I met with Peter Lewis over a cup of joe yesterday morning to discuss a storytelling workshop that we’ll be tag-teaming on soon.
We went through the exercise of comparing notes on the storytelling front.
Peter, who now teaches at Stanford’s J school, offered a journalist’s perspective reflecting stints at The New York Times and Fortune. My input shaped from toiling in the comms trenches for 25+ years.
When I mentioned that we could spend the entire workshop on interviewing techniques, Peter responded that he teaches a class devoted to this single topic.
That’s when it struck me.
The most undervalued skill in corporate storytelling is the ability to conduct an interview.
It doesn’t matter whether you sit on the agency side or in-house, if your content consists of only the party line you’ve got no story (unless, of course, you’re Apple).
It’s the probing and cajoling of executives or domain experts that goes a long way toward determining whether you ultimately shape a story that will resonate with the target audience.
Yet, how many communication professionals have been trained in interviewing techniques?
Putting aside the journalists who’ve jumped to the PR side, I’ll bet 99% of all communicators have never had this type of training.
Consider how journalists conduct an interview.
They’re striving to dig out content to tell a fresh story and one that often entertains or at least amuses the reader.
Such information isn’t going to come from the news release or the corporate website.
It requires extracting — the verb seems appropriate, since the feelings of the interviewee can be similar to those experienced in the dentist’s chair — information that’s not already in the public domain.
Here’s the crux.
Companies expect journalists to be aggressive and even Fifth-Ave.-During-Christmas pushy.
Companies don’t expect communicators to exhibit this type of behavior.
I’m looking forward to tackling this topic during the workshop.