A good interview is the cornerstone of any good production. Information passed on by an authority can change the tone of an article or production in a very dynamic way. So how do you get the best out of your subject and raise the profile of your production? Well, it starts with a few simple steps.
1. Identify your goal for the interview. Interviewing for print and interviewing for video are two entirely different animals, and you must approach them in different ways. Print interviews can be much less formal because you have a great deal of leeway to combine statements and thoughts from various parts of the interview into a single sentence or paragraph. Video creates a finite, linear timeline for a question and an answer. Your confidence and presentation are much more important because body language and facial expressions indicate your subject’s true feelings. You need to be on the ball. This leads us to our next tip.
2. Do your preparation. This may seem obvious, but chances are this interview isn’t the only piece of work you’ve got going on this week. If you don’t spend time researching your interviewee — their education, their history, etc. — you will find yourself with an annoyed-looking person on camera. Unlike print, you cannot put a positive spin on frustrated answers. If possible, send a list of questions that you plan to ask to your interviewee at least a day in advance. The more prepared they are, the smoother the interview will go, the easier the video will be to edit and the better you will look to your boss.
3. Have an informal pre-interview. Many people find cameras intimidating. It’s your job to make your interviewee comfortable, even if you are nervous about operating the camera and/or conducting the interview. Strike up a casual conversation with them while you or your cameraperson (if you’re lucky enough to have one) sets up. You may learn something about them that could add to your interview. Even if that’s not the case, then the courtesy you extend toward them during the setup will translate into personality on-screen.
4. Establish eye contact (especially if you are doing video!). If you don’t engage your interviewee, they won’t engage you. Worse than weathering through an awkward interview, however, is being stuck working with awkward-looking footage during the editing process. Trust me, I’ve been there. There’s no way to edit someone’s shifty gazes or nervous twitches in post. Smile and laugh with them, and don’t be afraid to engage them a bit. If someone is obviously apprehensive, just be honest with him or her. I smile and casually say, “I’m so nervous, how about you?” or “You’ve got such a great story, I can’t wait to share this with our audience. This is going to be fun!”
It will help if you keep eye contact with them when they talk. Encourage them visually, nod your head, smile and be supportive. This is what you want from them and they will be grateful that you did something to help. No one wants to look bad on camera.
5. Coach their answers. Before you hit record, ask your interviewee to respond to your questions by phrasing your question into their answer. You do this for two reasons.
1. You will prevent the dreaded Black Hole of One Word Answers (impossible footage to edit).
2. You guarantee that you will leave the interview with a series of stand-alone responses. Unless you are doing a two-camera shoot and intend to appear on camera also, there is no easy way to align a question and response properly. You only have to make this mistake once to see how it can ruin the distribution of an interview.
Just relax. Be the person you want to interview: informative, engaged, thoughtful and present. Your interview will reflect how much you care, and you will get better every time you talk.