As a full-time video producer for Studio-C by Matter and with hundreds of video interviews under my belt – both as camera operator and as the actual interviewer – I wanted to provide five simple yet effective tips for individuals playing the role of “interviewer.”
Tip #1: Be Prepared
This may seem obvious, but all-too-often interviewers are reliant on the bulleted list of questions they’ve hastily typed-up the day of the actual interview. The list of interview questions should be as intentional as the rest of the video project. Be truly methodical and ask yourself: what am I trying to achieve with the interview of this specific person? Where does this person fit into the big-picture or puzzle of what I’m creating with this video project? And what do I hope to capture from said interviewee? Then, work backwards to create your list of questions. The obvious should be the applicable “who,” “what,” “where,” and “when.” Once you have those in the can, your preparedness can help provoke the most important “why” and “how” responses. Being prepared allows you to be nimble during the actual interview, asking the every-important follow-up question and diving deeper to capture the meat of the matter. Ultimately, you should know almost-exactly what you’re looking to capture during the interview – your path or trajectory – before the interview even starts.
Tip #2: Turn Off Your Cell Phone
With all the production gear in the room – bright lights, overhead microphone, tripods, and multiple cameras – there’s already a plethora of distraction (and possible angst) for your interviewee. Your second job to being prepared, is to be friendly and inviting to your interviewee. You need to be receptive and engaged, inspiring confidence as a confidant. A subtlety direct way to show your interviewee that you’re here for one reason only – the interview – is to visibly turn off your cellphone. And then invite the interviewee to do the same! Your video camera operator will be grateful as well: not many things are more distracting than having a cellphone chime-in during a very evocative soundbite of the interview.
Tip #3: Smile and Nod
Now that you’re prepared and working the actual interview, you’ll need to be engaged with your interviewee to keep the energy up. The most effective way to do this is to have eye-contact with your interviewee, and then smile and nod throughout the interview. The compassion will relieve any stress from the interviewee, allowing him or her to relax into the interview situation and speak with authenticity and elegance. Your smile and nod technique is especially important when the interviewee speaks a soundbite you’re confident you’ll use in the final edit (see Tip #1). The interviewee will notice the cue that you’ve become extra exited to the response, and likely the interviewee will provide more detailed and poignant insight into the topic. A win-win for everybody.
Tip #4: Keep Quiet, Listen and Linger
This tip is threefold: first, ask your interview question and then keep quiet as the interviewee responds. Don’t agree (or disagree) with the response by way of audio expressions. No “rights” or “huhs” or “hmms” or “of courses” or anything of that nature. An interview is not a conversation. That audio will be picked up by the microphone and can be cumbersome to edit around in post-production. Second, literally listen to – and understand what – the interviewee is actually saying. Pay attention and make mental notes of the talking points, checking-off the prepared list in your head (see Tip#1). Lastly, when it seems the interviewee has completed his or her thought/sentence, linger an extra few seconds before moving on to the next question. This may initially seem awkward, but it’s very helpful from an editing perspective to have the clean client soundbite. Additionally, that extra few seconds of pause may spur the interviewee to continue speaking – hopefully unearthing more interview “gold.”
Tip #5: Ask for Perspective
Yes, you are the Master of your Interview Universe. You’ve prepared, conquered the path, and have conducted yourself accordingly to achieve interview greatness. But what if you missed something? Essentially, in the room you are the closest person to the project’s goals and objectives, but you might inadvertently overlook capturing a key piece of information – that soundbite nugget that can bring your project from “good” to “excellent” – because you’re so focused on the big picture. You have at least two big resources at your disposal: the interviewee and the camera operator. Always ask the interviewee at the end of your interview: “Is there anything else you’d like to add or anything you think I’ve missed?” It’s likely the interviewee will respond “no,” but every once in awhile you’ll garner a really unique response or perspective on the topic. As far as the camera operator and as with any good video producer, he or she will be “editing” or constructing the story in his or her head throughout the interview. Video producers are attuned to this, so it’s always worth asking if there’s anything that would be beneficial to capture from an editor’s perspective.
If you employ these simple yet effective interviewing techniques on your next video project, you’ll be on your way to becoming the next Edward R. Murrow in no time. What are your tips for successful video interviews?