By Katrina Olson
Customer Profile. Success Story. Case Study. No matter what you call it, crafting a compelling one requires details that will bring your writing to life and fill in blanks in the reader’s mind. To do this, you’ll need to be a master interviewer. Here’s how:
- Research your subject and topic before the interview.
You’ll save precious time during the interview by not asking questions you could have easily answered yourself. First, talk to the salesperson or consultant who worked with the client. Then, use your own database or sales history, LinkedIn, the company’s website (especially their digital newsroom), newspapers, and trade publications to get smart.
- Develop a list of appropriate and relevant questions.
Start with easier ones to put your subject at ease, and then move on to more difficult ones. Ask open-ended questions requiring more than a “yes” or “no” answer. Start questions with how, when, why, where and what.
- Schedule an interview time and confirm the day before.
Email or call—but if you call, be prepared to do the interview on the spot. Otherwise, suggest several days and times to meet or call. State how much time you’ll need and don’t go over unless they suggest it. The day before, email to “make sure the time is still good for them” and to gently remind them.
- Conduct the interview.
Call at the scheduled time or arrive 5-10 minutes early for in-person interviews. Be friendly, courteous and relaxed—if you’re comfortable, they’ll be too. Don’t be afraid to make small talk for a few minutes. Then, take charge of the interview, maintaining eye contact and acknowledging their answers. Don’t constantly look at your notes as if anticipating your next question.
Be flexible and follow their lead; it may take you somewhere interesting. But if your subject rambles too far off topic, politely but firmly steer them back.
Ask permission to record the interview or take photos; or take excellent notes.
- Type/clean up your notes.
Do this immediately—that hastily scrawled “shorthand” makes sense now but in a few days it may not. Correct your spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. and fill in any missing words. Shoot for a verbatim transcript. If you recorded the interview, transcribe it immediately. Save this file and start a new document (with a different name, of course) for your story so you can check the original text or meaning.
- Let it sit.
Don’t write immediately or you’ll end up with simply a recap of your notes, with no clear message or logical flow. Instead, let it sit for a few days and think about:
- the overall theme or message of your story as it fits with your purpose
- your hook or unique take on the subject
- how you’ll introduce/start the article
- how you’ll end the article
- what message you want to leave readers with
If you just can’t wait, try writing a few headlines or an introduction to focus your thoughts.
- Write, edit (repeat).
Stories aren’t written—they’re rewritten. (Okay, Michael Crichton said that about books; but it’s true for stories, too.) Work your key points into a logical flow but don’t be afraid to rearrange them. Look for smooth transitions and break your story into bite-size pieces.
Weave quotes throughout and resist the urge to use “Then I asked” and “Then she said” constructions. Don’t misquote your subject or change her meaning. Call or email to check for accuracy if needed. However, it is okay to take out superfluous “ums,” “ahs” and “whatnots,” especially if it makes your subject sound better.
Interviewing comes more naturally to some than others, but everyone can improve with a little preparation and practice. And its kind of fun once you get the hang of it. If you’re nervous, consider “mock interviewing” a coworker.
Next week, we’ll delve deeper into what specific questions to ask to align with the structure of your written case study.
Olson is a marketing and public relations consultant, and principal of Katrina Olson Strategic Communications. She has written for tED magazine’s print edition since 2005, judged tED magazine’s Best of the Best Competition since 2006, and emceed the Best of the Best Awards ceremony for a total of seven years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her website at katrinaolson.com.
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