6 Tips for Getting People to Talk

telephone research

It’s hard to believe that my book, Research on Main Street: Using the Web to Find Local Business and Market Information, was published four years ago last month. As the title suggests it’s about web research tips and techniques, but I emphasize throughout the book that you can’t find everything online.

Maybe what you’re looking for is so new that no one has taken the time to gather – no less post to a website – this obscure information. Perhaps you’re seeking the human side to the story or conducting a confidential investigation. Sometimes you need to pick up the phone and convince someone to share their precious time and knowledge.

One of the top experts in telephone research is Risa Sacks, long-time owner of Risa Sacks Information Services. We’ve worked on several projects together, and Risa was generous enough to contribute one of the Tips from the Pros that appear in each chapter of my book.

Risa emphasizes that people generally want to be helpful. They can be wary, though, and protective of their time – and she offers these six top tips for getting people to open up and answer your questions:

1. Be as open as possible. The more you can truthfully say about who you are and why you want the information, the more likely locals are to talk.

2. Do your homework. Every newspaper has a website. Get the names of journalists and quoted experts to contact, and what they’ve written or what’s been written about them.

3. Ask for and use referrals. Always ask, “Who else might know?” and use that person’s name when calling the referral. “Mrs. Boynton suggested that I call you…” This is one of your strongest tools.

4. Listen carefully and match the other person’s style. Some people may be fast-paced and want to get right to the point. Others are more laid-back and prefer to be sociable before getting down to business.

5. Be appreciative of people’s time and their willingness to share what they know. Like your mom said, remember your manners.

6. Offer something in return. The other person might be interested in a summary of what you’ve already found, links to a helpful article, a useful contact, or an interesting statistic you’ve come across. In this way, you both benefit from the conversation.

What are your favorite tips for getting people to talk?

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