Friday, July 27, 2012

Research and interviews that make the grade

With the Internet resources today, interviews and reports are much more compelling and a whole lot easier to research and write. When I first started my business in 1994, doing background preparation for a CEO speech or a major profile was like going down a blind alley on the Internet. It took hours, involved looking at horsey typeface (typically multi-colored and different fonts), had few if any decent pictures, and often led to dead-ends.
What's the story behind these newlyweds? (Photo by Liz Cezat)
Now there’s Google and other snappy search engines that take you where you want to go in a matter of seconds. In preparation for interviews, I typically “google” the person or subject to supplement what I already know. It is through this compilation of written reports and YouTube videos that I gather the kernels of questions I will ask the interviewee.
Aside from my own curiosity, I am guided in my writing by the audience of the newsletter, magazine or report. What do the readers want to know about this person or topic?
If they are donors, they often want to know what motivates a philanthropist to donate to a specific cause. Was there an incident in their childhood that caused them to favor a certain nonprofit organization as an adult? Did one of their children sustain a debilitating injury or chronic illness that changed the family’s life? Readers are also curious about the type of business or investments that enable a philanthropist to be a major supporter of an organization.
For alumni publications read by both recent graduates and older alumni, learning about a fellow alum’s path to success is always of interest. Poignant stories that tell of a special relationship connect with readers emotionally. Did the couple elope at 18 in order to leave the country and start a new restaurant chain that made them multi-millionaries? Reports about how an individual overcame adversity or seized an opportunity make for riveting reading.
I try to ferret out the unique aspects of an individual and that typically comes out during the actual interview. Thus, I must be alert to where the conversation is going if it strays from my set questions. If the thread of the interview takes me to a new place, I tend to explore it. That thread may reveal information that makes the finished article much different than it otherwise would have been. Whenever possible, I also ask colleagues or friends of the individual for insight into his/her personality, actions or achievements.
Let me know if you have a topic or individual that your organization or business wants to highlight in a newsletter, blog, magazine or special report. I’d be happy to do the research and writing.