Katie Couric is a great interviewer and she offers tips as to what makes a good interview and these tips apply to research interviews and web survey questions as well.
Start by being a gracious host. Make the respondent comfortable. Humans need comfort to get defenses down and tell the truth. In research, we often do this by asking really easy questions up front and sharing what it is we want to do and reminding respondents that we just “want your honest opinions. There is not right or wrong answer. And, you can change your mind.”
Some of these are easier said than done. For example “prepare.” Everyone knows preparation helps but you have to plan to prepare too. One of the things Katie Couric does is figure out what some of the tuff questions are that the respondent might not answer and prepare a follow-up question to get them to answer. Of course, a great interviewer can do this on the fly – and she talks about being “pugnacious” Pugnacious def: readily disposed to fight; belligerent. In research, we need to be innocuous, so you can’t really fight but you can say things that remind the respondent as to why their answers can inform you client and that it is not just about you (the interviewer) and them (the respondent). If the respondent wants to fight with you what should you do? In most research scenarios, it is easier because the respondents misperceptions are as important as their accurate perceptions. In addition, in terms of behavior, it is typically more important to understand why the respondent feels as they do – not whether or not those feelings are justified. In addition, we can even plan for web survey answers.
In a web survey, plan for questions where people may not answer or often give “pat” answers. Unfortunately, an experience researcher can do better at this. If you are not experienced, attempt to make follow up questions to things you think people might say. For example, if you are looking at the barriers to purchase a product or service you might expect that “price objections” would come up. So if people select “price” you can have that question trigger “In addition to price, what else is important” or “What would add to the value of the product/service and make it more worth the price?”
Like Katie Couric, you must remember your audience. In most cases, you are interviewing as a researcher for a client or to understand a behavior. Remind yourself of the client information objectives throughout the interview. Focus on these objectives, pugnaciously or gently as appropriate and persuade your respondent to focus on these objectives and tell them “that is nice to know, but what I really need help understanding is X, Y or Z.”
As Katie says, it is not about the “gotcha moment.” It is about giving your audience something of value. And if you think you’ve got a bad respondent, think about how Katie might handle Bobcat (the yelling comedian) or David Duke (the anti Semitist) or the victim of a tragedy. You’d be a lot more focused if you had millions of viewers watching you like they watch Katie Couric. The best interviewers prepare like they have millions watching and focus on what gives the audience value, even if that audience is only one respondent.
Of course, I'd probably get more high profile interview done if I looked at good as Katie.
Here is a YouTube Video of Katie’s tips on interviewing.