I call myself an extrovert; someone who is comfortable in groups, has little trouble speaking up in a discussion, and generally energized by being around others. For me, data collection that involves interrupting and intercepting strangers (i.e., visitors to a museum or cultural site) comes easily, but for many, it's incredibly intimidating. I recently read an article which argued that introverts who act like extroverts can get more done; there may be no better context to test this hypothesis than in data collection. Although I don't have data to back up this claim of productivity, if anyone wants to take a Myers Briggs and compare response rates, I'm up for an experiment!
For now, I'm happy to share the techniques I use to stay confident and get responses:
Make eye-contact and keep smiling. This may be my very biggest point-- people who look and act approachable are the ones visitors want to talk to. Just yesterday, I sat down at the bar in a crowded new restaurant I was excited to try. I asked the bartender if there was full menu service at the bar, and was returned with a snarky, sarcastic, "No, the people eating here are all breaking the rules." Although my question was, in hindsight, easily answered if I had looked around, I felt shy and almost fearful when the time came to place my order. Imagine the difference if I had been smiled at and answered, "Sure is!"
When intercepting visitors, we are asking them to take time out of their visit to share information with us. Meanwhile, they may be tired, looking for the bathroom or involved in a personal conversation. We are interrupting them and asking them to give time to us. Your face leading up to your interception and the tone you maintain are crucial for reassuring your participants that the experience could be enjoyable, rather than painful.
Have a succinct introduction. When you begin talking, visitors may be unaware you are trying to get their attention. Having a clear, concise, confident introduction can alert them quickly and set expectations. I usually break in with, "Hi," and then make eye-contact with the visitor I am recruiting. If they are deep in a conversation, I will take a step forward and give a small wave to help add visual cues (I'm here! I'm talking to you!). Once the visitor looks back at me, I finish my introduction, "...do you mind answering a few questions to help the Museum?" Usually this assertiveness gets a positive response, especially when combined with smiling!
Whenever possible, my protocols ask data collectors to state the number of questions visitors will be expected to answer (instead of "a few" above). If it varies or exceeds 7, I share how many minutes most people take. Visitors are more receptive when they don't feel duped and can anticipate exactly what you're asking them to do.
If you get tired, TAKE A BREAK! Talking with visitors can be draining, and collecting data on slow days can be just as exhausting! Similar to eye-contact and smiling, you look more approachable when you are rested and energetic. If you aren't feeling ready for your next visitor, walk around an adjacent exhibit, get a drink of water, close your eyes for 30 seconds, take a seat on a bench and check your email, anything that will refresh you.
As an extrovert, slow days are sometimes harder for me than busy ones; I often break up the monotony of waiting for visitors by asking volunteers and staff in the room about their work and what they've noticed during their time on the floor. Like data collectors, guards and volunteers are tasked with remaining vigilant, so it is understood that when visitors arrive, the conversation should stop. The more I have an attentive, focused mind, the better I can attract potential participants.
Don't take it personally. Put yourself in visitors' shoes if you get a few rejections. At the restaurant this weekend, I was able to feel more at ease when I overheard the brash bartender was on the end of a 10 hour shift when I asked an obvious question. Despite your polished extrovert interception skills, some people have other reasons for turning down your request for participation. Visitors might even apologize and give these reasons to you. I've heard claims of dirty diapers, being late, needing to make it to a hospital visit, and simply needing to get an elderly visitor to a chair after a long day on their feet.
Even with these reasons, when visitors say "No," the rejection can sting a bit. Rather than internalizing this, remind yourself that visitors are missing out if they choose not to participate, not the other way around. They are declining the opportunity to have their voice heard and included. If they say no, brush it off and say, "No problem, have a great visit!" I have found that keeping positive after being rejected actually sets the mood for your next interception as well. If nearby visitors see and know you're not pressuring anyone, they are less intimidated if you approach them.
Believe in the project you are working on. Yes-- this can be hard when asking people about not-so-fascinating stuff like "How did you get to the Museum today?" or "How would you rate the cleanliness of our bathrooms?" but before you hit the floor, justify why you are collecting this information. Having a clear sense of purpose will keep you motivated and excited to hear what visitors think.
Be genuinely curious. During data collection, I always am weighing the responses I hear against what I thought I would hear. You might think it's important to start data collection without preconceived notions, but actually, that is impossible. We are deeply tied to our own experience and biases. As long as you are aware of your perspective, you are primed to gather relevant, important, and interesting information-- often information that contradicts what you previously believed to be true.
I find that investment in what I am hearing from visitors keeps the interaction more like a natural conversation, and less robotic. If the protocol allows and you don't lead your participant in their answers, feel free to respond to a few statements during your interview. "The mineral display is my favorite, too!" or "Oh, fascinating! I didn't know that," can help visitors feel like what they are saying resonates and is heard by a real person.
Keep doing it. It might be surprising to learn that your extrovert author was an incredibly, painfully shy elementary school student. Shy to the point that my mom helped me practice making phone calls to friends' houses to invite them over. Over time, I moved, made new friends, and faced difficult conversations with teachers (I once lost points on a color-coded science definition worksheet for using "too similar" colors of colored pencil). All of these things built my confidence that I could talk to people successfully without feeling embarrassed, even when it wasn't easy.
Same thing goes for intercept interviews. Know that you will get rejected. Know that the more time you spend talking to visitors, the less scary it will feel. With practice, it will, in fact, get boring (gasp!)... unless you believe in and are genuinely curious about the results. Now get out there and start intercepting!