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EPISODE 60: Interviewing Skills for Writers and the BVI Process

by Nov 16, 2021Copywriting, Podcast

Learn about the Brand Voice Process and why interviewing skills are important for writers. In this episode we will cover:

  • Behind-the-scenes of the Brand Voice Intensive
  • Overview of the Brand Voice Process
  • The Importance of Interviewing Skills for Writers
  • Overcoming Interview Nerves

Most writers are accustomed to operating behind-the-scenes, so interviewing clients can be intimidating—let alone for 90 minutes! But that’s exactly what the Brand Voice Intensive (BVI) is, and it’s the foundation of North Star’s Brand Voice Process. 

In this episode, North Star Writer Mentors and guest co-hosts Madeline and Maggie give listeners a peek behind the curtain of the BVI from the writer’s perspective and discuss why interviewing skills are important for writers. 

Hosting a BVI can be nerve wracking {most North Star writers will attest!} but the BVI is ultimately a unique, enjoyable, and powerful tool for both copywriters and clients. 

Asking questions that elicit the client’s authentic voice is an important interviewing skill for writers. The trick is figuring out what questions will encourage the client to provide helpful insights and empower you to craft a valuable Brand Voice Guide. 

For many clients, the BVI is one of the first opportunities to define their business or brand’s messaging; oftentimes they don’t have all the details around audience, vision, or values ironed out pre-intensive. So, if you immediately start asking pointed questions like. “What’s your brand mission? Who’s your target customer? What are your core values?” that might not resonate, because they might not know yet. It’s all about how you frame the questions, for example:

  • Instead of asking “What’s your brand mission?” try asking “Why do you feel the work you do is important?
  • Rather than asking “Who’s your target client?” try “What does your audience want, more than anything?” 
  • Rephrase the question “What’s your origin story?” to ”What drove you to start your business? How were you feeling at the time?” 

It’s helpful to prepare lots of questions in advance, just in case the client isn’t forthcoming or detailed. Having a plan is great, but give yourself flexibility and permission to ask questions that are off-topic. If a client starts talking excitedly about something they’re passionate about, don’t cut them off for the sake of a schedule. Passion in their voice signals super useful information! 

A rule of thumb for interviews in general: always start by asking a question to break the ice. It can be as simple as, “How are you doing? How’s business been?” You’ll be surprised by how many of your questions they’ll answer right off the bat, plus it establishes a sense of comfort and trust. It also helps with nerves! Instead of thinking of the BVI as a high-stakes interview, think of it as a conversation. 

Here are some additional tips to help combat interview nerves and develop your interviewing skills as a writer:

  • Interviews are an exercise in listening. Try not to get caught up in distracting thoughts, like “What am I going to say next? Do I sound silly?” Instead, be present and listen with the intent to understand. This will help you know when to dig in and ask the right follow-ups.
  • Don’t be embarrassed to ask for clarification. This is just an opportunity to learn more, and shows the client you are invested in capturing their voice correctly.
  • Be confident in your questions and skills {check out S2 E59: Imposter Syndrome if you struggle with this!)
  • Bring energy, enthusiasm, and genuine interest. This will encourage the client to open up and share.
  • Practice builds confidence. The more interviews you do, the stronger your skills will be. 
  • Remember, the other person is nervous too. Interviews are intimidating for all parties, but if you set the tone with positivity, conversation will flow! 



It’s your turn to ask us. Join the Polaris Writers Lounge or DM us on Instagram and let us know your interview questions and the interviewing skills you think are essential for writers.


