People love to talk about themselves, so it should be easy to get a good interview to publish as a case study in your email newsletter or blog.

Well, not always.

The problem is that different people are driven by different agendas. And their agendas are often juxtaposed with the objective of your salient and consise case study.

If your objective is powerful insight and valuable advice (as all magnetic case studies should be) then a few hundred words of someone blowing their own trumpet with extraneous achievements and self-praise isn’t going to present value to your readers.

Neither will it put you at the forefront of your reader’s mind next time they need an expert in your field, which is of course your goal. Ideally, you’re looking for thoughtful opinion and solutions to common problems that your readers identify with.

Insightful advice from the front-line

Over the last year I’ve refined some helpful techniques for coaxing out better interviews for my client’s case studies. These were tested in telephone interviews (with my client’s clients) about what works best in their industry, for a monthly email newsletter.

Here’s how to gain more insightful case studies:

1. Warm up

Get your interviewee warmed up by asking for their career highlights. Not only do you get the trumpet-blowing out of the way early, you make them feel comfortable and in familiar territory.

Confirm things like their job title, role and responsibilities as well as where they worked in the past. You’ll need these facts anyway for your introduction.

2. Hand-hold

Now that they feel more comfortable, you can ask what keeps them awake at night. Not just now but at a critical time in the past when their project or company was going through a period of change. A relevant period of course, probably when your client stepped in to help them out.

This isn’t about probing your interviewee like Jeremy Paxman. It’s more like active listening. Things that really bug your interviewee make themselves known, you just have to be receptive to them.

When the bugbears do rear their ugly heads, ask: “why do you think it happened like that?” or “what would you say to someone in the same position?”. Feel around for an unusual angle, things that your interviewee probably now takes for granted.

Remember that not everything has to have a clear-cut solution. Sometimes exploring a thought-process or approach to a problem is insightful enough.

3. Reassure

The interview’s over but you’re far from finished, because you still have to write it and get approval. So now is the time to be clear about what happens next.

Your interviewee has just exposed themselves not just to you, but to criticism from their peers. So reassure them that they have a chance to review how they’re portrayed. Keep communication open so you have the option to clarify anything later too.

One last bit of housekeeping

My handwritten notes look like charred twigs in the wake of a steamroller. If yours do too, then read them through immediately and correct the illegible parts so you can pick them up when it comes to the copywriting. Jot down the theme from which your case study will hang at this point too.

If you follow these tips then your case study’s theme should jump out at you about half-way through, that’s how you know you’ve just pulled off an effective interview.