Public Speaking to Enhance Branding III

A shortened version of this blog first appeared on  https://hometownauthors.com, which offers a variety of articles from guest authors of who are members of Hometown Reads.

This is the third blog in a series addressing an author’s public speaking engagements [see Effective Materials for Public Speaking andAll the World’s a Stage] Today we’ll explore making these events more than a presentation of an author’s books, for public speaking can be one of the most important aspects of any creative professional’s branding program

It’s time to hit the road!  You’ve prepared for speaking opportunities by shaping marketing materials, bios, introductions, and handouts for varied audience.  Your media releases require only the details of Who, What, When, and Where You’ve verified venue features and obtained equipment necessary for this and future appearances.  

All you have to do is pack everything and hit the road…right?  Not quite.

PREPARING TO BE A PUBLIC SPEAKER
I hope you’ve been vocalizing daily—in song [for those who can], vocal exercises, and oral readings.  Many events place a time limit on speakers, so timing readings can ensure completing your presentation with a generous Question and Answer segment.

Next, consider your appearance. You can’t lose weight quickly, but how are your hair, skin, and nails?  Do your clothing and accessories look good on you…and travel well? Perhaps you’ve worked with a stylist to determine your optimal color palette, hairstyle, clothing designs, and accessories to maximize expressing your personality…

Look professional, knowing you can remove a tie, loosen a collar, or remove a jacket. [See Resume and Career Tips.  Because my work centers on Hawai`i [especially with the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian Mysteries], I wear dresses in tropical greens and jackets with Asian or floral designs.  Depending on the neckline, I affix a name badge (with magnet) and avoid necklaces (which can become uncentered).  To minimize distraction and sound interference, I don’t wear dangling earrings or loose bracelets.  I complete my theme with an artificial orchid for my hair—since fresh flowers don’t last through multi-hour events. 

MULTIPLE PRESENTERS
Panel discussion speakers are usually seated at a table or in a semi-circle or line of chairs. Whenever you’re in plain view, be aware of your attire and stance…to insure you’re not providing a less-than desired floor show! A dress that looks lovely when I’m standing, may not look professional when I’m seated. Male or female, check out other participants’ attire to harmonize overall appearance. For samples of color combinations, please visit Plays on Color.

CALLING FOR ATTENTION
~ Event organizers may generate Media Releases, as can you—in your hometown and locales where you’ll appear. Consider also sending out event follow-up releases, to encourage members of the media to seek you out.

~ Add a news page to your author website and blogs that highlights your travel.

~ Social media can be more important than traditional media.  Publicize where you’ll appear with contact information. If your events aren’t open to the public, announce cities where you’ll be.

~ Take event pictures [book in hand] for immediate release and future marketing materials—asking permission to use images featuring other people.

TRAVEL CONSIDERATIONS
~ Ship books and some marketing materials in advance when possible.

~ Allow one day for rest and preparation prior to your event.

~ Purchase travel tickets permitting change of schedule.

~ Plan ground transportation minimizing strain on you, as well as cost.

~ Hotels often provide airport transport, valets, safes, and restaurants. Private hosted accommodations lessen privacy.  A B&B may be appropriate when driving.  

~ Financially, notify credit card institutions you’re travelling. Obtain cash for tips. Determine if you need a tax or sales license. Decide whether to accept credit cards, electronic payment, and/or cash for sales.

~ Carry emergency clothing, accessories, medicines, and toiletries in hand-held luggage, in case checked bags fail to arrive.

~ Personally carry hardcopy masters and electronic files for reproduction.

~ Dress to attract attention while travelling—name badge, book image, and business cards at the ready!

SET YOUR STAGE…WHEN YOU CAN
~ Place a banner or picture on podium front.

~ Check lights, sound, and projection equipment.

~ Position speaking materials, large watch, laser pointer, pen, props, travel mug with slightly warm water.

~ Display signage, marketing materials, books, handouts, and sign-up sheet for future event notifications near the entrance—manned when possible.

~ Be aware that electronic projections often fail because of file format incompatibility between source and venue operating systems and versions of software.

~ Maximize visibility of necessary folders and files.

~ Carry backup hardcopy of your presentation for you and handouts of primary points for your audience.

BEFORE, DURING & AFTER PERFORMANCES
~ Warm up vocally and physically.

~ Provide your bio and a short introduction to event organizers.

