How to get killer quotes from ‘unquotable’ people

How to get the best possible material for a story from subjects who may be shy, taciturn, doers instead of talkers, or suspicious of reporters.

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Although I’m practically allergic to sciences and passed grade 11th-grade math only by promising never to take the subject again, for many years I had a big contract with a forestry company.

I produced a bevy of newsletters, both printed and electronic, and interviewed dozens of employees every month, mostly by phone. I learned how to talk about boilers, the annual allowable cut, cubic meters of lumber and how to fell a tree. Only one thing frightened me.

Talking to machinists.

Machinists are people who make or modify metal parts. They are good with their hands. Sadly, this usually means they are bad with their mouths. Every time I asked a machinist a question he’d answer with a variant of, “Uh, I dunno.” Sometimes he might say, “It depends.” And when I asked what it depended on, he’d reply, “Uhh, it’s kinda hard to explain.”

Interviewing employees—and doing it well—is harder than it looks. I’m sure your company has “machinists,” too—although in your case they may be engineers, marketing reps or vice presidents. Every company has bad interview subjects. Fortunately, as a corporate communicator, you can do a lot to improve your interviewing technique.

Here are 10 ways to help “unquotable” people to speak gold:

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