I write business profile articles, which means that I have to interview business owners and their employees. Some people really know their business, and are very adept at answering interview questions. I had one interviewee speak for 40 minutes straight on my introductory question (I recorded the interview, and it’s mostly me saying “Yes” and “Mmm-hmm” to his answers, as I was trying to break in to ask another question).
Then you have people who don’t have much to say, or come off as being unprepared or lacking knowledge about their business. I try to send my questions in advance so that they can prepare their answers, but I still encounter business people who are not very talkative. (I actually had one interviewee – who was the owner’s son – tell me that he did not want to answer any more questions about five minutes into the interview. I paused and looked at the phone in confusion, and then said, “OK.”)
So, what should you do when you encounter interviewees with very little to say? Prepare them in advance as much as possible so that they are ready to answer questions, but then try the following ideas.
- Avoid yes or no questions whenever possible. They will give you short answers.
- Ask questions involving the 5 Ws (and 1 H) so that you can get them to provide longer explanations.
- Ask the same question in a different way to get a different angle or more information.
- Ask for examples or case studies to help interviewees explain their answers.
- Come back to a question later to give the interviewee time to think about it.
- Ask the interviewee about topics that they would like to discuss.
- Ask them to elaborate on a specific answer that they provided, or ask more questions about a topic that they seem comfortable discussing.
- Ask them to talk about themselves, what they do, their background, etc., and then build questions based on what they know best.
Also, follow up later with email questions, as some people are better writers than speakers. Make sure to thank them for their time, and get writing.
What tips do you have on getting more out of interviewees? Let me know – I can always use great advice on having better interviews. And if you need help with writing business profiles and other articles, just reach out – firstname.lastname@example.org.