~ Pace yourself…allow time for Q&A to maximize audience interaction.

~ Conclude with an inspiring thought. I often hold up a pin with a single word appropriate to my message…

~ Make periodic eye contact with your audience. Let attendees feel you care about them individually.

~ Sending gracious Thank You cards/gifts helps maximize an event’s long-term branding value. Carry mailing labels, packing supplies, and postage.

For more ideas to maximize being memorable, see Wearing your Brand at my marketing website.

Wishing you the best in your creative ventures,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, author, narrator, and public speaker

Public Speaking to Enhance Branding coming…

I’m pleased to announce that on September 7, 2018, the third blog on the benefits of PUBLIC SPEAKING will be featured on the website of Hometown Reads, while I’m visiting my own hometown of Portland, Oregon. Once I’m home, the original, longer version of the piece will appear right here!

While I’m in Portland, I’ll be addressing a combined meeting of mystery book clubs, plus students at Woodrow Wilson High School, from which I graduated 50 years ago! I can’t believe five decades have passed since I was fortunate to attend the accelerated classes in English and Social Studies that inspired later studies as well as my writing.

I’m honored to announce that Murder on Mokulua Drive [the second book in the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series] has been nominated as one of six finalists in the fiction category of the 2018 Arizona Literary Excellence Awards!

Thank you so much for your interest in the series and my other projects! And, don’t forget to drop in at my author website, where you’ll find some delightful recipes for your next adventure in sampling Island cuisine…

Wishing you the best,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, author, narrator, and public speaker

 

 

 

Public Speaking II

All the World’s a Stage
The success of any branding program rests on harmonizing the look, sound, and feel of all of its elements!  That includes the setting in which an author appears. And while you may not be able to control every aspect of the physical environment of your presentations, you can enhance the positive impact of some aspects to boost the effectiveness of your overall book marketing program.

The Venue
If you have never spoken at the venue, you’ll be relying on the event’s organizers to provide the correct information regarding lighting, voice amplification, and projection of materials you’ll utilize to highlight your speaking points. In addition, they’ll be scheduling the podium, table, and/or chair from which you’ll speak.

If possible, visit the venue in advance of the event. While this may be easy in your home town, it can be impossible when you’re working in another city [let alone country]. Therefore, it’s good to arrive a day in advance of your presentation. If you’re lucky, you will be delivering your remarks at the hotel in which you are staying.  As this is seldom the case, travel with the basics you require to be effective.

From a Stage or…
Depending on your height and weight, and position in relation to the audience, you may need to modify your hair, clothing, shoes, and/or accessories to maximize your facial and overall visibility. Speaking engagements often occur in rooms with a stage that is at least a step above the floor on which the audience is seated. This enhances your visibility as a speaker, but it means you must look good from the top of your head to the bottoms of your shoes. And although many stages are carpeted, older wooden or tiled stages may have uneven surfaces, for which you will require sturdy and slip-resistant footwear.

Solo Performance
Sole presenters in a public venue usually have access to a podium. Free-standing or table top, it should offer sides that mask your script, notes, watch, and other items you may need to reference. Unless a free-standing podium is constructed of a tubular frame, it is probable that you’ll be visible only from your chest up. That gives you more flexibility in your stance and movement of your feet. If the podium is comprised of a hollow frame, or positioned on top of a table that has no tablecloth, you will not have that luxury.

Whispers to Screams
The quality of your natural speaking voice can be either an asset or detriment in public speaking. Depending on your audience, even the strongest of voices expressed in the wrong tonal range can be hard for some listeners to hear properly. Many podiums are set up with a microphone fixed in position. If you learn you’ll be using a hand-held mic, you may want to obtain a small stand in order to free your hands for gesturing, pointing to overhead projections, etc. Having said this, I must note some presenters like to speak off the cuff rather from written material and prefer a hand-held or wireless mic so they can roam freely—sometimes even moving within their audience.

Be aware that the effectiveness of the microphone you use [especially lavaliere or headsets] can depend on your neckline, arrangement of hair, and any chain or necklace you wear. Also consider that dangling earrings and loose watches or bracelets can interfere with sound projection.

Having a strong voice may lessen the need to provide your own electronic equipment. However, if you are embarking on a lengthy tour, you might consider acquiring sound equipment that can make you more independent of the facilities in which you appear—if it is compatible with the speakers to which your equipment will be connected. In making such a decision, you will want to seek the input of an electronics specialist.

