight, experience and top tips for interviewing with Alison Phillips, WiJ Chair and editor of the Daily Mirror.
Here are Emma Barnett’s top ten tips for conducting a good interview:
- Have a decent chat: ‘The hallmark of a good interview is feeling like you’re earwigging in on a really decent chat. I always say radio is a conversation on steroids’
- It’s all about the answers, not the questions: ‘I used to think the questions make a good interview, they don’t, it’s the quality of what you do with the answers.’
- Be the listeners’ advocate: ‘I’ve never been nervous about saying “I’m sorry I don’t understand what you mean”. Journalists are on the side of their recipients – the reader or the listener – we are meant to be in their corner as their advocate. If you don’t understand it, a lot of the time someone will be really grateful if you say so.’
- Find the news angle: ‘I always sit back the minute I’ve got the news line and can enjoy the rest of the interview. I’m on tenterhooks until I get something that I feel is what I call fresh snow. There’s nothing worse than interviewing someone that’s either been interviewed nine times already that day, or has been interviewed so much in their life that you’re scrabbling for the bit of snow that’s not been trodden on.’
- Ask original questions: ‘Ask them something they’ve never been asked before and it takes the listener and the interviewee somewhere they’ve never been before. It makes them think differently about their own life or their own view of something that they are on to talk about.’
- Don’t be afraid to change gears: ‘Different interviews require different gears. As a woman there can be an expectation that you’ve got to be a certain way. Women can be hard, soft, funny and serious. There is an expectation at times that women may be warmer or more facilitating.’
- Prepare, prepare, prepare: ‘Everything is ok if I’ve done my prep. If you have done your prep, there is no room for nerves. I love details, I will read the deals, the reports, and I will get into that [with the interviewee] and go quite slow if time permits.’
- Know your role as the interviewer: ‘It is actually quite frustrating if the presenter sounds just as upset as the interviewee. You don’t need to be going “I’m so sorry”, because obviously you are and you could say that to them afterwards. But you can say “do you want to take a moment”, so don’t be scared to do that.’
- Remind your interviewee why they are there: ‘Make it clear to the listener, viewer, or reader, that the interviewee wants to do the interview for a reason. There can come a point where the listener might be like “why are you putting them through this”. But there’s a reason they’ve come to the wicket, and it’s good to help them remember why they came when you’re in the middle of the story.’
- Delve into the story details: ‘Don’t be afraid to go through each detail [of a story]. I remember when I was younger, less experienced, I used to think I needed to get to the “thing”. But people want to hear how they got there, what happened, so let it breathe, and then get there.’
In the latest edition of ‘Period’ Emma asks why we’ve clammed up about menstruation. In this frank, funny rallying cry, she’ll make you laugh, weep, and maybe squirm, about the natural process nobody talks about. Because it’s about bloody time.