A couple of weeks ago, Ragan Consulting Group (RCG) co-founder and senior partner Jim Ylisela co-hosted a writing workshop with RCG senior consultant Tom Corfman at Chicago’s Soho House. Attendees were asked to find a stranger — someone they didn’t work with — and interview them throughout the afternoon for what would eventually become a profile.
Along the way, Ylisela and Corfman broke up the activity with advice and tips on what goes into writing a good profile of someone at work. Here are a few of their key points.
Become a hunter-gatherer of news in your organization.
“As communicators, we have to learn to be really good reporters in our own organizations,” said Corfman. “And that’s going to require a shift in attitude, because too often as communicators at organizations, we’re often in the position of being on the receiving end of the story. We’re already told what the story is.”
Corfman said that changing our thinking to become a reporter requires an understanding that good reporters don’t expect to be handed the news, but instead think about how they can break the news by finding scoops. He likened this practice to becoming a hunter-gatherer of news within your org.
“So how do you do that?” he asked the audience. “One way is to develop sources within the organization and get off the email, get on the phone. Get off the phone and get out of the office. Get out and meet people.”
While Corfman acknowledged this can be a little intimidating, he said it isn’t as hard as you might think when it comes to profile writing because “people just love to talk about their jobs.”
The two Ps of interviewing are preparation and persistence
Corfman mentioned a great criminal defense lawyer he knew who would always write out all her questions in advance when she had to examine a witness. The process of preparation — of writing all the questions out in advance — helped her fine tune the questions and think about how to refine them.
“It’s very important when you’re going to interview somebody in the company to prepare and prioritize,” Corfman said, encouraging the audience to ask themselves these questions:
- What do you want to accomplish in this interview?
- What do you need to know?
- What do you have to get out of this interview?
- What information do you need to get next?
Corfman added that thinking about these things before composing questions increases the likelihood of receiving interesting answers.
He went on to say that persistence serves two purposes. It’s required to get the interview because people are busy, they don’t want to take the time and they don’t always see the value that being profiled brings to your organization’s communications output.
Corfman also said that persistence keeps the conversation on track. “So don’t let them ramble. You want a conversational tone, but it’s not a conversation. It’s not you say something, I say something—it’s an interview. It’s not an interrogation. But you want to make sure that you’re covering the points that you’ve outlined. And that’s going to take some persistence.”
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