Talk to me

If I were to distill the role of a qualitative researcher into two words, I would probably go for ‘professional conversationalist’.

Having great conversations underpins everything we do – yet how many times have you had, or viewed, a conversation with consumers where ‘it’ just doesn’t happen?

You know what I mean…low energy, basic answers, dead-looking eyes and real boredom both in front, and behind, the glass. 

Like most quallies, I recently had such an experience and tried everything I could to get the conversation going – energisers, breaks, changing seating positions, challenging participants – all with no success. It was a dud.

Rather than deciding to just chalk the experience up to being ‘one of those groups’, I’ve been looking for solutions.

Drum roll please…

Allow me to introduce Celeste Headlee. She’s a veteran radio journalist who recently wrote the book We Need to Talk; How to Have Conversations That Matter

I cannot recommend this book highly enough to…well pretty much everyone – but especially to my fellow professional conversationalists. In her book, Celeste looks back on her career in journalism and shares what she’s learned to help her have great conversations – interviewing everyone from Pulitzer Prize-winning authors to truck drivers.

Rather than giving a long-winded review of the book, I’ll share three ideas it’s inspired me to try out:

  1. Showing consumers behind the curtain more
    According to Celeste, good conversations happen when everyone understands what the topic is and what the interviewer is expecting of them. I want to play with this insight in future consumer conversations and try being a little more honest; letting them know more about what we know, what our hunches are and – most importantly – what we want to understand from talking to them. Too often, we try and shield our conversation partners from the bigger picture to avoid biasing them and they leave slightly confused asking ‘I hope that was useful?’ with a puzzled look on their faces. I want less of that.

  2. Rehearsing conversations and developing lines of questions
    What comes across in this book is the sheer level of thinking that Celeste and her team put into the conversations they have – rehearsing and refining lines of questions and developing strategies for different potential avenues of discussion. Clearly, good conversation doesn’t just happen; it is crafted and planned. I want to put some of Celeste’s ideas into action and spend more time trying to pre-empt the conversations I have. I want to move beyond the discussion guide and think bigger.

  3. Shorter conversations for shorter attention spans
    One of the big themes in this book is that the art of conversation is disappearing. Celeste attributes this change, in part, to our shortening attention spans caused largely by technology. Incredibly, an academic test to measure attention spans has shown a fall from 3 minutes in 2004 to just 59 seconds in 2014. Knowing what we know about our attention spans, why are we surprised that when putting 6 strangers in a room for 2 hours to talk about something they were not prepared for, they’re likely to become bored and lose interest? It’s time to start doing things differently and I want to find new ways of having shorter bursts of meaningful conversations with consumers. I want to learn how journalists maximise their time.

I’m now off to do some professional conversationing. I’ll let you know how I get on…

In praise of the periodical

I suffered hoots of derision. HOOTS. Last bank holiday weekend, I hunkered down with a glossy new copy of Modern Farmer magazine. I simply can’t see why it was so funny.

I have a passion for periodicals.

I stopped buying books years ago because I’m now all about the Kindle. But I do love a periodical. To me, they’re in a different league to magazines (though I do have a penchant for Tatler). They’re beautiful. The cover is thicker, the paper is dense, they’re for keeps.

They’re a celebration of typography, graphic design, illustration and great writing. 

Little pockets of magical mystery knowledge that someone, cleverer and more creative than me, went off and just found. Just for the publishability of it.

A few favourites:

Ernest: a trove that purports to cover curious histories, workmanship, slow adventure, timeless style and wild food. Fair do’s, there’s almost nothing in my life that resembles a ramble, but I do crave a house full of hand-tooled hand tools.

Found: a trove of photography of the stuff people just find. 

And let’s not forget, Modern Farmer. There’s a lot more in there than just ads for tractors. But the best thing is, it has those too. You just never know when you’ll need one.

*In memoriam* Lucky Peach: food porn with smarts. No longer with us, may it rest in peace. 

Lucky Peach