Over the course of my research career I’ve conducted over 5,000 interviews. No matter how many interviews I do, the one thing that never changes is limited time. If I had unlimited time, I could get all my questions answered and allow people to meander through their thoughts and experiences. Sadly, I am always short on time and need to get people to make their point and move on.
Here are some tips that help me accomplish my goal:
1. Politely redirect
I see myself as a prospector, mining for gold. In this analogy the “gold” I’m mining are actionable insights and meaningful feedback. If someone is too chatty, or goes off on a tangent, I politely break in, confirm their thought, validate them with a “that’s an interesting point…” and then steer them back to my agenda
2. It’s about them
I make them feel important by letting them know they are doing me a favor: “I know your time is valuable, I want to spend the rest of our time focused on…”
3. Use a bullet-listed
It helps to have a bullet list of topics to cover so you can jump around and cross off covered topics to maximize your time and efforts.
4. Know when rambling is ok
I do find there are times when someone has rambled a bit or appears to have gone off topic, but they will reveal something very interesting and at times more insightful than my agenda. Knowing when to let that continue is just as important as understanding when to shut it down.
Just like it takes hours to learn any art form, it takes years of practice and experience to perfect working with users to get the insights you seek. Follow your instincts when it comes to research, rely on past experiences to know when to segue or when to follow a lead.