Here’s a secret: I don’t live in the same state as any school district that I work with.
Despite not being physically there, I still help tell stories of what is happening each day, and I rely on others to share their experiences with me. Every good story starts with a character, and I have gotten to highlight some pretty awesome characters after connecting with them through our computer screens.
I’ve talked to a high school senior who has been doing charity work since they were three, a teacher who just finished a video conference with a real NASA astronaut with their students, principals excited to highlight what is unique about their schools, and others who are doing wonderful things in and out of the classroom.
Not everyone is super comfortable talking to a stranger via a video chat, but there are tips that school PR professionals every can use to get people talking, make a strong connection, and ultimately tell a powerful story.
See these four ways I help interview subjects get comfortable on my video calls:
Keep it light: I introduce myself and start by telling them that these work best if they talk and I type and that it’s going to be a pretty normal conversation. Interviewees have a tendency to match my tone — if I stay at ease, they're more likely give candid (and frankly, more interesting) responses.
Connect through conversation: I am pretty introverted, but I can turn on the extrovert side when I need to. If I see the same tendencies in my subject, I make it a conversation and share some of my own thoughts to make it more personal. If I am talking to an orchestra teacher, I may mention that I played the cello, if it’s a school nurse, I’ll share that my wife is a nurse, there’s almost always something we have in common that we can build on even within a short interview.
Go with their gut: There is a question I always ask. With about five minutes left in our time, or when I don’t have any other questions, I say “when I reached out for this interview, you started thinking about what I was going to ask and what you were going to say. What haven’t I asked yet?” I have gotten some of the best thoughts through this question because it’s their base response, made better by the fact that they have already been talking about the subject for a bit.
Stay off book: There have been times where I ask my first question and the person starts to share a powerpoint presentation on the screen. I gently nudge us back to being less formal and more about their feelings and experiences and ask them to email me any resources, like the powerpoint, in case it is helpful with details when writing the story.
Working remotely, I don’t talk to a lot of new people, and these interviews are really fun! There are people in your district and all over the world who are connected to your district with amazing stories to tell — and you don't have to be in the same room to make it happen.