Welcome to the Brand Your Voice Podcast, where we’re digging into how you can create personality-driven content that connects and converts. I’m Jessi… Marie:
…and I’m Marie. We’re the co-founders of North Star Messaging + Strategy, where we support business owners in outsourcing content without sacrificing authenticity. Jessi:
Every brand has a unique voice that sets it apart. We're digging into how to capture the way your brand communicates from the words you use to the stories you tell. So you can create more compelling content that strategically helps you meet your business goals. Marie:
And if you choose to outsource that content, you'll be able to do so with confidence, knowing your brand voice is in good hands and you can reclaim your time. We're so glad you're here and hope you enjoy this episode. Madeline:
Hello, and welcome back to another episode of the Brand Your Voice Podcast. This is Madeline, one of the writer mentors here at North Star, and I'm here with my co-mentor, Maggie. And this is one of a few episodes that we are recording while Jessi and Marie are out on vacation. So super happy to be here, excited to talk a little bit about kind of what is the backbone of what we do here at North Star, which is our Brand Voice Intensive Process. Maggie:
Yes. And, really when we're talking about a Brand Voice Intensive, we are talking about an interview that is really what happens during the Brand Voice Intensive. We as the people that are working in brand voice ask a ton of questions of our clients to sort of get to the heart of their message, their voice, who they are and what they care about. So today we'll be talking about that process and really the interview skills that you need to do it successfully. Madeline:
Yes, absolutely. I know that when I first started at North Star and I was hearing about everything we do here, I was just, I was so intimidated about interviews in general, but especially the brand voice intensive because you know, it's a 90 minute interview. And I remember joking with my fiancé I was like, okay, the whole reason I wanted to get a writing job was so that, because I was working in customer service for very customer facing jobs. And I was like, I don't want to talk to people anymore. The whole reason I got a writing job, so I don't want to talk to people. Now I have to do like a 90 minute interview, like what, but it turned out that it was something that I really enjoyed. It was intimidating. Maggie, I think I talked about this with you a couple of weeks ago, but you, my first brand voice intensive was one that you were leading. And that was so helpful to just kind of watch you. And I remember I wrote down a lot of the questions that you asked, and I still use some of those same questions in BVs that I do now, because I think that's the biggest part of any interview is figuring out what questions to ask. Maggie:
Totally. And I feel like that's super flattering because I definitely had the very same experience that I was like, that is a very long interview to conduct. And I often think of interviews as sort of a process of discovery. Right. And they are, but during a brand voice at tensive, there are specific things that you're hoping to discover. And so that takes a lot of skill to either get that out of the person on the other end of the call or to sort of corral the conversation at times. And so I, it can be a really tricky process to under go and more than anything, just an intimidating one, because I think at this point, you and I both have done quite a few and they're not as scary as they used to be. Madeline:
They're not, it's one of those things where as soon as you get going, it's okay. And honestly, the client is the one doing most of the work. I mean, the ideal brand voice intensive is one where I feel like I'm not talking at all. But like you said, it is figuring out what questions to ask, because when we go into, I've done interviews with clients for like just feature articles where I'm like, okay, I'll like start out with some kind of general question, but I'll kind of let them lead the conversation. But with the brand voice intensive, because we are preparing this like extremely thorough document that's supposed to be the skeleton of their brand voice, and it's supposed to be basically a, like a user's manual for any writer who would write for their business.
So there's specific information that we are going in there looking for. And so figuring out what questions to ask to get that information is tricky. Especially because I feel like a lot of our clients, they come to us not knowing exactly how they define their own brands. It's not that they don't know their brand necessarily, but I think that something that they kind of empathize with us is like, okay, I don't know exactly all of the specifics of my brand. And I'm hoping that you can help me to uncover some of those. So, if we go in and start asking a bunch of like super, just brand centric, business centric questions, like, okay, what's your brand mission? Who's your target customer? Like, they might be like, well, I don't know. Maggie:
Right! Madeline:
Yeah! So, instead of asking, okay, what's your brand mission you can ask Why do you feel the work you do is important? Because anyone can answer that. And a lot of times that question turns into a 10 minute discussion that's really, really illuminating. And then I can use what they say in that question too, in the brand voice guide, be like, okay, this is their mission, but you can't just ask them, what's your mission because they might not know. Does that make any sense? Maggie:
Yeah! And I think that's part of what, like why it can be intimidating to enter into these conversations because you kind of have to read the room. Right. And I think that's one bit of advice that I had jotted down in preparation of this podcast recording, is that you kind of have to match the energy and sort of like the cadence that you're getting from interviewing. Right. So you kind of have to make a judgment call in the moment, which can be difficult. I'm like, how does this, is this a person who has a lot of clarity around something like their mission that they have one prepared and you don't need to re you know, we don't need to reinvent the wheel here, or are they going to benefit from kind of like responding to these leading questions that is going to allow me the writer to craft the perfect mission statement for them. So I think that, that's totally valid. And it's one of the nuances of the brand voice process that you can't anticipate most of the time. Madeline:
Sure. Yeah. And yeah, I definitely want to echo what you just said there, because some clients do come to us and they know everything about their brand. Like they do want somebody to help with the writing side and this is the first step to that. So it's not always like, well, I don't know. Like, I feel like that makes it sound like, I don't think that these people know their businesses when in fact they know them very well. Maggie:
But I agree. It's like, sometimes, that's why they're in the brand voice processes because they're not certain. Madeline:
Yeah, yeah, exactly. Or, maybe they do know, but it's helpful to have an outside party put it into different words, even if we're putting it into their own words. Maggie:
Yeah. Yeah. Which is the reason for the process. And what I also think is ultimately as intimidating as it is to be the person guiding this conversation, which is an important one, you know, cause it's going to sort of guide the creation of their content going forward. It's less about what you're saying as the interviewer. It's more about what you're hearing, right. Like really actively listening the whole time. Madeline:
Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think that's why, I think more than the question itself is what makes this a very exciting process, but also an exhausting one. Like I know that if I have a brand voice intensive on my schedule, I'm like, okay, well, that's done, I'm done for the day. Like I'm not going to be able to do anything else. Because you do have to just put a lot, like 110% of your energy and your attention into listening to the client. And like you said, being mindful of their tone and cadence, not just so that you can match it during the interview, but that speaks so much to their brand voice that we have a whole section in the brand voice guide that's about the client's tone and cadence or about their brand's tone and cadence and their content personality, are they a rebel? Are they a nurturer? And just listening to the way that the client talks about their own brand, like the way that they're talking and not even what they're saying, but the way that they're saying it, contributes so much to the creation of the brand voice guide. Maggie:
Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, like, these are not skills that like, well, I mean, I'm speaking for myself... feeling too much. I'm like, these are not skills you practice in everyday life when you're listening to someone talk, it's really comprehensive sort of like deeply, really attentive, like you said, and for that reason exhausting listening process. Madeline:
Yeah, definitely. Something else, you know, I've done a couple brand voice intenses. Sometimes I like giving the clients kind of a peek into our own process and I just kind of explained to them what we're doing and what the purpose of it is as we're going through it. Not always, but I find that helpful sometimes, especially when we get to the stories. For those of you who aren't familiar with stars, print with process, the final, I don't know, half a third of a brand voice intensive is all about digging into the client's five core stories. So it's the origin story, how they started their business, their wide story, which is why they started their business with their purposes, innovation, oh my gosh. What are the other one's expertise and influence? I believe Jessi and Marie did podcast episodes exploring all of those in detail, if that is something that interests you. But you know, when we get to that part, I sometimes like to give them a little bit of like, oh, so these are the stories and this is what we use them for just so they're not caught off guard as being like, so what's your origin story? Maggie:
Like, what is this a Marvel movie? Madeline:
Which is off topic. But, that was the first time that my older sister met my now fiancé, who was my boyfriend at the time. And the very first time that she met him, that was the first thing she asked him was, what's your origin story? Maggie:
It's a great, like a question to ask right off the bat. Madeline:
It is, he was so intimidated and he was like, I still, I will never forget that. Maggie:
Maybe we should all just sort of meditate on that. Madeline:
You meet a new person, what's your origin story? But anyways, like, you know, that's not what we're asking the client and the brand voice intensive, obviously for you to start your business or how, and how are you feeling at the time and how talk about the early days of your business? What has changed since then? And again, the stories that they tell them, the information that they give helps us craft this really unique and powerful tool for their brand. Maggie:
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that, like, what comes with that too is, I think you have to be careful with the questions that you ask, like you said, you're, we're not saying, oh, what's your origin story. Like what, instead, like being really, I don't know, like making those kinds of questions accessible and not feel like the end all be all while still drawing out most powerful information. And for that reason too, I think it's really important not to be embarrassed to ask, follow up questions and ask for clarification when you need it. I think that sometimes that can feel like I'm not, did I miss something? Am I, you know, but the reality is that often, like maybe the person on the other end of the call is having trouble articulating something.
And that is just an opportunity rather than a stumbling block, like we need to go further and this, we need to get clarification around what's coming up here. So I think that, yeah, like you mentioned the way you're asking questions, how you're posing them is a really important one. And, something else that I was thinking about before this call was having the structure there and like knowing what kind of questions you're going to ask, and that sort of thing is super important. But I think that also in every brand voice intensive and every interview in general, like leaving a little bit of room to be surprised, like absolutely letting things be, like go a little bit off topic or, kind of venture into some territory that you didn't quite expect can be really telling and sometimes end up being the most powerful bits of information that you pull out of the whole process. Madeline:
Yeah, for sure. And, you know, it's a challenge because it's a 90 minute interview, so it helps to go in with a bit of a schedule in mind, like, okay. At the 30 minute mark, we're going to switch over to stories or whatever it is. But I'm also like if a client is talking about something that they're clearly passionate about, I'm not going to cut them off and be like, okay, we have to move on now because that's really, it's all useful information. So, I have done Brand voice intensives where we didn't quite get to all of the questions that I had had laid out and that's okay because I was still able to take the information they gave me and create a really thorough brand voice guide.