Inviting Displays
Will you be able to set up a display that greets and enlivens your audience? At the minimum, you should be able to drape a banner over the front of a podium [using double sided tape, if nothing else]. I carry the banner from the release of Prospect for Murder, first of the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mysteries. I also travel with varied sizes of boxes on which I can place color-coordinated tablecloths to create heightened surfaces for displaying signage, products, and handouts. And I carry stands of varying proportions to maximize visibility across a room. Do be cautious about displaying valuable items which could disappear…

Enlargements of colorful book covers, pictures of previous appearances, and banners with both your image and the works you’re presenting make a wonderful background for highlighting sales sheets, future project descriptions, and business cards. Since Murder on Mokulua Drive has an embossed jacket front, I present it on a stand, as well as on the table top to invite people to pick it up.  If there is a theme to your work, you can add decorative items that reinforce that reference. As most of my work centers on Hawai`i, I display a shell lei or two, a golden fish business card holder, and tablecloths that harmonize with my book cover colors.

Ensuring You have What You Need
If you’re speaking in your home town and have checked out the venue, you’ll know what you need to carry with you. The one thing that may affect your preparations is a change in the size of your audience, thereby impacting the number of books and handouts required. When traveling to a long-distance destination, you may be able to send a box ahead to a friend, colleague, or the hotel in which you will be staying. Regardless of whether that is an option, strategize the items that you should carry personally, rather than check into a luggage compartment.

I recall my gratitude for arriving in Hilo (after flying back from the U.S. mainland) two days in advance of a performance of Scottish Highland Dancing, since my costumes remained in Honolulu by mistake. I now keep the following items with me personally when traveling to author appearances: memory sticks and a master copy of materials needed for display and distribution; one copy of pertinent books and project samples; one small tablecloth and a shell lei to personalize a display; one copy of a short biography; two 3 x 5 inch cards with an introduction of me and my presentation; a brass name badge and any pertinent professional badges; a beautiful artificial orchid for my hair; and, one elegant jacket to dress up even an emergency wardrobe purchase if my luggage does not arrive with me!

This is the second of three discussions of Public Speaking Engagements.My next blog will address the ways in which public speaking engagements can enhance your branding as an author, and will be featured at Hometown Reads .

Wishing you the best in your adventures as an author or other creative professional,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

Tips on research, composition, and marketing your work are available at Imaginingswordpower.com.

To learn more about my projects, please visit my author website at
JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.

 

 

 

Drawing on Sense Memories

Most of us think of the five physical senses as we are experiencing them. The toast looks and tastes all right, but it has a slightly burnt smell. I wish the kids would stop screaming, my ears are starting to hurt. I love this faux fabric, it almost feels like my cat’s fur…

The Creator’s Sensory Perception
As a writer, or other creative person, sensory perception can be an important element in preparing a stimulating picture via words or graphic images. One of the most effective devices for creating believable images is drawing on our own memories. This is because referencing something we’ve encountered personally provides a depth of authenticity to any work we are undertaking.

The Truth of One’s Experience
This does not mean that we have to reveal our personal circumstances in order to truthfully share a sensory experience…unless we are presenting a work that is a memoir or similar personal expression, for which we are obligated to reveal this aspect of our lives. The truth of our sensory experiences can be shared without revelation of the circumstances in which they occur.  In fact, isolating the experience from its original circumstances, can encourage us to revisit the specifics of what we saw, smelled, heard, touched, and/or tasted with greater accuracy.

For example, while we may wish to describe the beauty of a star-lit night from our honeymoon, we do not need to provide details of the circumstances in which we viewed it. Even when we need to describe something we have not experienced, it’s good to seek out the concrete memories of those who have. In describing Shanghai in the 1920’s for Prospect for Murder, I drew on images shared by people whose fascination with the city transcended the actual era in which they traveled. And despite their degree of positive or negative reactions, I was able to utilize their perspectives to provide images of the bustling streets and even the scents they encountered in their sojourns.

