Tag Archives: interview

4 Ways to Get Control of a Runaway Interview.

A weakness common to novice interviewers  is their inability to take charge of an interview.  Interviews frequently look  like a runaway train with the interviewer gamely hanging on to the proverbial  little red caboose.

Taking charge doesn’t mean forcing or dictating the direction of the interview. It’s more like riding a horse. Anyone familiar with riding knows that it requires confidence and a gentle hold on the reins. The same  approach applies to interviewing.

Here are four ways to keep control of your interview:

1. From the outset be clear what you want from the interview.

If you’re clear before you start on the topic that you want to explore and its parameters then it makes it easier  to stay on track.

For example, if you know you want to capture a client’s childhood stories about summer holidays, then start your interview by saying something like, “Tom, today I’d like you to think back to your childhood and your summer holidays. What’s a particularly strong memory of the games you played?”

2. Use short, focused questions.

The more precise your questions the more specific the answers from your interviewees.  For example, a good question would be “What was your Mother’s special gift or talent?” A poor question would be “Tell me about your family.”

Questions that aren’t specific make interviewees anxious because they don’t know what you’re searching for.  If you continue to follow-up with vague, unfocused questions, their trust will erode and so will the interview.

3. Gently interrupt.

It’s difficult, I know. It seems somehow impolite. But you’d be surprised how many people really don’t mind being interrupted in an interview. In fact they appreciate that you’re paying attention and bringing them back on topic.

To  interrupt  politely wait for your interviewee to pause before stepping in.  For example, “Margaret, this is a fascinating story about your aunt. Later we’ll be taking more time  to talk about your extended family. But I’d like to come back to the earlier question I asked about your mother?”

It’s important to acknowledge the interviewees’ remarks, assure them that the topic will be covered, and then gently nudge them back on track.

4. Go where there’s passion.

Sometimes it’s best to throw your plans out the window. An apparent innocent question on your part might trigger  a strong emotional response in your interviewees that has no apparent connection to your question.  If this happens,  take the time to explore the story behind the emotion.

Clearly your interviewees wants to talk about this now. If you put them off by forcing them back on topic, you can lose a really important story.

Conclusion

If you’re just starting out as a professional personal historian, I hope these suggestions will be helpful. Use them as guidelines not as hard and fast rules. Interviewing is more an art than a science.  With experience comes an intuitive sense of how to guide an interview and get the best possible story.

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Photo by Mazeau

Encore! Life Stories and Palliative Care. When Time Is Running Out, What Do You Focus On?

At  Victoria Hospice we’re into the third year of a Life Stories  service for patients registered with Hospice.  This is a program that I initiated and continue to be involved with as  a trainer and a mentor for our Life Stories Volunteer Interviewers… Read more.

My Dears, Don’t Miss These 20 Fabulous Articles on Interviewing!

If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.
~ W. Edwards Deming,  American author and lecturer.

A good personal history interview is like a symphony – complex, engaging, and harmonious. Over the past three years I’ve written extensively about the art of the interview and assembled these articles here in one convenient list. Enjoy!

  1. Are You Asking the Courageous Questions?
  2. How Prepared Are You to Interview Terminally Ill Clients? 
  3. Come to Your Senses and Unlock Childhood Memories.
  4. What Do You Do When Facing a Reluctant Family Story Teller?
  5. How to Use “Acknowledgment” to Build a Better Interview. 
  6. How to Listen with Your Eyes.
  7. The #1 Secret to a Successful Life Story Interview.
  8. Are You Creating a Supportive Milieu for Your Personal History Interviews?
  9. Caution: End-of-Life Interviews May Unlock Traumatic Stories.
  10. How to Boost Your Interviewing Skills.
  11. Avoid These Three Interviewing Pitfalls.
  12. What I’ve Learned About Getting “Truthful” Interviews.
  13. 4 Action Steps to a Good Life Story Interview.
  14. How to Listen With Your Third Ear.
  15. Want To Do A Better Job of Listening?
  16. How to Interview A “Challenging” Subject.
  17. How to be An Engaged Listener.
  18. How to Interview Someone with Dementia.
  19. Do You Make These Interviewing Mistakes?
  20. Nine Secrets of A Good Interview.

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Photo by Erica La Spada

From the Archives: Do You Make These 5 Common Video Composition Mistakes?

Do You Make These 5 Video Composition Mistakes? Poor composition makes a video interview look  amateurish. If you don’t take time to set up your interview properly, it won’t matter how much you spent on your camcorder. Here are the five most common mistakes… Read More

How to Still be a Winner After Losing a Potential Client.

What do you do when you lose a potential client? A few weeks ago this happened to me. I was disappointed but it’s not the first time and it won’t be the last time that I hear the words, “I’m sorry but…”.  However,  over the years I’ve learned to see this as an opportunity and not as a loss. Let me explain.

I thanked my client for her interest in my services and proposed several inexpensive ideas that could still allow her to capture something of her father’s life.  I pointed her to a previous blog article of mine, How to Write Your Life Story in Twenty Statements. I suggested this could be a jumping off point for her father to reflect on his journey and document his thoughts with a digital voice recorder.

I also proposed that  perhaps a grandchild armed with some questions and a recorder could interview the grandfather and capture something of his story.

I felt better being able to offer some alternatives and she felt good about her experience with me. And that’s crucial. While I won’t be working with her on this project, who knows what the future holds? Perhaps one day she might want me to document her life story. Or she may pass my name on to a friend or colleague who’s looking for a personal historian. It’s planting seeds that can grow into future work.

