How to interview anybody

By Jerry Bellune, Writing Coach

Your guidelines for interviewing anybody are thankfully similar.

Your subject may be the President of the United States or the woman who just won best arrangement at the local flower show.

1. Do your research, even if it’s only talking with those who arranged the flower show about the winner.

2. Agree to a location including their office or home. 

They will feel more relaxed and open to answering your questions.

3. Show up on time. Show up even 15 minutes early and be prepared to wait until the subject is ready.

I once waited three hours after the agreed interview time to talk with a corporate big shot. He was probably testing me. He did not mention the long delay and neither did I. Had he apologized, I would have accepted it but the long delay was going into my story.

4. Dress professionally – no jeans or a tux. What you would or should wear to work or a wedding.

5. Be respectful, whether it’s the flower show lady or the President. 

Don’t act as if you are a star-struck fan or doing them a favor. 

Celebrities and other important people put on their clothes just as you do. You are a professional and so are they – or should be.

I’ve been fortunate to interview presidents, prime ministers and other heads of state, professional athletes, religious leaders, military brass, movie and TV stars and even Apollo 13 command pilot Jim Lovell. 

My approach was like the flower show winner – use these guidelines. 

Use warm-up questions in an easy, non-investigative manner. Make these warm-up questions the kind you would feel comfortable answering about yourself.

Use probing but respectful questions later in the interview.

Use a search engine on their name. We prefer because it does not track or sell our data as Google and other search engines do.

Next: When they won’t talk

If our reporters wrote better it would make editing their work easier. It would make our news and feature articles sing. But we lack the time to coach them. Here’s a secret. Help them with a copy of writing coach Jerry Bellune’s The Art of Compelling Writing, $9.99 at They’re worth the investment.

Other recent columns