Content marketing: Telling Meaningful Stories

Interviewing Techniques: Listening Unveils Stories

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One of the best content gathering/interviewing/brand journalism techniques might be to simply listen to people. But listening is hard, right? It’s our turn to ask a question or to share a tidbit. Why should we give up our turn? Because we love stories! Other people’s stories especially. And the only way to get to hear other people’s stories is to give them time to share and then listen to them!

Allowing the audience to listen to each other
Audience members listened to each other during an exercise.

Listening to others involves a number of items that make the process easier:

Be approachable. I’ve had people come up to me and just start sharing. “You won’t believe what just happened …” Don’t interrupt and start guessing what may have just happened. Just let them tell the story. They will stop when it’s done. Usually, stories shared are stories that make us feel happy or stories that make us mad. Stories that evoke emotion are also shared.

Shhhh. Don’t take your turn to talk. You know what I mean, right? This is that quiet moment during a conversation. It might feel like it should be your turn to talk. And it might be, but just let the silence go on for a bit. It might seem strange that there is silence. Give the other person time to breathe and they are most likely to also want to stop the silence. That will lead to them wanting to continue to share their stories.

Ask good follow-up questions. Don’t just go into interview mode and ask the questions on your list. Ask questions that you’d ask if this was a conversation – which good interviews area. When somebody says – for example – that they traveled to 23 countries before age 15, ask how that happened and what the countries were. “Tell me more” is also a good follow-up statement that elicits more information.

Watch the (subtle) body language. Body language can easily be misinterpreted. So, be careful here. You don’t want to over-analyze it, but it’s good to keep an eye out for clues to what a person is thinking or perhaps not telling us. Bottom line: Don’t guess what a particular body movement means and share it in a write-up of a story, but the observation certainly can be used in your own mind to think about what else to ask next during the interview.

For over a decade in the authentic storytelling field, I’ve seen it to be fairly common that people want to share their stories. People talk to talk, connect and share experiences. It’s what we do.

But it can feel different when the person sharing the story knows that the other person will publicize the story. Why? There are several reasons:

  • People want to look good.
  • People want to sound smart.
  • People want the story to be accurate, but accuracy can be in the beholder’s eye. The interviewer’s impression of a story – especially when witnessed first hand – might be different from what the person who is the subject of the story would say happened.

Of course, there are ways to make this process more comfortable for the person being interviewed and the subject of a publicized story:

  • Listen closely.
  • Open body language. Show that you care and are interested in the story.
  • Ask clarifying questions: “Did I understand this correctly? Is this what happened …?”
  • Show the subject of the story a draft of the story before it’s published. This was a big no-no when I worked as a journalist in the early 2000s, but I used this technique in the days of Eastern Iowa News, a local community news startup I founded in 2009. At Eastern Iowa News, it helped with accuracy and sometimes caused people to think about another fact that was worth adding.

Listening closely and building a meaningful connection with the subject of a story can help us build stronger and more authentic connections and in turn help us share better, more accurate and meaningful stories.


Christoph Trappe

Hello and thanks for stopping by. I'm Christoph Trappe and I'm the Vice President of Content Marketing Strategy, Americas, at ScribbleLive, which is based in Toronto and is a global content marketing software company. Before I started at ScribbleLive I was VP of Content Marketing and Conversion at MedTouch, a Boston-based company that helps healthcare organizations with digital marketing. I've written two books, speak at conferences around the globe and blog frequently on here. I love sharing my stories and helping organizations share theirs. If you need help, just visit the Contact Me page in the navigation and drop me a note. I'm always happy to chat! Thanks for reading! - Christoph ctrappe@christophtrappe.com 319-389-9853

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