So what might you be able to offer potential clients who turn you down? Here are some suggestions for saying, “Thank you for contacting me.”

If you put your mind to it, it’s not hard to come up with some simple, inexpensive ways to say, “I appreciate your contacting me. I’m sorry we can’t work together, but your desire to record your loved one’s personal history is important. And I want to honor your commitment.”

Photo by Jean-François Bauche

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Life Stories and Palliative Care. When Time Is Running Out, What Do You Focus On?

At  Victoria Hospice we’re into the third year of a Life Stories  service for patients registered with Hospice.  This is a program that I initiated and continue to be involved with as  a trainer and a mentor for our Life Stories Volunteer Interviewers.

Among the concerns that have arisen for the Interviewers, one, in particular, has been problematic. What part of a Life Story do you focus on when it appears patients may have only a few weeks or days to live? Patients may initially indicate that they want to talk about the broad spectrum of their lives from childhood to the present. The reality, unfortunately, is that they’re not likely to have enough time to complete such an undertaking.

Here’s what I’ve suggested. The Hospice Interviewer and patient agree to start with contemplative questions first. These are questions that reveal something of who the person is, rather than the details of their life. If time permits, they can always go back to talk about childhood beginnings and the important stories from their life. So what might some of these contemplative questions be? Here are some samples.

  • What would you like to say to your loved ones?
  • What has been important in your life?
  • What are you the proudest of in your life?
  • What do you admire most about each of your children?
  • What has brought happiness to your life?
  • What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned in life?
  • What regrets do you have?
  • How would you like to be remembered?
  • What is it that most people don’t know about you?
  • What are you grateful for?

Even if you’re not involved with palliative-care patients, you may find yourself at times interviewing someone who’s very frail and elderly. There’s no guarantee that time is on your side. In such cases you may want to give some thought as to what’s  essential to record. Focusing on more contemplative questions may be the answer.

Photo by Jill  Watson

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Do You Make These 5 Common Video Composition Mistakes?

Poor composition makes a video interview look  amateurish. If you don’t take time to set up your interview properly, it won’t matter how much you spent on your camcorder. Here are the five most common mistakes.

framing - poor lighting

Subject placed against a blank wall.

Placing your subject up against a blank wall.

There are several problems with this. The first is that most blank walls are really unattractive. It creates the impression that your subject is being interrogated in a police holding cell. The other problem, if you’re not careful with lighting, is that your subject casts an ugly shadow on the wall.  Always pay attention to the background.

 

 

bad framing - air space

Background is too busy.

Losing your subject in background clutter.

This is the opposite of the blank wall syndrome. Be careful to place your subject in such a way that he isn’t visually overwhelmed by the background. Try for an interesting but somewhat neutral backdrop for your interview.

Too much space around subject.

Too much space around subject.

 

 

 

Too much “air” space.

You don’t want a lot of space around your subject. It creates the feeling that the space is more important than your subject.

 

Having  “odd” forms growing out of your subject’s head.

This can create unintended humor. Check for wayward plants, ornaments, or other items that appear to have taken root on your subject’s head.

Head growths.

Head growths.

Not sufficient lead space.

Not sufficient lead space.

Leaving too little “lead” space.

If your subject is facing left or right, you want to frame him so there’s more space in front of him than behind. This creates a natural flow from your subject’s eyes to what he’s looking at off screen.

Blank wall photo by Paul
Backgound clutter photo by Mikel Daniel
Too much space photo by Laurie
Head growths photo by Jehane
Too little lead space photo by Gianpaolo Fusari

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Can Voice Recognition Software Capture Life Stories?

Last week a Google Alert pointed me to a woman who had used Dragon NaturallySpeaking to have her 95- year-old father record some of his life stories. You can see her YouTube demonstration here. I was intrigued. Was it possible to avoid the tedium of transcribing interviews or paying someone to do them? It sounded almost too good to be true. So I did a little research.

First of all, Dragon NaturallySpeaking is without doubt a remarkable piece of voice recognition software. PCMag.com editors give the latest version a 4 out of 5 rating and David Pogue, the technology writer for The New York Times, in a recent article said,

It doesn’t turn your computer into the “Star Trek” mainframe; it doesn’t know what you mean by, for example, “Make this document shorter and funnier.” But in its timid, conservative way, it takes voice control unmistakably closer to that holy grail of computing.

There’s little doubt that this software is excellent. But is it a good choice for the professional personal historian or the hobbiest? I don’t think so. For starters, you can’t conduct an interview using NaturallySpeaking because the software only understands one voice at a time. So the standard interview setup won’t work. You could, I suppose, do your interview one on one and then later dictate your subject’s remarks sentence by sentence using NaturallySpeaking. All this sounds terribly cumbersome. But if you can’t afford a transcriptionist or you’re a slow typist then NaturallySpeaking might be an option.

You could, like the 95-year-old I mentioned above, sit your interview subject down and give him or her a list of topics or questions you wanted discussed. Then you could let them use NaturallySpeaking to transcribe their comments. I don’t think this is a good method for getting at life stories. People like to converse. They don’t like to dictate into a computer. The more your interview is like a conversation, the more spontaneous and richer your material will be.

My verdict. If you want to capture life story treasures don’t use Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

Photo by Bruce