Your intentions are good: You want to increase a senior leader’s visibility with employees by interviewing her. You’d love to do a video, but the leader is busy and videos are complicated, so you decide to create a written piece in the newsletter.

That’s where it all goes horribly awry. You ask safe questions. The leader answers in corporate speak. And the article ends up as 670 dense words of meaningless undead zombie-apocalyptic ooze. (The good news: No one reads it.)

It doesn’t have to be that way. You can bring a leader to life by taking a lighter, more modern approach inspired by the best media. Here’s how:
 

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Change the expectation. Step away from the idea that this is going to be the Definitive Interview About Everything That Matters. Instead, make it clear that this piece will capture a moment in time. A snapshot, not a portrait. (It may be helpful to show external examples of what you’re going for.)

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Capture the concept. Create a brief description of what you’re trying to do: a quick-read, scannable interview with a leader about a specific topic. No more than 150 to 200 words (yes, really, that’s all). And a catchy title like: “5 quick questions for (name of leader).”

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Hack the questions. Throw out all the old-school questions you’ve ever crafted. For this to work, questions have to be clever and intriguing. Like: “What about this keeps you up at night?” And: “What advice would you give to an employee about how to be more innovative, despite the obstacles?”

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Coach your leader. Suggest she treat this like a TV interview—she’ll get the context because she’s been through media training. Ask her to keep answers short. And use vivid language. Encourage her to provide personal insights and anecdotes.

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Edit the heck out of the answers. You’ve recorded the interview, of course, so you’ve captured every single word the leader said. But now you need to take out your pruners and craft responses. Think topiary. You’re going to make your leader look shapely and stylish.

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Stand your ground. Dark Corporate Forces will try to make your beautiful work more safe, more conventional and a lot more boring. Defend your premise, making sure your boss has your back.

 

Enjoy the results. Even if Legal has made it a little less wonderful, this is sure to be the best executive interview ever. Congratulations: You’ve defeated the zombies and brought your leader to life!

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