In Murders of Conveyance, the third book in the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mysteries, my heroine overhears a conversation in Chinese from outside of the building in which she stands. I’m sure we can all think of times when we’ve  accidentally overheard a conversation, whether in a language we speak or not. When I moved to Honolulu at the beginning of the 1970s, there were many occasions in which I heard languages I couldn’t understand, nor even identify. Because I needed my heroine to feel connected to foreign dialogue, I inserted phonetic sounds that allowed Natalie to guess the speakers might be referencing someone she knew.

Stimulating Vocabulary
Sometimes we are fortunate to be able to utilize vocabulary or pictures that effectively mimics the images we wish to share.  I find the following words and phrases can bring clarity to a description, sometimes reaching beyond a single sense: wispy; screech; a snapping branch; wrinkled; razor’s edge; staccato; fragmented; shrunken; glassy; whispered; fiery.

The perception of other words often relies on those who read or hear them. Reference to an Upscale dining experience may arouse the taste and ambiance of a five-star restaurant to one person, and a fast-food joint to another. While the phrase Opulent jewelry signifies a strand of synthetic pearls with rhinestones to one reader, someone else may envision weighty crown jewels. Vintage clothing could generate a disco scene from the 1970s for a millennial, whereas someone my age may picture a flapper dress from the roaring twenties—the 1920’s that is. Similar variances can arise with an author or artist’s use of color and shape, as well as a composer’s insertion of pauses, changing rhythms, and escalating tones.

I’m fortunate that many of the images I wish to share in the O`ahu setting of the Natalie Seachrist mysteries practically write themselves: the sparkle and whooshing sound of incoming surf on a moonlit night; the stickiness of teriyaki sauce on a barbecued chicken thigh; the fresh fragrance of a flower lei, the stench of rotting plumeria blooms beneath an aging and neglected tree. But although I bring personal insight to such images, I must avoid cliché verbiage that will bore the veteran traveler. 

Your Target Audience
This brings us to a brief discussion of one’s audience…one’s target market. If you’re working within a recognized genre of literature, art, or music, there may be standards to which the majority of your audience will expect you to adhere. If you are striking out on your own to create a variant or wholly new artistic expression, you can move in any direction you wish…keeping in mind that you will need to attract some degree of a following in order to achieve any degree of success.

Accordingly, I sprinkle snippets of pan-Pacific and world history across my mystery plot-lines.  And while I present a fair number menu items within each book, I place actual recipes on my author website, rather than completely bogging down a story.  As to the cast of characters, folio art framing page numbers, chapter aphorisms, and linguistically and historically detailed glossaries, the reader can choose to appreciate or ignore them…

Wishing you the best on your own creative ventures,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

Tips on research, composition, and marketing your work are available at Imaginingswordpower.com.
To learn more about my projects, please visit my author website at
JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.

 

Dreaming Your Way to Success

Have you heard of lucid dreaming?  This is when a dreamer is fully cognizant of being in a dream state.  Some authors actually work at learning to control this form of dreaming as a means for shaping their projects, regardless of whether they are focused on fiction or non-fiction.

Dreamscaping or dream sculpting (as the process is sometimes called) allows the dreamer to actively contemplate the contents of a dream while asleep—and to question how these subjects may be relevant to their personal or professional living.

Dreamscaping Your Creative Project
Wordsmiths and artists are often encouraged to keep notebooks at hand for recording stray thoughts that can help them maximize future creativity.  This includes placing a pen and paper by your bed for capturing ideas that may materialize during the night. 

Regardless of your type of work, I’m rather certain that you have awakened on more than one morning (or the middle of a night) and thought, “Hmm, that was an interesting dream.  Now what was there about it that I wanted to remember?” 

For those of us relying on random ideas on which to build our shaping of words and images, it can be important to retain unexpected thoughts.  I can report that I have benefitted from vigorously striving to record the contents of potentially significant dreams.  And I’ve suffered the disappointment of having forgotten to have the implements for recording anything before falling back into a deep and dreamless state.  The mornings that have followed have been very frustrating.  Far worse than a simple hangover experienced by authors of yore!

My Methods of Directing the Dreaming Process
A simple Internet search will yield instructional resources for learning to implement Lucid Dreaming.  As I’m not a specialist in this field of study, I’ll merely share how I have approached the topic. 

After reading some background material, and discussing the concept with artists, I decided to delve into the process several years ago.  I began my sojourn in this endeavor by placing a retractable pen and small bound book for journaling on my bedside table.  Do note that having a pen without a lid has proven invaluable to my night-time note writing, since I’m rather clumsy and a bit befuddled when rising from a vivid dream.

