About ten days ago, I was on the outskirts of the small Welsh village of Garnant, at the foot of the Brecon Beacons, visiting the animal charity Greyhound Rescue Wales. The People’s Friend asked me to go out and pay them a visit.
Although only 100 miles away, Welsh roads are not known for their straightness or speed, so when Google and the AA suggested the journey would take me 3 hours, each way (and, as it turned out, they were right), I wondered whether this was do-able in a day. Then I realised the sanctuary was merely 30 miles from where I was staying with friends for the weekend earlier this month. Thankfully, windows fell into alignment that enabled all parties to meet on the same day as my already planned travels to Wales.
Every interview/press trip experience offers a learning opportunity, and this trip was no different. No matter how much preparation you do beforehand something will always go awry. But here are my top tips when planning interviews.
- If you’re travelling a long way to interview someone, allow plenty of time for travelling, and factor in some comfort breaks. Ideally, find a comfort break about 15 minutes away from your final destination. That way, when you arrive, you’re already refreshed and raring to go. I find supermarkets useful here. the parking is easy, most have customer toilets and many have cafes too. Never rely on there being facilities at every venue you attend.
- Perhaps avoid topping up with petrol, as I did, especially if it’s at one of those self-service-pay-by-credit-card stations. I don’t know what the customer before me had been up to, but the petrol pump I selected was covered in petrol. And there was no where to clean my hands. Upon arriving at the greyhound sanctuary I had to ask to wash my petrol-covered hands, because I didn’t want greyhounds licking them!
- Use Google Street View to clarify where you need to go for the final part of your journey. I don’t use SatNavs. I’ve heard too many horror stories. But Google Street view is perfect to pick up local landmarks to look out for, especially if you’re using single-track lanes!
- Check your equipment 48 (not 24) hours before you need it. I knew I’d need to take photos so I charged my camera’s battery and spare. But when I checked my dictaphone’s batteries they were dead, and I didn’t have any spares. Having checked this 48 hours beforehand, I still had time to buy new ones (and spares). It was a good job I did put new batteries in my dictaphone. It hadn’t crossed my mind that a dog sanctuary would play Classic FM through loudspeakers to keep the greyhounds calm and relaxed. (It works brilliantly, by the way.) Thankfully, my dictaphone still had enough power to filter out some of this background noise!
- Put your subject’s contact details into your phone, AND WRITE THEM DOWN ON A SEPARATE PIECE OF PAPER. It’s not happened to me, but I know of one person whose car broke down, and when they went to call their interviewee they then discovered their phone was dead too! A passerby offered her his phone to call the breakdown recovery people, but the only place she had her interviewee’s contact details were on her phone … her dead phone.
- Do some research before your trip. Find out as much as you can about your venue/interviewee. Not all the information may be correct, so it’s an opportunity for you to clarify this with the expert. It’s always useful having some questions planned in advance, to help get the conversation started.
- If you use a dictaphone, type up your notes as soon as you can after your interview - while things are still fresh in your mind. Allow plenty of time to do this too. Once people start talking, it’s amazing how much information you’ll be given.
- Thank your subject, and anyone else who helped set up the interview, for their time. Doing it again via social media can also help promote them to your follows. (I also took a bagful of old towels with me, which the sanctuary really appreciated - as anyone who’s ever had dogs will understand!)
- Send a copy of the published piece to your interviewees, (and anyone else who helped you to arrange the chat). It’s another opportunity for you to thank them for their time and help.
- But above all, enjoy it! That’s what makes this job fun - being able to chat to some really interesting people.