Interviews are a valuable marketing tool that can show the human side of any product or service you’re trying to sell. At SKAR we often use them for our health care client. It’s informative to read about a medical procedure that can improve health, but it’s emotionally powerful to hear someone tell how feeling better has given her a new outlook on life. We use interviews to do video and audio productions, to gather information for campaigns and to enliven written materials with direct quotations. We’ve also used interviews for internal presentations when we felt it would best communicate our passion for the topic.

We asked a couple of SKAR writers with years of interviewing experience to share what they’ve learned. Senior Vice President of Creative Services Barb Ruser often conducts in-person interviews to present as audio or video productions. Copywriter Bill Roberts does over-the-phone interviews that are recorded to get information for printed materials. Here are their comments.

In-person interviews: Start with the basics.

Check your recorder for battery power and file space; have a backup device nearby. Make sure the subject agrees to being recorded and fills out any necessary consent forms. Explain how the information will be used and if or when the person will be able to review what’s written.

Don’t schedule an interview. Arrange a conversation.

Nobody really wants to be interviewed. It evokes the anxiety of job hunting or being taken out of context. This perspective should influence your entire approach when talking with the person on the other side of the phone, table or camera. Watch your subject’s body language and mirror it, if possible. This is a tried-and-true way to put people at ease.

Make a list of questions. But don’t read from it.

This is especially important when talking face-to-face, because you want your eyes on the person, not a piece of paper. Barb explained: “I write questions as a way to remember what’s important. I also scrawl notes about things to pursue later. At the end of the talk, I often say I’m going to look over my notes to make sure we touched on everything.”

Mind the gap. Shut your yap.

When there’s an awkward gap in the conversation, it’s human nature to fill it in. If you remain quiet and let your subject do the filling, that’s where the magic can happen. He or she will likely expound on the line of questioning or perhaps take it in a whole new direction. All good.

You may get a tough nut. Here’s how to crack it.

Some people aren’t forthcoming, no matter how conversational you are or how many gaps you provide. This is when you need go-to questions: What does your typical day look like? Do you have a story to illustrate that point? What do you want people to know about your topic? Use whatever sincerely comes to your curious mind – because sincere curiosity about what your interviewee has to say is really at the core of it all.

Phone interviews: Preparation is key.

When you’re interviewing over the phone, your subject can’t see what you’re doing or how you’re reacting. But you still have to prepare.

Have a list of the basic facts you need and check them off as you go along – name spellings, job titles, dates, places and company names. Asking these first can help put your subject at ease for the more meaningful questions that will follow, and it may help you get a better sense of him.

Don’t send a list of questions beforehand. It may be unavoidable in the case of background facts, but when you get to the questions you hope will spark an emotional reaction – How did you feel when you saw the X-ray? or Who told you the news? – you’ll want unrehearsed, from-the-heart responses.

As the conversation proceeds, be prepared to ask follow-up questions and dive deeper. Stay alert and curious. If your subject says something that makes a question pop into your head, ask it. Chances are, your audience will have the same question.

Could your advertising program benefit from the emotional impact of interviews? At SKAR we have the experience to help you use this important marketing tool to your advantage. For information contact SKAR today.


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