Most evenings, I spend a few minutes before going to bed contemplating projects I wish to undertake the following day.  Often, this is while rocking in a chair and petting my cat, which I find soothing on several levels.  I then read a few pages of both meditative and mystery books.  After turning off my reading light, I review my to-do list.  I won’t claim that my contemplation of work goals is directly responsible for yielding inspirational ideas during the night.  However, these practices do serve as an off-switch for my overactive mind. 

As anyone attempting to call me in the a.m. will attest, I am not a morning person.  Some of my best work is born in the silence of nocturnal hours.  So prior to entering my pre-sleep routine, I’m already in a creative thinking mode.  The number of hours I spend in sleep varies, but when most people are rising to their own days of productivity, often I am entering my deepest dreams.  While most may seem unrelated to the work I envision undertaking, they are varied in topic and have a film-like quality. 

Results from My Dreamscaping
Having disciplined myself to interrupt the dreaming process, I can now report overall success in benefiting from dreaming with lucidity.  Records of some of my dreams make it into my journal.  Elements of others capture my attention sufficiently to be recalled for several hours after my waking. 

Perhaps the worst challenge that arises from the overall experience, is being forced to fold new concepts into work I may have considered complete.  Sometimes that means reprinting quite a number of pages of text due to a minor edit in their midst.  However, I’m thrilled to report that expanding a character’s role by having her play a bamboo flute has yielded a lovely audio element to that scene… and an interesting twist to the epilogue for Yen for Murder, Book Four in the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series!

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

To learn more about the first book in the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series (Prospect for Murder), Conversations with Auntie Carol, a series of Hawaiian Oral History Interviews and other projects, please visit my author’s website at www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  For more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, visit: www.ImaginingsWordpower.com

 

Interviews & Oral Histories: #4

AFTER THE INTERVIEW

You’ve done it!  Regardless of whether an interview is the first or the hundredth, I hope you will feel a sense of accomplishment while parting company with whomever you’ve interviewed! By this point, you should have an audio (if not visual) recording of the dialogue, plus notes you’ve composed prior to and during your conversation. You should also have a signed interviewee release that can allow you to draw from the experience indefinitely.

The Significance of Your Relationship with Your Subject
In my last discussion of general and oral history interviews, I noted that it is good to impress your subject positively.  Doing so includes: projecting a pleasing appearance and voice; demonstrating the level of your commitment, as shown by your research and organization of pertinent questions; and, your sensitivity to their physical, mental, and emotional circumstances.

That last issue is one that is often neglected by professional, as well as novice, interviewers.  Too often a sense of righteousness on the part of the interviewer as truth teller can prevent development of a significant rapport with the interviewee.  While it is important to maintain a professional relationship, the lack of a rapport with your subject may lead to a diminished level of trust and desire to reveal themselves fully.

Your Parting Words
As you prepare to depart from an interview, you will want to leave the door between you and your subject open to further communication.  After all, they’ve trusted you with a part of themselves and they want to know that you’ll value what they have shared with you. Even if you have not established a warm relationship, you will want to facilitate future communication and assure them that they will have an opportunity to view a transcript of the interview.

This does not mean you are relinquishing your role as the interviewer, nor does it imply you are going to change revealing the realities of your conversation. However, if errors are found by either of you, there should be a means for adding explanatory notes. This is especially useful in clarifying names, relationships, numbers, dates, and sequences, which may have been transposed or mistakenly described.   

Editorial Procedures
During the transcription and editorial process, you may need to communicate with your interviewee to gain clarity on numerous points. To maintain accurate records, it is good to receive replies to your questions by email or other written documentation

This is especially useful if there are conflicts regarding the meaning of a passage. After all, the interviewee is relaying answers to your questions through the lens of their point of view.  While you  may never agree with their explanation, the transcript and your notes will allow future readers and/or listeners to experience a close approximation of the event and draw their own conclusions.  This is why clear records of all your communication and notes are so important.

The method[s] of annotation you choose for your transcript can take several forms. This is where your creativity comes into play.   Personally, I try to avoid footnotes.  Instead, I employ bracketed statements for minor clarification and section endnotes for issues dealing with proper nouns and other facts that may stimulate a future reader to pursue answers to their own questions.

