Writing a book is a long and tedious process. During this process, for me at least, there are times when the creative juices flow and it seems your work is close to completion. At other times, it seems as though I will never finish! I am currently working on my third book in a series aimed toward the amateur paranormal investigator or ghost hunter.
In my first book, "Handbook for the Amateur Paranormal Investigator or Ghost Hunter: How to Become a Successful Paranormal Group", I focused my efforts on the basics of becoming part of a group or creating your own based upon my many years of trial and error, success and failure, and experience and knowledge from myself and others. I also covered the basics of the interview and investigation and discussed how to properly use science in a field that is confused by the difference in scientific tools and the scientific process. My second book was more of a companion book to the first, "Betty's Ghost: A Guide to Paranormal Investigation", is an over the shoulder look at how I approach a basic client centered case from start to finish. This book is based upon a scenario tool that I created to help train new investigators in the process in looking for information in witness statements to begin narrowing down potential explanations, paranormal or not, for the events described.
My third book, "Handbook for the Amateur Paranormal Investigator Part II: The Art and Science of Paranormal Investigation", is a step up from the basics I discussed in the first two books and will look at advanced concepts in client based investigations. This book is nearing completion, but my time has been focused in various places and the book is put on the back burner for many reasons.
This is part one of a series of blogs that I will focus on what I consider the most important part of an investigation: the interview. This will lead me from the basics I talked about in the first books into the advanced concepts I will discuss in my forthcoming book (and these blogs will hopefully also serve as motivation to finish the book!).
The interview sets the stage for the investigation and needs to be more thorough than, "So, where does most of the activity happen?" A good interview can help make a great investigation and a great interview can help the client through their situation without much delay.
To be a good interviewer you have to have the basic interpersonal communication skills. You have to have the ability to look the other person in the eye, acknowledge the fact they are speaking by gesturing (head nods, smiling or refelct the emotion being displayed with facial or other slight body gestures at correct levels and right moments), and know when it is your turn to speak. We generally wait for the other person to stop talking, but other non verbal cues, such as the other person looking away or down actually gives us the green light as well. The other side of this is to also remember to allow the other person to speak. While we may have volumes of information we want to share, we should always remember that the client has a lot on their mind as well and being a good listener is far better than being a good talker. For many people these concepts may sound very simple, but many people don't understand these basics of good communication skills and when they do think of them while conducting interviews they will suddenly find they are able to control the conversation much easier, they will get much more information, and will be able to calm the client easier since they will display confidence and control with their presence.
For some people interviewing is a tense situation. It's easy for most of us to talk to friends and strangers with little problem, but when it comes to this type of interaction there is a lot of stress on both sides of the table which makes it difficult for some to perform to the best of their abilities. One part of easing the stress is to have prior vocal communication with the client prior to setting foot in their home (or other location) for the interview. This way, a bit of the ice has already begun to melt and will be easier to break. Also, when entering someone's house for the first time you should be paying attention to as many details as possible. Part of the reason is to have some fuel to help continue to break the ice until it's time to get down to business. It is critical to evaluate the apparent stress level of the client and assure them that they need not be nervous about the situation. Another great way to calm the client is to communicate what you are doing with the interview and what your process will be following the interview and explain as much as possible as well as ask them periodically if they have questions.
In regards to talking to the client before the interview I feel it is important to reply to them as soon as possible after their contact. My personal expectation is within 24 hours of their inquiry they should have a response. This quick communication begins to tell the client that you are a professional and that you value the client. Think of it as running a business, if you contacted someone for assistance with a matter pertaining to their business how long would you wait for a response? If using your website to collect client contacts, be sure to use a data form to collect information so you can gather not just their e-mail, but their name, physical address, phone number as well as basic information about the case. This information should be used to help establish identify of the individual if you decide to proceed with the interview. My wife calls this "creepy", but I feel that establishing and verifying client information can keep you from embarrassing or even unintentional harassing situations.
I mentioned establishing vocal communication to help ease the stress for the investigator during the interview, but establishing this communication will also help serve to calm the client and allow them to voice their concerns and get out their fears and frustrations. Be warned that many of these initial conversations will be lengthy as many of the clients have been unable (or unwilling) to talk to others about what is going on or have only told those around them the tip of the iceberg.
In some cases there might be a "wait and see" approach instead of heading out to the client's home. In many cases once you commit to this level the client will have expectations that you will "find something" to help prove their case. Many clients just want to have some sort of verification that their home is haunted so that they can feel at ease or that they are "not crazy", although I tell people I am not qualified to make that judgment! Is traveling to their home worth it in certain cases? Be sure that there is a reason to go out to their home. Is there an increase in frequency? Is there an increase in intensity of the events? These are two signs that there needs to be some sort of intervention and that the client needs an outside source to help guide/coach and empower them through their situation.
When interviewing the client don't be rushed to find out everything there is to know about the events. Start out by exploring their feelings on these events and what they think of the paranormal, where they gather their information, and if they have had prior experiences they would consider paranormal. Exploring their background of emotional reactions can help you understand what they are feeling in the present and can help you understand if they need coaching or more confidence and empowerment.
To have a successful interview session you must have three things in line: anticipation, preparation, and execution.
Anticipation: The client should know what your expectations are. They should be free of any distractions (not doing laundry, watching television, have friends over, having children's friends over, especially to allow them to see what the "ghost busters" are doing). They should also know what is in store for them for you visit as well as how many investigators will be present and if you are going to record them (avoid putting them on the spot). Communication is critical before, during, and after every visit!
Preparation: You should have notes typed up in advance. You should know the bulk of the questions you are going to ask in advance (it will be impossible to anticipate all of the questions in advance as many interview questions are created from the client's statements). There should be a game plan as far as who will speak to what witness and approximately how long each interview session should last. Before drawing up your plans you should have an approximate guess of how long you will have in the client's home. Creating structure to your interview sessions (as well as your investigation) will allow you to make the best of your time at a location and will keep everyone focused on the task at hand. Be sure that each investigator has a job to do at the interview.
Execution: What's a great plan if you don't follow it? A client will want to wander with their conversation. Keep them on task as much as possible, unless you feel the deviation is a necessary departure. If you have created a time structure attempt to keep it as close as possible without sacrificing the collection of information from the client. It is always best to interview one client with two investigators and keep the interviewees separate from each other. This is not just so they won't feed the other person information, but will keep them a bit more focused on the conversation. This will also speed up the interview process as more than one witness can be interviewed at the same time. There is always the temptation to interview the family as a group, but you will have a much harder time keeping the conversation focused. Before splitting the family up be sure to gather them all together to communicate the structure you have created and let them know of your expectations as well as what you hope to gather from the nights' events.
In further segments I will discuss body language basics as well as the myths that accompany the topic. I will discuss the basic questions to ask (and why) as well as what information you are looking to gather from the interview to help create an investigation that is more than standing around in the dark with a digital recorder and EMF detector. I will also share a specific information gathering system that is far more efficient than basic methods of interviewing and even through hypnosis.