What makes a good question? Now that’s a good question! Why? Because it’s an open-ended question.
Open-ended questions are questions that cannot necessarily be answered with a simple yes or no. These kinds of questions make for the best interviews. Avoid leading questions, questions that simply make a statement or questions that lack any real conviction or genuine curiosity.
Generally, while it’s preferred you have done some homework beforehand, it’s best to go into and interview with just a natural curiosity. Be authentically interested in the person and the subject matter and your interview should go fine. And as we said in our previous blog on listening, be sure to do that in order to properly follow-up the answer should it lead you down an interesting or informative road.
Occasionally you will get an interviewee that is reluctant or simply not prone to elaborate. In that case, you have to be ready with follow-up questions. I’m not saying to necessarily have a prepared list of questions that you machine-gun at your subject, but rather be prepared to follow-up as a listener, who at least be prepared with the ultimate question of all: “Why?”
Why will literally call into question just about any answer you are given in an interview. If a politician tells you what the new law is, respond with “So, why was it necessary in the first place.” If an athlete tells you “this was a big win tonight,” be sure to fire back, “And why exactly do you feel this is so?”
Personally, I have a pet peeve with reporters who simply make a statement to an interviewee and expect a response. Well, some interviewees will choose to be curt or frankly, will wonder what it is you do want them to say once you’ve uttered your statement. Remember, statements are just those and do not necessarily require answers, or at the very least, thoughtful answers. Good questions are thought provoking and can probe much more deeply into the issue at hand.
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