Although the interviewer should not remove actual dialogue, you can provide clarification of key points by including a glossary of foreign and specialized vocabulary, as well as an index. Some authors dislike the use of indices if they plan to publish via a downloadable vehicle that may render pagination inaccurate and irrelevant. However, readers of a work published on the Internet may be able to utilize a find/search tool to locate terms they wish to revisit and readers of a hardcopy edition will be pleased with the inclusion of an easy reference tool at the back of the work. 

Another means for heightening the usefulness of your final product is separating your transcript into sections. If the interview was conducted during multiple sessions, utilization of chapter breaks is quite logical. Even when the conversation was held on a single occasion, separating sequenced questions and answers provides natural breaks.

Such a layout should facilitate communication between you and your subject[s] as you review the nearly finished project. Once you have completed editing and annotating your transcript, you can proceed to shaping a final format to meet any requirements for publication. [See my previous blog, Interviews & Oral Histories #3, for the closing  discussion of interview publication.]

Future Interviews with The Subject
The potential for scheduling future interviews may depend on issues beyond a mutual desire to do so. For example, if the interview is part of a larger project controlled by someone else, you may be limited in continuing your relationship with your subject.  And, although the current publisher may express an interest in further interviews, shifts within their organization may preclude future publishing through them. Even when you are working on a wholly freelance basis, your ability to publish may depend on your finding a new source willing to take on the project. And if you decide to expand the initial work into a series of articles or even a book, the task may become even more challenging.

As I’ve noted before, planning, executing, and publishing an interview is a unique experience. Even without the permanency of the Cloud, an interview lives far beyond the event itself! The effort you put into researching your subject’s life and work may prove of interest to people far beyond your targeted readership.  The dialectical elements of the conversation, introductory remarks, annotations, and other explanations will serve not only to illuminate your subject, but also your own life’s work.

In my next blog about interviews, I will discuss the renewal and publication of oral history interviews I conducted more than 25 years ago with a dear Hawaiian auntie whose family history is very interesting…The title is, Conversations with Caroline Kuliaikanu`ukapu Wilcox DeLima Farias.

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

To learn more about Prospect for Murder,  Conversations with Caroline Kuliaikanu`ukapu Wilcox Delima Farias, and other writing projects, please visit my author’s website at JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  And for more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit my website, ImaginingsWordpower.com.  

Interviews & Oral Histories, # 3

Conducting the Interview

Few people willingly give up control of their personhood to allow a stranger to delve into their inner thoughts.  But those private thoughts are what an effective writer must access to produce a true facsimile of any interview they conduct.  For as a professional or even an amateur writer, your goal is to meet your listeners or readers expectations that they are sharing your sensory experience while gleaning the particulars of why the highlighted individual is worthy of their attention. 

There are four statements I can make about my perspective on the interviewing process:

~  The interviewer has one chance to make a good first impression
~  The interviewer may not get another opportunity to interview their subject
~  Despite a subject’s agenda, an interview should encompass a non-fiction record of fact
~  Regardless of the premise for an interview, the subject may become reluctant to speak about topics previously authorized for discussion

The Importance of Preparing for Interviews
In several blogs, I’ve stressed the importance of preparation to conduct both general and oral history interviews.  In contrast, there are some writers who feel that research and other preparation is unnecessary, or even unwarranted.  I strongly disagree.  I believe research is vital to empowering your words in the interview process.  It will also help with establishing your credibility as a wordsmith who has mastered the art and science of writing.  In short, it’s one of the best ways of demonstrating your skill at the art of communication and making your subject trust you.

Contrary to the theory that “winging it” in an interview demonstrates you are a “common man,” and therefore likely to establish a connection with your interviewee, I’ve observed the results of people who conduct interviews without appropriate research.  For when an interviewer demonstrates little knowledge of their subject, their interviewee may judge them inconsequential.  If that is the case, responses to the interviewer’s questions may be superficial.  In fact, the subject  may be thinking, “If you don’t care enough to do your homework, why should I care about your project?  So I’ll just keep the kernels of my truth to myself until the right interviewer comes along.”

