If you are not familiar with the process, interviewing can be intimidating. But it is also exciting and fun. I have spoken to thousands of fascinating people (and a few crooks) in the process of researching the 1.3 million words I’ve written in the past 16 years. The experience is exhilarating and often inspiring. And it makes for a lot of fascinating dinner table conversations.

An interview – at least one, and ideally more – is the foundation stone of almost every interesting story, and is essential to writing a case study (which I recommend as a great way to get your blogging or content marketing on a roll – see my other story today).

In my recent workshop at the Hub Melbourne – How to write a kick-arse blog, week after week – I revealed four essential questions to ask in every interview and the reasons for them (just a small part of the material we covered).

Here they are:

Question one is an introductory one. It should be anything that is easy for them to answer, for example: when did you start doing what you do, what is your title, how do I spell your name? The point is this – your subject is more nervous than you are (usually) and it is your job to put them at ease.

Question two is also a simple one: what do you do? Of course, you can ask this is a more sophisticated way – I like to add “in a nutshell” to this question to let them know what I am expecting – but really, there is no problem in looking unsophisticated. I have learned over the years that your subject will relax more if they feel they know more than you (which is often the case).

Question three: Why do you do what you do? Really, this question is ‘what makes you different? But that is quite a confronting question – although you might ask it directly, if you feel that your subject hasn’t addressed that in their answer. This is personal question – it’s much more intrusive, and so we ask it after we have gained our subject’s trust.

Question four: What lessons have you learned? Now we are really being demanding. We are asking our subject to reveal their mistakes (in a nice way) by telling us what they have gotten wrong. This is a very valuable question because it forms the “nub” of your story; here is the value that you deliver your readers – the nub of your case study.

Ask these four questions and you will get a story. You might need to rephrase them in a couple of different ways to get the answers. If your subject is interesting, you might want to probe or expand on what they say. Quite often, I simply ask a subject, “Can you expand on that?” This kind of opened-ended question can really deliver some great responses.

Next, I’ll reveal the most common mistakes that writers make when it comes to writing up their case studies, and how you can avoid it.

By the way, you can sign up for my blogging workshop next year – How to many money from kick-butt content marketing – here.