From shaky hands with paper to mastering flow

Back in college I remember I had to work on a study that involved some market research–where I had to go out and interview people. I’m thankful that it was during college and my money wasn’t at stake, but I learned some valuable lessons that have helped me in the early startup process.
In those interviews at college I made a huge mistake: I didn’t achieve conversation flow with the people I interviewed. It was just too sloppy. Basically, I met with people, I had a paper where I could read the questions I wanted to answer, and that was it. The funny thing was when somebody said something interesting, that could’ve helped me with my research, and I ignored it. It wasn’t on my list of questions, so I just ignored it.
The biggest lesson I learned with this, was that there’s no script to follow while interviewing people. Yes, you can have a list of general topics to cover, but your main job as an interviewer is to achieve conversation flow. Because that’s where you’ll get the interesting stuff.
It doesn’t matter whether you have to interview a candidate for a position, an expert for your blog, or customers to find the problems they’d pay money to get solved. The goal is to go off-script and get to places you wouldn’t write down as questions.
So, how do you get better at mastering conversation flow? Practice.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
The thing is you’ve got to find the point where the conversation just keeps going. With some people you need to push more, with others just ask questions, and with others you just need to shut up and let them talk.
Where I’m getting with this is that you can’t achieve good conversation flow if you following a script and can’t stop looking to the paper you have on your hands. Don’t be afraid if the conversation goes off-course, in fact, sometimes you should seek that.
(PS. If you want to become better at running interviews, I recommend you the book The Coaching Habit.)