Summarizing Your Research
By the time you’re ready to conduct a cogent interview, you should have completed a great deal of fact checking in several areas of your subject’s life, including:

~  The historical era of their life and the category of work they’ve performed
~  Their biography and career…as reported by them, and as available in public sources
~  Materials they’ve published, and speeches and interviews they’ve given previously
~  Comments their colleagues and other contemporaries have expressed about them

 Shaping Your Questions
The bulk of your questions will be determined by the purpose of your project. In some cases you’ll need to conduct interviews with multiple persons.  By asking parallel questions of each, you can compare and contrast their views of the primary subject, as well as one another.

Regardless of whether there’s any obvious controversy you must address, beginning your interview with general questions about the unfolding of the subject’s life, can assist in putting them at ease…if their mental processes are fully functioning and there are no hidden elements in their early life.

By delivering the early portion of your questions chronologically, your interviewee can mentally relive moments with which they should be comfortable. Additionally, taking them through the recognizable patterns of the decades of their life may trigger remembrance of small details.  This will not only enhance the interview itself, but also add color to your subsequent reporting of the event. This can, of course, lead to some sidetracking, but you should be able to steer the conversation back to the key points you need to cover.

Prior to, or during the interview, you may uncover facts about your subject’s life and work that are at odds with information the person has released in the past In this case, you’ll have to decide whether to directly question these inconsistencies. Of course, you’ll want to keep in mind that true or false, the opinions of others may have colored the public record.  Also, the perspectives of most people change with time and life experience.  And, whether we like to admit it or not, everyone has gaps in their memory, without necessarily being conscious of it.

Approaching the Interview
It’s nearly show time.  That’s right.  I said show time.  While serious scholars and journalists may dislike hearing me say it, an interview is usually a semi-public performance.  Unlike a play, the dialogue is not set in stone; unlike an evening at an improv theatre, it’s not without direction and form—for that’s your job.  But like a play on Broadway, it will be frozen in time, even if you conduct subsequent interviews.

Location of the Interview
It’s been my experience that interviewees often set and control the location of the interviews they grant.  This may not be the case for broadcast media and bloggers with sets in which the subject is expected to appear, but you are probably not working in these situations. Admittedly, it’s best to conduct an interview at a site to which you’re both agreeable, but sometimes you must accept interviewing your subject in their office, home or other location of their choice.  Nevertheless, there are things you can do to balance the situation so that you’re able to subtly declare your professional standing, while still putting the person at ease. 

There are many authoring strategies that can help to distinguish your work as an interviewer.  Establishing a good rapport can be the key to making the interviewee trust you with the information they’re imparting.  To do this, you might bring something with you to enhance the experience.  This could be an edible item, or, if you know they are fond of a particular author, you might obtain a copy of that writer’s work to share with your subject.  Please note that I’m not suggesting you spend a significant sum of money to buy your subject’s cooperation.  But small acts of kindness can help warm the atmosphere, demonstrate the thoroughness of your preparation, and make the entire experience positively memorable for both of you.

Interviewer Anxieties
Anxiety will undoubtedly arise, regardless of your preparation.  Despite previous contact you may have had with a subject, being in their presence (even by video conferencing or telephone) changes the balance of your relationship. There is another factor that may detract from your rapport with your interviewee:  If there’s an aspect of their lives that makes them suspect in the eyes of the public, they may be hesitant about granting you an interview.  They may be apprehensive about information you may have uncovered already…or what they might reveal in conversation with you. 

The Atmosphere of the Interview
Even when you have secured the location for holding the event, you cannot be certain of being able to completely control the environment.

~  Despite previous agreement, additional people may be present during the event
~  As recording devices can fail, carry a back-up unit, cordage and microphones with you
~  Regardless of their response, your subject may be distracted by ringing telephones and other interruptions

As you set up your equipment, be aware that recognition of the permanency of the record of their interview may be upsetting to your subject. Even if you have provided them with a copy of your primary questions, they may dislike seeing the list set out before them.  They may also have negative feelings about seeing any reference notes you’ve brought. But since such materials should be in easily read styles and sizes of fonts, you’ll be able to quickly reference pertinent facts, while maintaining eye contact and keeping the dialogue between you as natural as possible. 

The Ebb and Flow of Your Interview
Establishing and maintaining a smooth flow of conversation is a primary goal in the interviewing process.  Regardless of whether your personal views are in accord with those of your interviewee, it’s important to approach what they have to say with a calm, if not fully open mind.  This does not mean that you have to forfeit your role as the honest broker of truth.  However, you can adjust your personal style of behavior and other elements to maximize a positive atmosphere. After all, as in any natural conversation, your subject will periodically lead the discussion. That’s fine as long as they do not deviate greatly from the purpose of your dialogue, or delve into personal details of your life.

