The discovery process is the first step in a project and a good first interview will make things a lot easier down the road. Being in a one-on-one situation with nothing but a recorder, your prepared notes, and a potential client waiting for you to ask the right questions is a tough spot. But, if you have done your research, prepared good questions, and you really listen to the answers coming from your guest, the interview should be a success.
Here are the steps to follow to ensure you rock that first interview.
The first step is to conduct research on the interviewee and their business. It is imperative that you already have an idea of who the person is and what they might have to say before you meet them. A good conversation is a two-way street and in order for that to happen, you have to be aware of who your client is, what they do, and how they do it before they have the chance to tell you. If you have done the proper research, the next step will already have begun in your head.
Having a solid set of questions (based on the research you have already done) is extremely important. When you are creating the questions, you want to think about what answers you are hoping — and expecting — to get from your interviewee. I’m not suggesting you put words in their mouth or direct the conversation in one sole direction, but if you go in without an idea of the answers you want or expect, you may be left with a big mess of unstructured and unorganized information to sort out afterward. The more organized your questions are, the more comfortable you will make your client — which will result in a smooth conversation and better information gathering.
The list of questions you prepare isn’t the be-all and end-all of the interview. It is a great start, but the key to getting more than cookie-cutter answers is listening to your guest and asking questions based on what they are saying “in” the moment. Going off-script is absolutely okay as long as you stay within the realms of the main interview topic. You will find the most natural (and often the best) answers come from follow-up questions. Follow-up questions also show the client that you are actually listening to them and not just reading a list of questions like a robot.
If your client is okay with it, I recommend using a microphone to record the conversation so you can go back and listen to the exact words they spoke, rather than only having your notes to rely on. It also allows you to devote 100% of your attention to the person across the table, which leads to better conversation.
Interviewing someone can be a daunting task, but it is a great opportunity to start a solid business relationship by showing your preparedness and work ethic. So do your research, prepare a great list of questions, and focus on what your client is actually telling you, not just the words they are saying.