Friday, 2 March 2007

How to interview

I normally get way too much information from my interviewees, which is usually fine, since the extra information often provides context or other story leads.

But when you're up against someone who doesn't want to give too much away, these tips may come in useful.

My favourite: hypnosis.

When people reach an important part of a story, slow them down and turn them into storytellers. Ask where they were standing, what they were doing, what they were wearing, what was the temperature and what were the noises around them? Then switch to the present tense, and ask questions like: What are you doing now? What is your friend saying? You and the interview subject will walk through the scene together. This technique frequently fails at first. People prefer to tell their story the easy way, in the abstract. "I drove the car off the cliff." Tell them this won't work. "I'm trying, but I just can't picture it yet. Drive me off the cliff with you." This is how you get a story, not a bunch of facts.

I would've never thought of that. But stories, not facts, are what makes the world go around - as I'm discovering through the book, Wake Me When the Data is Over.

Hat tip: Terry Whalin

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