Be Prepared for Shifts During Your Interview
After opening pleasantries, you can help direct the flow of the interview by verifying the amount of time you’ll have with your subject.  This establishes a guideline for both parties and should make your periodic redirection of topic easier to explain.

Although you’re guiding the overall direction of the conversation, information will arise that may surprise you, or at least call for cursory examination. This may occur because the man or woman to whom you are speaking may have talking points of their own that they wish addressed.  If that’s so, let them express their concerns, and then try to deftly redirect them to the specific information you need in order to complete your project.

The Editorial Process
Sometimes an author feels stressed about the relationship between the creative process and editing.  As you review an interview, you will not only want to envision how you will shape an accurate account of the event that reflects truly inspired writing as well.  One thing that can help you achieve this dual pronged goal is to remember that the way in which you report your findings may be wholly different than the substance and sequence of the questions you posed. 

For example, if you’re part of an oral history project, there may be a specific format for you to follow.  This generates a record that harmonizes with the results of other interviewers within the larger body of work.  Typically you’ll prepare a transcript of the actual dialogue between you and the subject—often with punctuation or other markings to indicate accents, pauses, stresses, and other notable features of your conversation.  You may also write an introductory passage explaining your methods of preparation and your evaluation of the results you’ve achieved.

If you’re working on assignment for a media outlet, you might have the opportunity to write a personable article containing both dialogue and narrative prose. In this case, you may be allowed to offer your candid view of the person you’ve studied.  Be aware, if you’re working as a freelance researcher and writer, you may need to prepare multiple versions of your report in order to secure one or more appropriate outlets for its broadcast or publication.  I should note that there are situations when an interview will be available to only a select audience, or may be held in private for release at a future time.

As you finalize your work on an interview, you’ll want to remember that in this day of permanency in data recording and retrieval, the words you shape after the interview will live as long as the event itself.

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

To learn more about Prospect for Murder and other writing projects, please visit my author’s website at Https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  And for more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit my website:  Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com

 

 

 

Creating Fictional Characters

Researching Fictional Characters
or Client Descriptions?

If you’re a writer—fledgling amateur or professional—you should not be surprised to spend a lot of time in research.  While much of this work can be performed on a computer, tablet or smart phone, some reference materials must be accessed in person.  If you’re lucky, the information you’re seeking can be found at a nearby library or university.

Otherwise, you may need to travel to complete your research in another city, region, or country to visit libraries, museums or archival collections.  Unfortunately, the cost of travel and time spent away from home may be higher than you wish to invest in a project.  Another option is hiring a research assistant.  While this scenario may save time and out-of-pocket expenses, be prepared for unforeseen complexities in working with someone you may never have met.  Even when you speak the same language, the manner in which each of you approaches research may be wholly different.

Whether you are an author seeking fictional characters, or a business executive writing descriptions of your target clientele, you may need to present snapshots of people that will grab your reader’s attention.  Writing succinct portrayals of people can be challenging to the most creative writer.  Fortunately, the answer to this research dilemma may be close at hand.

In addition to your visionary skills, consider people you already know and can easily depict.  While you may not want to author a description of someone likely to read your work, you can combine the attributes of several individuals so that no single person can take offense.   

In the weekly writers’ salon I founded a few years ago, one member has shared her use of newspaper obituaries as a source for biographic images.  Available online or in hardcopy, this resource is readily available at little or no cost.  Often accompanied by photos of the deceased in their prime, these simple paragraphs offer highlights of individuals from every variety of background, education, profession and economic level.

Due to the cost, writers of obituaries usually limit the number of words they use, often omitting physical descriptions of the departed if photos are included.  Despite the brevity, you will find a rich palette of words from which you can shape a dynamic biographic image.  To enhance the available descriptive text for your own project, you might want to draw on information from more than one entry.

Keep in mind that rules of plagiarism apply to any writer’s work, including obituaries.  This fact should not detract from your ability to draw inspiration from an obituary to develop biographical sketches for your work.  The effort you invest in this activity should minimize any assistance you may require from a professional editor.

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant
For more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit: https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com

To learn more about Prospect For Murder and my other writing projects, please visit my author’s website at:  https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com