Feign ignorance, demystify the mic and other audio interview tips

A shotgun mic with a fuzzy cover is pointed at a man in casual dress; the mic is huge and the man is small. In subsequent frames, the man grows and the mic shrinks.

Equipment can be intimidating, so acclimate your interviewee to the mic before getting started. (Holly J. Morris/NPR Training and iStock)

An in-person audio interview can be nerve-wracking, both for the source and the reporter. Here are a few easy tips to ensure your sources are comfortable and you’re prepared to be your best interviewing self, from NPR reporter Nate Rott.

Think ahead about your source’s place in the story

Get ready for your interviews by thinking about the perspectives of your sources. What role might the interviewee play in your story? Protagonist? Antagonist? A skeptic? Set expectations for what you want to get out of each discussion, but also give your sources the chance to surprise you.

Familiarize your source with the equipment

Those shotgun mics and bulky headphones can be overwhelming to someone not used to talking to journalists. Play around with the equipment to make it seem less daunting. Gesture with the microphone as you chat before the interview, like it’s just part of your arm. Point it at the dog or pass it to a kid to play with.

Try to keep the mic below eye level, so it’s out of the source’s direct view. Once you’re set up, don’t constantly check your equipment mid-conversation. It will only remind the source that it’s there.

Socialize (a little) before getting started

Avoid immediately grilling your source. Ask a couple questions to get to know them a bit better. Some light conversation will let them get comfortable talking to you before the interview begins.

Plus, seemingly unrelated details about someone can humanize them for listeners. A hidden talent or personal anecdote could supplement your piece in a creative and engaging way. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.

Act like an idiot when you’re interviewing

Pretend you know absolutely nothing about what the source is telling you (which may be true). If they’re subject-matter experts, they will need to dilute the information, not just for you, but also for the listeners.

Help the source break down a complicated topic by using analogies:

You: So [this] is like [that]?

Them: Exactly.

Leave it all on the field

Think of the interview as if it’s the only time you’ll ever speak to the source. Ask every question you can think of. If you don’t get to something in the interview, following up by phone can create a discrepancy in audio production that could distract the listener.

Emma Grazado was the NPR Training team's 2022 writing and reporting intern.