Zan Rowe’s top five tips for interviewers

Former Assistant Editor

Zan Rowe got her start in radio at SRA FM (now SYN Radio) in 1996, before spending time at 3RRR and then arriving at triple j in 2005.

She worked with triple j through to the end of 2017, and was best known for hosting Mornings before moving to Double J to start a new morning show.

Zan has interviewed some of the biggest names in music, from Paul McCartney, Ice Cube and Josh Hommeto Nile Rodgers, Laura Jane Grace, Mike D and many more.

Radio Today is shining the spotlight on some of the industry’s best when it comes to engaging and intriguing interviews, so here are Zan’s top five tips for interviewers.

1. Do as much research as you can and be ready to throw it all out the window

Any good interviewer will be fastidious with their research. But some of the best moments happen when your subject tangents into a whole new rabbit hole. If you feel comfortable to let all those notes fall to the side, what you’ll often find is something a whole lot more magical and the kicker is this; doing all that research has given you the confidence to go wherever the conversation takes you.

2. Don’t be a fan, at least not at the beginning

You love the artist. Being able to do what you love for a living, and speak to your personal heroes, is incredible. But telling them that at the beginning of the interview can make things awkward. Think about it: if someone came up to you and said “I LOVE YOU AND EVERYTHING YOU DO!”, what is there to respond with? “Thanks”? It’s a dead end. Save the platitudes for the end of the chat.

3. Sculpt a narrative

When I’m preparing for an interview, I spend a long time and fill many pages with questions, ideas and conversation flows. When I feel like I’ve exhausted my research (or hit my deadline), I shape those into a narrative. Just like a story, all interviews should have an arc. You set the scene, you save the drama for when you’ve gained the trust of the protagonist, and you end on something meaningful.

4. Ask questions that you actually want to know the answer to, yourself

If it’s interesting to you, then it’s interesting. If you have a curiosity, someone else will. If your curiosity is singular, that in itself is entertaining. Questions about what the recording process was like, or whether you prefer the live or studio environment… few, if any, care about that (and before you dig into my interview history, yes I have been guilty of this but I’ve learned my lesson). Being passionate, interested and engaged is infectious. Human stories are all of our stories. Be human.

5. Be patient, let it breathe

Create a space where your subject feels safe. The best interviews are when you forget you’re doing them. If you’ve fallen into a deep conversation, your audience will as well. And if you feel like you want something more from your subject, don’t speak. Just let the silence hang there. You’ll be surprised how frequently people want to fill that space. Often with gold.

Catch up on the first two parts of Radio Today‘s Top Interview Tips series with Ash LondonMarc Fennell and Sarah McGilvray.

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