We live in a share economy. And in the spirit of sharing, I’ve decided it’s time to start passing on some of what I’ve learned after almost 20 years as an indie corporate communications strategist.
In my world, every strategy, every post, every report starts with information. Research is one way to get that information. Talking with people is another. Last year, I probably interviewed 50-60 people for various projects. Some of them were in-person interviews. But most of them were phone interviews. I spend a lot of time listening to people’s stories, and here’s what I’ve learned:
- Record everything. You’ll need it as back-up. Some clients want the digital file after the interview, some want a transcript. Either way, it’s critical to have hard proof of what was said, in the event your subject claims she was misquoted. It’s also essential to have back-up for approvals, particularly for large clients where most corporate communications are vetted through a disclosure committee or legal team.
- Listen carefully. If you’re a speechwriter, that digital recording will help you to remember the cadence of the person’s speech, any idiosyncrasies in their speech patterns and the tone you’ll want to emulate in writing for them. This is really important, especially if you need to work quickly and get inside someone’s head to deliver a quality first draft. And if you’re constantly juggling different projects for different clients, having a recording will help to keep things straight and can kick-start new ideas or a new take on a communications strategy.
- Write it out. If you’re a content developer, I strongly recommend transcribing the recording and then summarizing the key points in a notebook, rather than just keeping the file in digital format. Even when I record a conversation, I always take long-hand notes throughout. And the research on this backs me up. A 2014 report claims that long-hand notes do a much better job at interpreting information as it’s being delivered, compared with simply typing information that we hear. Writing long-hand involves some degree of interpretation, whereas typing amounts to transcribing what you hear. Trust me, you want to remember your reaction to various facts in the moment, and long-hand notes help do that.
- File it. Keep your notes organized. Put dates on your notebooks, and for each interview, record the date and contact information. I know it sounds old-fashioned. But earlier this year, a client asked me if there were any new angles I could find to update a story I had worked on last summer. Having everything dated, stored and classified made it easier to retrieve — and because the notes were handwritten, all my thoughts on the interview, as well as what was actually said, were all there. This made it more efficient for my client — no additional fees for re-interviewing — and efficient for me, as it put me right back in the headspace I was in when I did the interview.
Bottom-line: Be safe, not sorry. Don’t rely on your memory to keep track of the facts. You owe it to your clients to be accurate. And you owe it to your reputation to be as buttoned down as possible. Sometimes you only get one chance to interview people. Make it count.