Getting Some Answers

Being a writer for many publications means a lot of interviews either by phone, email or in person. I never know what kind of interview subject I will get or how receptive they will be to what I would like to know.

Finding “the scoop” can prove difficult for some interviewers, because it all lies in the hands (or mind) of the interviewee. I’ve come to find some quick tips in coaxing the story out of subjects.

Short Answer Sue
To no one’s fault, some people don’t like to get descriptive. It may be because of their personality, or if you’re on a phone interview, it could be that you are disrupting their day and there are too many distractions around.

The best solution is to not only ask open-ended questions, but also be frank and ask for what you want.

Me: What would you say your work does for people?
Interviewee: It helps them.
Me: What was a specific incident that has made you feel that you have really helped someone?

That last question could get the answer intended for the original question, but if the interviewee is a little uncomfortable, warm them up a bit by bringing up a topic that you have researched and know they know about or are interested in.

Backtrack Bill
Some interviewees like to talk about their subject of choice instead of staying on topic or they may be avoiding the question. The best thing to do is backtrack to the original point once they have paused or finished.

Me: Can you tell me a little bit about your client’s project?
Interviewee: Yeah, it’s great, but we’re also working on this new, innovative…..
Me: That’s fantastic! Does that tie in to what your client has done with this project?

Kind of vague, but the point is to bring the conversation back around to the original purpose. Don’t be scared to get a little annoying and go back there again if need be.

Nonstop Ned
Some interviewees like to talk nonstop and give you all the details they can about the subject at hand. Sometimes you get the information you needed right at the start, so there is no coaxing for this one, and sometimes you have to listen for 10 minutes before you get the answer you may need.

My best advice is to keep listening. There is no better way to get those amazing little stories or quotes than to keep listening. Hidden nuggets of priceless information could surface, or a whole new story could form altogether. Be a good listener and you may get more information than you bargained for.

Do you have special techniques you use in interviews? Tell us about them!