Some say it’s all about the preparation. Whether a state official or homeowner, find out what you can about the person. You must always do your homework. But in an interview, if you ask about facts you should already know, you may just build some resentment.
You should always make a list of questions. If an interview that is mostly conversational turns silent, it will at least provide a place for your brain to turn. It will give you some more ideas of what to ask next. If you’ve been interviewing people long enough, you may surprise yourself once in a while in that you don’t even need your list of questions. But you shouldn’t let your arrogance impede your ability to prepare. We are all human.
Interviews may take some interesting turns. The person in whom you are interviewing may go off on a tangent and provide some better information than you hoped. Or they may take you to a place you don’t need to be. The chore then becomes pulling them back to where you need them to go. It’s all about remembering the focus of your piece. Where do you want your piece to go? Or has the piece now gone to a new place you’d like to go instead?
Early on my career I didn’t ask the tough questions. Those are often the questions you need the most. In a business story it may be about the raises workers will receive. It may be about what workers will no longer receive. If you as the journalist can’t get that information, who will?
If it’s a feature story, it may be about asking people what they’d like to share? What do they want the story to portray? What do they want readers to see through their eyes?