I’ve been doing a lot of interviewing lately for everything from corporate profiles, to newsletter success stories, to customer-facing web pages. While picking up the phone to quiz a complete stranger can still be daunting, over the years I’ve developed a few habits and tips that will (usually) make the process go smoothly and ensure that I get better quotes than the canned and approved business-speak that you sometimes hear in corporate settings
- Attitude is everything. Even the dullest-sounding topic will have a compelling thread in there somewhere. Going into the interview with the attitude that you’re going to help the interviewee lead you to that (sometimes) buried treasure means you’re more alert to what they have to say. It may sound tedious to you, but the topic at hand is often the heart of what your interviewee does for a living. The trick is to find out why.
- That leads neatly into a second point – making sure the interviewee feels respected and valued. People are often nervous about being interviewed, especially if it’s not a frequent part of their job, so putting them at their ease with normal human interaction is always the way to go. If they say something you find intriguing, say so and follow up. If you find something surprising, say so. People will give you much more interesting information and much more natural sounding quotes when they feel like they’re in conversation with someone who is genuinely interested.
- Ask broad questions that give the interviewee lots of room to start talking. I like
- How did you first get involved in …?
- What has surprised you most about …?
- Is that different to what you’ve seen in other projects/ places…?
Once they start talking more generally, you can follow up on things that are specific to the story you are going to tell.
- And talking of following up – my favorite standbys are :
- What makes you say that?
- Why do you think that’s the case?
- Can you give me an example?
- My final question is always: What should I have asked you? Or: What were you expecting me to ask about that I didn’t cover? Sometimes I swap that out for “What one thing would be most important for someone trying to emulate your success?” It’s amazing how often those final questions lead to great stories or quotes or key facts that you weren’t even aware of.
Then all you have to do is spin this straw into communications gold…