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Although interviews often seem spontaneous and unrehearsed, they require time and effort in preparation.

Prior experience and knowledge in an area certainly help, but thorough research about your topic is essential for an effective interview. It helps develop the focus of your story and defines what you want the audience to understand or know. This means reading local newspapers, national papers like The New York Times and USA Today, and news magazines such as Newsweek and Time. Books and conversations with friends may also lead to interesting ideas.

Finding interesting guests and topics can be a challenge. Not everyone makes a good interview subject. Choose an interview topic or person that you and your audience would find interesting. In order to do this, you will need to know something about your audience. Your radio or television station can provide you with such demographic and lifestyle information for its audience, to help you choose a topic. For example, if your audience consists primarily of young families with both parents working, an interview on child care might interest them.

Things to consider when choosing a guest include celebrity, personality, importance, accomplishments, entertainment value, knowledge, or sense of humor. Some guests you will have to invite while others will be knocking at your door. Often celebrities or authors make tours to promote their latest work and can be booked easily for a program.

Begin by researching the topic and person. Start with what you find interesting and investigate what you don't understand. Chances are that if you don't understand something, your audience won't either. Basic library skills and a familiarity with the Internet and electronic databases are critical for the interviewer. You can access stories and newspapers from around the world using the Internet. Newspaper archives and computer databases such as Lexis/Nexis are valuable tools. Become familiar with sources like Who's Who in America, and the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. Other references include biographies and local newspaper coverage of an individual's accomplishments. If such materials are available, try to read any recent books or articles written by a guest to get a sense of that person. This knowledge can help you ask better questions and guide the discussion. A useful technique is to write down interesting statements or quotes from what you've read. These may not be used verbatim during the interview, but may remind you or the interviewee of some interesting aspect of his or her life. Ask for a copy of the person's resume if he or she is a professional. Another source of background information involves talking to colleagues or associates of the guest. This type of information gathering also requires interviewing skills. Questions during the on-air interview can often arise spontaneously from this type of preparation. Be curious and be current. The audience wants to listen to new ideas and stories or issues to which they can relate.

The most important thing to remember is that good preparation equips you to determine a focus for the interview. Time is usually too short to develop more than two or three main ideas. What ones do you choose? Know your audience and decide what would be most interesting to them. Preparation also helps keep you focused during the interview. Your energy and attention must be directed at the person being interviewed. If you are worried that you don't understand the material or might get lost, the interview will lack focus.

Another area to consider when planning an interview is time. For the beginner, the judgment of time is difficult. For interviews that are longer than a sound bite and are going well, time will fly by, but for some, time can seem to drag. You need to plan to have more than enough material to fill the entire time period. This is particularly valuable when you find yourself with a guest who is prone to giving short answers. Your list of questions could be used up rapidly. Experience will be your biggest aid, but some over-preparation will help you survive until that sense of time develops. Even then, it's usually easier to shorten a discussion that it is to expand one when you don't have enough material.