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Four Techniques for Drawing Business Stories Out of Others – Part 3


Have a natural conversation with your subject matter expertWhen I first entered the world of professional speaking, I was taught by some wise mentors to interview a sample of future audience members.  Later I learned of other professional speakers who send out surveys to collect information about their audiences rather than conduct interviews.

I stuck with what I learned first, the person-to-person interviews, probably because I learned it first.

Then, I was doing interviews – for a magazine article not a speech – and wanted to interviewed two subject matter experts (SMEs).  I tried to set up a time to talk to them both.  One SME was able to schedule a Skype call with me.  The other couldn’t make a time work before my magazine deadline so we decided to do the “interview” by email Q&A.  I found the quality of the answers is far, far better using the person-to-person interview rather than responses to written questions.

I might have started doing the person-to-person interviews because that was what I was taught first.  I continue to do them now because I know the results are much, much richer.  Which leads us to…



Technique #2 – Natural Conversation

Technique #1 relied on trying to create an environment similar to what you experience at a cocktail party.  Technique #2 is – have a conversation!

To help make the conversation more natural and comfortable for you and the leader or subject matter expert you’re talking to, consider these tips.


Shadow the Individual on the Job

One of the favorite ideas I learned was from an instructional designer at The Home Depot.  She actually shadowed a person doing the job she was developing the training for.  In watching him do his job she saw and collected stories from what she observed.  But the bigger payoff came during the slower times on the floor.  That’s when anecdotes would naturally come up in conversation.  She was able to collect more stories by hearing what the subject matter expert had to say in the course of a natural conversation than from her observations.


Find the Natural Storytellers

Also from an instructional designer at The Home Depot came the idea to find people who are natural storytellers.  They actually video record managers who have stories and  who genuine hunger to help others by passing along what they’ve learned.  They naturally have the ability to put themselves back in the new guy’s shoes and looks for how they can help others in learning from their mistakes and successes.


Talk to Your HR Department

Typically, the human resources department sees it all.  One of the best manager training classes I took was from an HR department that modified real stories (to protect the innocent and guilty) that had happened at our company.

See if your HR department can provide you with business stories that you can use.


The Key is TRUST

One of the most important aspects I heard again and again from the instructional designers I interviewed was the importance of trust.

The leader or subject matter expert has to trust that you weren’t going to use the stories to make them look bad or get them in trouble.

Let the interviewees know how the information they share with you is going to be used.  Are they going to get credited or will they be anonymous.  Honor the interviewees, gain their trust and maintain that trust through the conversation and beyond.


What Have Your Experiences Been?

We’d love to hear how you’ve opened these types of conversations and develop trust with those you’ve interviewed!  Please share below in the comments.


Next post – Question Based Interactions