5 ways to listen for ‘the story’ when execs share information

Your client or company executive is fascinating. You are in the habit of listening attentively. But afterward, despite taking meticulous notes, you aren’t sure where to find “the story” in the information shared.

It might be because you are listening too passively and ignoring your own responses.

Try actively listening for the following:

  1. Lessons learned
  2. Obstacles overcome
  3. Counter-intuitive decisions
  4. Unexpected actions or outcomes
  5. Emotional responses

Once you’ve tuned your ears to these moments of narrative excitement, it’s time to ask extra questions. If you’re allowed to chime in, try to slow things down and get more detail on these parts of the story.

This works in customer interviews for case studies, too.

Sample questions:

  1. It sounds like that surprised you. What were you expecting instead? Why were you so happy about it?
  2. What else was happening at the time? Who was doing that? Why?
  3. What do you mean by “tough?” What problems were you facing? Why was that a problem?
  4. What were you doing the moment you changed your mind?
  5. What do you think would have happened if you’d done it the other way?
  6. What made you think it could work? Why didn’t you quit? What were others saying at the time?
  7. Hindsight is 20-20. Is there something you’d do differently if starting from scratch today?

Many PR people fall silent and let the story unfold naturally. Or they stick to a questionnaire, asking all or many of the questions in order, without diverging for details when things get interesting.

Assuming the person who’s talking knows you’re there to help pull out valuable threads, he or she probably will enjoy being interviewed by a genuinely interested listener.

Remember to notice and follow the thread of your own personal curiosity. Don’t be a robot. Really listen and let yourself enjoy surprises and insights that you then pursue with more questions.

This also saves time. Punching up your prose after your first draft is a lot harder than starting with better material in the first place.

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