Simple Story Interview Techniques that Really Work

SEO and the Psychomachia – Humility vs. Pride

By Laura Mauney

Engaging stories, whether fact or fiction, serve as the fabric of almost every website.

Even sites that rely on images or products more than words to serve their audiences are telling a story.

In the realm of SEO, well expressed stories can boost the ability of niche sites to stand out against competitors, and to successfully capture and keep an audience.

Text on web pages, image and link titles, alt text tags, Meta data, and Meta titles and descriptions all function as verbal threads in the fabric.

When it comes to writing the story, just as in print and visual media, and whether one is blogging or building out core site content, observation, comprehensive research, and interviews can all contribute to the weaving of the yarn.

Although observation and research (and associated fact checking) are entirely driven by writers and editors, interviews can be tricky because the consent of another person to share information is involved.

The core objective of interviews is to encourage people – subject matter experts, developers, users, owners – to offer up enough detail about the topic to enable the writer to interpret and retell the story in an audience-friendly manner.

Successful interviews require a combination of preparation, sheer nerve, and the ability to improvise questions on the fly.

Drop the Ego, and Let the Experts be the Experts

Ever heard the bully-statement, “ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer?”

This snarkiest of snarks may generate a few hearty snorts from the peanut gallery, but in the real-world of real-writers, fear of seeming “stupid” can be debilitating, serving to inhibit rather than enhance story development and outcomes.

Approaching an interview with as much pre-knowledge of a subject as possible is obviously wise.

When it comes to actual question and answer sessions, however, developing a student-teacher relationship is one of the best ways to enable an interviewee to speak freely and enthusiastically about his or her favorite topic.

If the person uses an unknown word or acronym, ask its meaning. If the person describes a process or concept that is difficult to understand, just say so, and ask for clarification. After all, the writer’s job often is to explain the subject to people who are even less knowledgeable than oneself.

One of my favorite examples of the student-teacher technique was shared with me by my daughter, a writer and photographer who is interested in studying mechanical engineering.

My Car Engine

What does that do?

Recently, while preparing for a cross-country road-trip, she took her car to the shop for a checkup. She decided to use the occasion to learn everything she could about how the automobile engine works.

She informed the mechanics that she knew very little about cars, and proceeded to ask simple questions about everything they were doing to the engine.

The mechanics, turns out, were thrilled that she showed such genuine interest in their work. They graciously told her all about the transmission, braking architecture, wheel alignment, radiators and coolant, and more.

Rather than competing with the experts, she simply allowed them to impress her with their knowledge.

In other words, she started the interview with a blank slate, approached the subject matter with complete and absolute humility, and wound up learning far more than she expected.

Avoid Simple Answers by Mastering the Art of the Simpler Question

Most interviewees are generally delighted to share information about their subject, but for some, translating knowledge into words is not an easy task.

How many writers out there have found themselves awkwardly trying to encourage someone to answer questions, while consistently receiving only “yes” or “no” answers, or spotty, unclear explanations of how a complex process works?

Responding with additional questions that do not allow for simple or obscure responses can be a tough chore.

One way to avoid the problem is to not give away answers by asking questions that contain the answer:

Instead of asking:

“Does the product help people run businesses better?”


“How does the product help people run businesses better?”

The second question is more likely to produce a more comprehensive answer, but even so, it is very broad.

Broad questions usually work very well for people who enjoy talking, but do not work well for those who don’t. If a broad question fails, improvised questions are one way to dig deeper.

One improvisational technique is to deliver commands instead of asking questions:

“Describe the features of the product, one by one.”

“List the measurable outcomes.”

“Provide statistics that demonstrate the impact of the product on outcomes.”

Another technique is to follow simple answers with even simpler questions:

“What does the user do first?”

“Then what does he do?”

“What is the next step?”

“Where can the user see the results?”

Eyes on the Prize: Audience is the Objective

Writers get plenty of chances to impress in our own right when our pens are finally put to paper. After all, in the end, the quality of the chronical retold is the only thing that matters to an audience.

By approaching interviews with an air of humility and a willingness to simplify, one is likely to learn much more about the persons being queried, and the associated topics.

The one-of-a-kind aspect of the experience, in turn, offers an opportunity for a retelling that is fresh, informative, and engaging.

About Laura Mauney

Laura Mauney is a writer who thinks she is a photographer. Professionally, she specializes in online marketing, and creating, organizing and managing creative assets and user-friendly information for websites. She is also a mother. Her photo blogs include Flowers in Urbia and Trees in Urbia.

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