Any good paranormal investigation starts with a good client interview. The way you conduct the interview is crucial to understanding the client, their views, their experiences, and what they expect to get out of your investigation.
The way you present yourself should convey the way you expect the investigation to go; professional, organized, and thorough. Make sure you have all your tools organized and at hand. Your tools are interview sheets, pens or pencils, scratch paper, recorder, and, if you prefer, a camera. Most important is a calm, understanding demeanor, and a willingness to listen to the client without adding comments or anecdotes from your own experience. A client interview is a time to gather information, not to show a client how much you know about ghosts and investigations, or how experienced you are. They want to talk about their experiences, not yours.
If there are several people to interview at one location, do not interview them together. It can be extremely confusing to try to listen to more than one person at a time, and they can feed off each other, building excitement. One may remember an event one way, and the next person may remember it another way. What they finally settle on may not be what either one really remembers, but something inbetween. It is better to have two interviewers, each with their own set of supplies, in two different rooms. This eliminates one person's recollections tainting another person's memories.
When you begin, ask if you can record their interview. Some investigators use voice recorders, some even use a camcorder. Whichever you use, it should be in addition to your written notes. Some may not want to be recorded, and that's fine, just rely on good written notes. There are many client interview forms available on the internet, so this article will only be concerned with how to conduct the interview, not the questions to ask.
Some clients, when faced with someone that is willing to listen without ridicule, may not know how to start their story. Just to get them started, ask about the reason they contacted you. Ask when they first experienced activity. Let them tell it in their own way, while you fill in your forms as they talk about how long the activity has been happening, and what they have observed. Your interview sheet should have questions like who witnessed the event, when, who was present, etc. If you need to, you can ask them to repeat something, or clarify things for you.
Clients are often easily led. In other words, they might include things that "might have happened, I can't remember" to please an interviewer. If a client tells you about a sound, don't ask "was it the sound of a voice" or "did everyone else hear the sound?" They might talk themselves into remembering things that didn't happen. A better question would be, "At the time, what did you assume the sound was?" Often the assumption turns out to be the right answer. A client may talk themselves into something entirely different after thinking about it for awhile. Just let them tell the story and you sort it out later. If there were other witnesses at the time, chances are the client will include that in their story. This is where a voice recorder is handy, to listen again, catch the things you missed during the interview, listen for changes in their demeanor. Only after they have told everything should you go through your forms and fill in any questions the client hasn't addressed. This is when you can ask general questions, like "have you ever noticed any odd smells you couldn't explain?"
After you have all the information, ask about the history of the building. Make notes of anything they know about it, past owners of the buildings as well as the history of the land. Ask if they know of any folklore, local tales, even gossip about the place concerned. This information will come in handy later during your research into the history of the property. Thee might be local folklore about the general area, or the property in particular. Some clients may not know anything, and sometimes the owners may have a wealth of information. Be sure you do your own research too, though, as you never know if you're getting all the possible information. Human nature is to sometimes embellish, and sometimes withhold details. And to sometimes forget, or misenterpret the stories they've heard.
After the interview, ask the client if they can show you the places that they have witnessed activity. Ask if you can take reference photos. They will give you an idea of the area layout so you can prepare layout sheets to use during the investigation. Anytime you can, during this walk through, have your recorder on, and lay it down when you can, as you take photos. The client may well remember things during the walkthrough that they forgot to tell you during the interview.
After the interview is over and you are going over your notes and recordings, it's time to compare interviews with the other interviewer, if there was one. Any inconsistencies in stories need to be noted. Often people honestly remember things differently. If there are minor differences, that's understandable. Any major differences in stories need to be clarified. Call the client, and tell the client in going through your notes, you missed a piece of information, could they tell you again. Never say, "Are you sure? But ___ told it this way".
The most difficult part of a interview is often being noncommittal. Clients often want reassurance that what they experience is common. They will ask things like "Have you ever heard of this before?" " Has this happened to you?" "Can a ghost do this?" Try to assure the client that what they are experiencing are not unheard of, and you are familiar with what they are experiencing. Never give specifics from other investigations.
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