In fact, I think that those ones are almost more helpful in creating the brand voice guides than the ones where I feel like the client isn't super forthcoming. So that's another suggest, I guess advice, if anyone does an interview like this is just in case, just bring a bunch of questions because sometimes, like I know that I have personally done at least one BVI where it was a little bit like pulling teeth, and just trying to figure out how to, and that's partly on the interviewing team, I think because if a client isn't being super forthcoming, you might just not be phrasing the question in the correct way. So thinking of even just having a few different phrasings of the same question and seeing which one they respond to the best. Maggie:
Yeah. That is really smart. That is a really good approach that because, oftentimes you just don't know. And I think what's also helpful in that situation is just trying to conceptualize it as a conversation instead of a very high stakes interview or something like that. And it's like, okay, some people need to get warmed up before they can talk about like this sort of more stuff about their business or their brand. And, sometimes it's like, oh, you have to give a little to, in order to get information out of the client. So I also think that it's totally professional and totally, just like sort of a warm approach to be conversational and to let them in a little bit on your personality and who you are, who are they talking to. I think that that is really helpful sometimes when someone is maybe a little bit reticent to share right off the bat. Madeline:
Definitely. One of the best pieces of advice that I've gotten about doing interviews is just to always start out by just saying, how are you doing, how is your business going? Like, how are things going for you right now? Just a super conversational, open-ended just kick off to any interview, not just a brand voice intensive, but any interview, because I feel the client interviews that turn into features or something like that. I feel like half the time they answer half the questions that I had for them immediately when I just say, how are you doing? Maggie:
Yes. Oh my gosh. Yes. Yeah. That is totally true. Madeline:
Yeah. Maggie:
And what I was thinking about too is the best way to never be shaken in an interview of any kind really is just to do it very often. Right. That's I think you just have to keep putting yourself out there and seeking opportunities to engage with this kind of process because, Hey, it's a really different experience, listening to conversations around brand voice, and then writing up a I'm writing up a guide as in like listening to recordings or like looking at documents, clients pass along and stuff like that, then I'm actually conducting the interview. And I think like when you are the interviewer, you get this sort of intimacy with everything that goes into getting to the personality, the tone, like the vision, all of this stuff that comes with a brand voice, like you get such a more thorough knowledge of all of the moving pieces that go into each of those aspects of brand voice and all the questions you have to ask to arrive there.
And I think that it's just such a instructive process. It's such an educational process and the more you do it, the stronger sense you have of everything brand voice related. Madeline:
Definitely. Definitely. And, I know I started out by saying I wasn't super big on interviewing people and I was nervous about doing the brand voice intensive. Cause I was like, oh, I don't want to talk to clients. Like, the reason I got out of customer service, but it's turned into- it's completely different. And I think it's because the brand voice intensive has such a, like you said, such an intimate, it's such a personal, deep introspective conversation that you're having with somebody. It's not just like the two bits of conversation that you get with every customer is you're checking people out at the cash register or something. It's a long in-depth conversation with another human being about this thing that is their entire life that they're so passionate about. And then, I have the honor and the privilege to take that passion and turn it into a tool that can help them. And so that, I mean, it's just, it's completely different. It's a completely different ball game. And it's, that's been one of the greatest surprises of working at North Star is how much I actually have come to enjoy interviewing clients and talking to them. Maggie:
Yeah. Yeah. And I think too, like that you're right. That's like just like such a wonderful by-product of having these conversations and doing these interviews is that I've never finished one, you know, that I didn't at the end of it, say to myself, I really like that person, feel inspired by the conversation and excited about, especially if, you know, like we're going to be creating more content for them, like really excited about doing right by their mission, their vision and their voice. Madeline:
Definitely. Yeah, absolutely. Maggie:
Yeah. Well, we would love to hear what you all have to share about the brand voice process. And especially if you have other questions about the brand voice process, perhaps you could connect with us on Instagram, send us a DM, a comment, something like that, and ask us your questions or share some insight around the brand voice process and how you liked to do things. Madeline:
Definitely. We are obsessed with all things brand voice here at North Star. And, it's really fun to be able to give everybody, again, this peek behind the curtain and into this just really special process that we're so passionate about. So if you have any questions or comments for us, we would really love to talk to you. Maggie:
All right. And then until next week you all take care! Marie:
Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Brand Your Voice Podcast Make sure to visit our website, northstarmessaging.com, where you can subscribe to the show on iTunes, Spotify, and more. Jessi:
If you found value in this episode, we'd love for you to leave us a review on iTunes and share it with your friends. Thank you, and happy content creating.

For additional content strategy and branding tips, check out northstarmessaging.com/blog. Also, please tag us on Instagram and let us know you’re out there! @northstarmessaging 

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