As a producer, I’m quite often in the position of interviewing an on-camera subject. Sometimes I’m working with a professional who can knock it out of the park no matter how good a job I do at interviewing. But more often the on-camera talent takes their cues from me.
I have found over the years that the quality of an interview depends as much on the interviewer behind the camera as it does the person in front. I have seen interviews go from bad to worse as the interviewer drives the poor soul sitting in front of the camera crazy with redirects and nonsensical questions, often talking over the subject or cutting them off mid-sentence when they don’t get what they want.
Believe it or not, there is a wrong way and a right way to conduct an interview, and sometimes following a few simple rules can turn a tough interview into a Barbara Walters ‘best of’. Here are four keys to mastering the interview:
1. Be personable and conversational.
Nobody feels comfortable on-camera. The trick is to convince the subject that they are really just having a conversation with you. How do you convince them? – by really just having a conversation. This doesn’t mean you have to do half the talking. People love talking about themselves. Your job as the interviewer is to subtly direct their conversation, and you can do this in a friendly, conversational way that will open them up. Be the interested friend.
2. Stay away from yes/no questions.
This may sound obvious, but it takes some quick thinking on your part to get the response you want from your interviewee. Most interviews don’t use the audio fro the interviewer, so your viewers have no reference point for answers. Part of conducting a great interview is learning how to prompt complete thoughts from your subjects.
3. Follow the story.
Hopefully the whole reason you’re conducting an interview is because you believe the subject has something interesting to share! Remember that a great interviewer is after a great story, not just pre-packaged answers to your list of questions. If you want honest, heartfelt answers, then show some interest. Don’t cut great conversation short just to move on to the next question on your list! Follow the story – that is often where the amazing content is found!
We often forget that most of our subjects are not on-camera professionals and that they usually are volunteering their time to us. Don’t brow beat them with ongoing corrections about needing more energy or how to answer questions. If you do, they will shut down on you and the entire interview will turn into stale bits of dialogue. Gentle direction up front is ok, but if you’re not getting a particular answer, it’s more effective to come at the topic later on or from a different angle. Too much direction can be overwhelming.
The real art of quality storytelling lies just as much in your ability to draw out great content as it does in your ability to cut that content together. Always do your best to connect on a personal level with your subject and you’ll be amazed at how they open up.
What tips have you learned for capturing a great interview?