Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Interview Challenge: Preparing for Your Interview

Never go into an interview situation cold. By adhering to the following tips, you will most likely be warmly received by your interviewee who will graciously open up to your questions, giving you all the information you desire, to write up the hottest interview of the century (even Gaddafi has his preference in who he opens up to--my hero, Christiane Amanpour). Hyperbole aside, through your thoughtful presence and keen intuitive line of questioning you could acquire amazing stories from your next door neighbor--who knew??
Here are 5 Things You can do to Prepare for Your Interview
1. Contact the person you want to interview.
Obvious, I know, but it is how you contact her that will set a successful tone for your eventual meeting. Introduce yourself in a friendly, professional manner, inform her of your request for an interview, and your expectations/goals of getting together. Emailing is OK, but phoning is better--a warm and enthusiastic voice on your end will create a certain amount of trust, or at the least, a willingness to meet with you on her end. In your area of the world, your only option may be to knock on the door and ask. If she agrees, set up the interview with a time and location.
2. Location.
The place you pick is key to creating the right atmosphere for getting your interviewee to open up. Noisy, crowded places kill the feeling of privacy and being heard. Consider locations where your interviewee feels the most relaxed: home, place of work, a park or a place that is relevant to her story.
3. Do your homework and research the person you are going to interview.
Background information shows your subject that you are interested in her life and eliminates the need to use your time discussing facts that can easily be accessed through some quick research. More importantly, the knowledge you acquire will give you an edge in your ability to shift any line of questioning as she begins to share her story.
4. Start thinking and praying about how you want the interview to go.
How do you see the interview going? What will you need to do interpersonally to connect with your interviewee? Immerse yourself in your subject's life; spend time getting to know her before the interview commences. Cultivate a deep curiosity about this person and the subject you are writing about.
Contemplate your goals: how will you structure your questioning to achieve a good outcome? Make a list of questions and practice asking them out loud: are they simple and easy to remember or long, drawn-out ramblings? Think about how you will write this up post-interview: Will you need to pay attention to details of your surroundings and your subject to augment your essay style article? Or will you need to keep track of your questions to accurately compose a Q & A type write-up?
5. Watch and learn from the pros.
Find someone you admire and learn from watching them do their craft. As you know, I love to watch Christiane Amanpour in action; her style and manner gets her all the best interviews with the toughest world leaders. I also admire Charlie Rose and his across-the-table interview style. Katie Couric makes me feel uneasy--not a fan. I think Bob Costas is great at making sports figures interesting and multidimensional. And I had an inkling when I first saw Oprah interview a guest that she was going to be special...she deeply moved not only the guest to tears but me as well with her line of questioning.
I hope you are beginning to feel empowered to ask a profound question with the hopes of getting an amazing answer. However, it's really the idea of cultivating a curiosity about the people around you that set this "challenge" in motion. Every life has a story. And the best stories are about the journeys people live. You are in a key position globally to start telling these compelling stories by asking a few simple questions, listening well to the responses and telling us all what you have discovered. When you take the time to prepare for your interview, you will be conveying an attitude that reveals that you are worthy to hold their stories in your hands.
Next week: The Interview.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Interview Challenge: Asking [the Right ] Questions --Cindy Blomquist

I am the girl in the room who will ask questions. Not the pesky kind [in my opinion]. My specialty is asking the questions that penetrate through the fog of confusion. Tough ones that everyone else is too chicken to ask, but are dying to know. I am curious and fearless : two qualities necessary for conducting an interview. Being respectful, professional and courteous are equally important.

Last week, your assignment was to select your interviewee and set your goal for the interview. Most interviews seek to accomplish at least one of these goals:

1. Obtain the interviewee's knowledge about a topic.
2. Obtain the interviewee's opinion and/or feelings about the topic.
3. Feature the interviewee as the subject.

This week you will develop a list of questions that will direct the course of the interview. And by asking the right kind of questions, you will hopefully attain your goal.

The Right Kind of Question

1. Ask Open-ended Questions.

These are the questions that begin with "What," "Why" and "How," or phrases like "Tell me about" or "How did that make you feel." Asking open-ended questions will cause the person to answer with more than a "yes" or "no," drawing out a more well-rounded response. These type of questions tend to be more objective and less leading than closed-ended questions.

Open-ended Questions:
Tell me about your relationship with your Team leader's wife.
How did you decide to live in Tanzania?
Why does this subject bring you to tears?

Closed-ended Questions:
Do you like your Team leader's wife?
How long have you lived in Tanzania?
Is this subject an emotional one for you?

2. Use the technique of repeating a key word or phrase mentioned by the interviewee in drawing out more information : if your interviewee says, "My Team leader's wife is so protective of her husband"--follow up with: "What do you mean, protective?" Or if she says, "This has been a hard year."--you ask: "What has happened that has made it hard?"

3. Keep questions free of your opinion/bias--usually known as a leading question. For example: "Don't you think it is inappropriate for women to wear jeans at a church service?"

