Steering the conversation

A story interview starts with the right questions — and ends with a conversation

InterviewerThe art of writing a volunteer profile story is only partly in the writing. It’s also in the preparation. To tell a great story, you need great raw material, and that material comes from your interview.

If you have been following along from the last blog post, you have selected a story candidate who in many ways resembles the volunteers that you wish to recruit – a volunteer with similar goals, interests, skills, and demographics.

Developing Questions

Now you need to develop questions that will uncover the particulars of your interview candidate’s volunteer experience while generating an emotional response. These are not unusual or creative questions. They are open-ended questions that will help you connect the subject’s experience with the experience of your target reader.

Questions like:

  • What gets you excited about this work?
  • What is your proudest moment?
  • Looking back, how to do you feel about the experience?

Having the conversation

Use your questions as a springboard for starting a conversation with your subject. As you talk, pick up on the areas that generate excitement for your subject – and then keep talking. Sometime the smallest comment may uncover your most useful material.

I recently interviewed a volunteer who was known for her reliability and her dedication to the children she worked with in our program. My baseline questions helped to generate some good quotes and observations about the cause, but nothing that seemed particularly story-worthy.

Then the conversation turned to something incidental — but important. When asked what about her proudest moments, the volunteer talked about something that sounded fairly routine – helping a teen learn to budget. Her face lit up as she talked, and I knew this small success was very meaningful to her. I asked more questions about what she did, how she did it, how she felt about her achievement, and I came away with the gist of a moving story.

Learning how to interview someone is an easy skill to master. Like a good scout, “be prepared”, and then steer the actual conversation in a meaningful direction.

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