How to Ask 73 Questions in Seven Minutes or Less
You just never know where your next blog inspiration will come from – encounters on the streets of New York, an intriguing tweet, or Donald Trump’s latest radical proposal. In my case, it was a clever video series by Vogue that I happened to run across called “73 Questions.”
Particularly for those of us in market research who interview people for a living, you can’t help but watch these exchanges in awe, and with a bit of envy.
After all, we usually have an indulgent 60 minutes (or more) with our interview respondents, and even that seems rushed. Obviously, there was a bit of preplanning going on behind the scenes to seamlessly pull off these interviews, filmed in a single shot, conducted in approximately seven minutes or less.
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It’s not surprising that these bite-size, action-packed interviews are captivating. Interviewees are engaging, witty and impressive multitaskers, and yeah, famous. Imagine how much more engaged our backroom clients watching in-person fielding would be if we could pull off interviews like this!
Reality check: Most of us don’t have the pleasure of hanging out with celebrities … or even have quite this level of latitude to ask a battery of “fun” questions. And this post isn’t really about compressing our research into a matter of minutes (though interesting … it could be a revolutionary PechaKucha for interviewing). However, this did get me to think about ways to reimagine the qualitative interview process.
- Provide a Preview
Part of what makes the Vogue interviews interesting is the staccato cadence. That’s not quite the pace we’re aiming for in qualitative research. However, maybe there’s room to switch it up from the same old monotone welcome and introduction with a quicker-paced Q-and-A? Could we get through those “basics” more quickly and in a more fun way? One simple tip is to include a few additional closed-ended questions into to the screener. Or, ask respondents to complete a two- to three-minute set of questions in the waiting room prior to the interview.
- Prime the Pump
Once those simple questions are out of the way, the interview now shifts to the tougher ones. Perhaps you’re going ask respondents to dig deeply into their recollection of past events. Or deeper … their underlying emotional rationale for buying a circus-themed tent for their cat (yes, they do exist in surprising abundance, available here). The point is, we all know by now how unrealistic it is for respondents to readily share underlying “emotional” perceptions or beliefs. A library of neuroscience, psychology and behavioral economics studies has established that so much of what we do and think lies deep within our subconscious. I’ll save discussion of the variety of techniques and newer technologies that can be used to overcome this challenge for a future post. Sidestepping that, the point is that “why” can be a tough question to answer, especially on the spot. Reflecting on these questions ahead of time can sometimes make for more thoughtful dialogue. So, if this is applicable to your study, you may want to consider asking respondents to complete pre-interview homework to “prime the pump” on your topic. Examples include a basic collage, letter to self, or simply two to three open-ended questions to think about. Sure, purists may object that we’re not getting top-of-mind thoughts … or we may be introducing bias about the topic ahead of time. You’ll have to judge if the trade-off is worth it – could it help avoid shallow responses? Dead air for respondents who simply “don’t know” or squirm in the silence, thinking before answering?
- Use Pictures to Switch It Up
Notice that in these videos, the interviewer “switches it up” by using bystanders to ask questions. For research, visual stimuli can add some variety to verbal questioning. One of the learnings in using various types of projective visual stimuli is how pictures stimulate thought. I’ve seen pictures unlock something deep in respondents that leads to richer dialogue. It’s also fast – we process pictures and colors so much more quickly than monochromatic words alone. How many times do you feel like respondents, especially in a group setting, have forgotten what the original question was by the time it’s their turn to speak? I propose thinking about ways to integrate visuals into your research that go beyond what you are obligated to share as part of the stimuli being tested. As an example, I was asked on two different assignments to facilitate feedback among supersized focus groups (think 20-30 people – three to five tables of attendees, as a pullout research session during a conference). Rather than simply pose questions to the group, I converted my discussion guide to a PowerPoint deck. Each slide had one to two questions, many of which were supported by metaphorical pictures. For illustration purposes only, a slide could look like this:
It was both fun and effective. It reminded people of the question, kept them focused, and likely stimulated more creative answers. This worked so well that now I use this technique even for one-on-one telephone interviews to keep the respondent engaged with our discussion topics.
So the next time you’re designing your interview guide – or, lucky you, interviewing a celebrity – think about what masterful storyteller Joe Sabia (creator of “73 Questions” and other digital greats) would do.