4. Avoid adding a statement to your question. For example: "How do you sleep in the jungle? I think it would be hard sleeping with all the animals, reptiles, and bugs creeping around outside your bedroom window," Usually, the person will respond to your statement and not your original question.

5. Keep your questions short and simple. They produce succinct, dramatic, focused responses. It keeps the spotlight on the interviewee and her story. Add these short and simple questions to your question arsenal:

How do you know that?
What makes you say that?
What happened next?
Can you give me an example?
How often does that happen?
What's that like?

What comes next? Great question. Next week, I'll talk about tips and techniques that every good journalist uses to get the best possible interview. Is there someone in your corner of the globe you are curious about, someone you feel has a story that needs to be told? That's the person you should interview... write some open-ended questions this week that will satisfy your curiosity and show that you value the voice of another.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Interview Challenge

Q: How do you find out what God is doing in your area of the world?
Q: How can you find out what the spiritual climate is in your ministry focus?
Q: How can you initiate and engage nationals in significant conversations?
Q: How can you keep your newsletters and blogs interesting?

A: Interviews

By utilizing the interview technique, you can enter into a conversation in a nonthreatening way by simply asking a person what they think about a certain topic and acquiring interesting information and stories. As a writer, you can then take the answers and write them up to fashion a story that would be of interest to your team, your company and even your supporters.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be exploring the subject of interviewing with the goal of getting each one of you to conduct one interview, write it up, and submit it to the "Interview Challenge" Contest! Who knows, we may discover the next Christiane Amanpour!

I found an article, "13 Simple Journalist Techniques For Effective Interviews," by Sarah Stuteville, that will get us moving in the right direction. I'll list the 13 techniques from the article and then let you click through to read more on each technique [plus there's an inspiring photo you gotta see...I see you in that shot!].

From the article: In an effort to help other aspiring reporters develop this crucial skill-I brought together some of my colleagues and journalist friends to ask them what interview tips they think are most helpful:
1. Find a good location.

2. Prepare your goals ahead.

3. Write down your questions.

4. Work on your flow.

5. Think about the medium.

6. Bring a buddy.

7. Avoid obsessing.

8. Be a little annoying.

9. Be a little sneaky.

10. Empower them.

11. Work them up.

12. Endure awkward silences.

13. Ask for what you need.

For the "Interview Challenge": This week pick someone to interview. Develop and write out your goal for the interview.

I'd love to know who you pick and why you are going to interview them...so please share in the comment section. It is the goal of this blog to keep you writing and perhaps pushing you beyond what your current skill set is, so I hope you take this "Interview Challenge."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The "Co-" Pieces: Co-Author, Collaboration, Commission - Diane Coleman

I told you a little bit about Anees, my mentor and co-writer for The Truth About Islam and Cry of the Heart and Quest of the Mind. Did I tell you that his native language is Arabic? Did I tell you he has a big booming voice and laughs HA HA HA and calls me “the Queen”? Well, he does and it’s no exaggeration to say that I love him like a brother.

But brothers and sisters sometimes (often?) don’t see eye-to-eye. When Anees and I collaborate, it’s like we dump all the book jigsaw pieces on a big tray and we pass that tray back and forth, back and forth, as we pick through them for the ones we need. And—here’s the kicker—sometimes I throw extra pieces on the tray and sometimes Anees does. And sometimes these pieces don’t look like we’re working on the same puzzle at all.


Collaboration is a relationship like any other. It requires flexibility, respect, graciousness, honesty, generosity, mutual submission, and a very healthy dose of good humor.

I’ve found that it’s really important from the get-go for collaborators to clarify their roles in the process. One may be the visionary and the other the mechanic, as was the case for Anees and me. Both Truth and Cry are a blend of us both, a sort of cross-cultural, cross-gender, syncretistic hybrid. (An early reviewer of Truth remarked that it sounded like it was written in Arabicized English. I’m not so sure he meant it as a compliment, but I choose to think of it that way. (Arabicized English…I like that.)

If you decide to collaborate with someone—a national, or a team mate, or organization leader—you will experience the same thing. The book you create will be a happy blend of your combined personalities and experiences.

My other two books, Lead Pencil and Bruno-isms were privately commissioned. A commissioned project is like being given a publisher’s advance. The upside of this is that you know that your hard work will definitely go to print. The downside is that you must tailor the manuscript to meet the commissioning agent’s time schedule and content guidelines. You will be paid for the time you spend on the project, but may or may not receive ongoing royalties, depending upon how the book is distributed and the contract you negotiate.

Bear in mind also that you may not be identified as the real writer (true ghost writing) or you may be acknowledged with the line “With (insert name here).”

But you may want to pitch this kind of project to your company or NGO. It’s a good way to get published and build your credentials as a writer. Plus, a book written from a “field perspective” can be a great asset to your organization for recruiting and training.

In any case, you have a story to tell. Now, GO WRITE YOUR BOOK!

[Editor’s Note: This is Diane’s final post. Thank you, Diane, for your wit and informative posts. You keep writing too!]


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