Writers love to interview someone who speaks naturally, compares a complex topic or object to something others can relate to and isn’t afraid to share personal feelings or thoughts. It just makes the whole writing process a lot easier.
In the corporate world, you are more likely to get someone who thinks big words make the speaker sound more intelligent, peppers the conversation with technical terms and acronyms, and probably doesn’t even admit to having feelings. So how do you pull out the kind of information that makes for an interesting article?
During a conference call with a client last week, writer and publication coach Daphne Gray-Grant shared some great tips:
- Come right out and ask, “How did you feel?”
- For those who won’t talk feelings, make assumptive statements, such as “That must have been frustrating/exciting/nerve-wracking…”
- Give a little push: “Would you say that’s like…?”
- Take the person back to a specific time by asking things like, “When did you know this product/project would be a success?”
- Ask the person to compare the topic/product/project to something, or ask how he/she would describe it to a child.
- Probe and be persistent in collecting stories/anecdotes/images.
- Try not to use superlatives. If asked for an example of the best or worst, people have to think too hard. Instead, ask for an example: “What were some of the problems?”
I usually end my own interviews with something like this: “Is there anything we haven’t talked about that’s important to include in this article?” Quite often that pulls out an interesting comment or an important perspective, or underlines something that may end up being a good place to start the article.
What are your tips for interview success?
Image: Meat on the grill by “franky242” and FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
I often conduct telephone interviews with employees who are being recognized for an achievement or as a role model, which means I have to ask about values and other personal issues.
If the person sounds even a little bit warm, I try to make friends before I dive in, for example asking them about March break. Or I try to say something to make them laugh. This works especially well with women and younger guys. With more serious business people, I respect their time and start interviewing right away. But I postpone touchy-feely questions till I can tell they’re more comfortable. In fact, some of the questions I ask are not for the response, but to open them up.
Good ideas, Barb! I also assure people that not everything we talk about will make it into the final article, which of course they’ll have a chance to review before it goes anywhere.
Yes, the assurance that they’ll get to review really gives people the confidence to speak more openly. But don’t you hate it when they come back with written revisions that undermine the earlier conversational tone?