It’s Not What You Do. It’s The Way You Do It.
Imagine you scored a 20 minute, 1-on-1 interview with one of the hottest talents in your industry. Now imagine they’ve said yes to having it filmed. This is an opportunity that could make or break your career.
How do you prepare?
A bit of background:
For five years in my 20s I had the opportunity to interview some of the most talented people in the world for a Boston newspaper. I had the chance to talk to big names from Former Vice President Al Gore to screenwriter/director Nora Ephron. Some of the interviews I’m proud of (Mr. Gore told me I was his most entertaining interview!). Others haunt me (Nora Ephron had me tongue-tied).
My mistakes helped me develop 6 interview tips to guarantee a great end product and a great experience for me and the interviewee.
Here are my 6 Interview Tips for Video:
1. Do Your Research
Spend an entire day pouring over every article, video, online resource you can find on your subject. But remember to fact check the sources you find against other articles.
Search TED Talks. Look up their LinkedIn, SlideShare, Twitter and Instagram accounts. Get to know the type of content they choose to share. This practice will open a window into their personality. It will give you insight into how they like see themselves and inspiration for what your portrayal of them could be.
The Person Behind the Myth or The Person with No Myth.
I interviewed Tommy Lee Jones for a film he directed in 2005, The Three Burials of Melquaides Estrada. I had done plenty of research on the production of the film, the casting and his personal impetus for taking on a project that dealt with border issues between Texas and Mexico. However, I missed one crucial piece of information: Tommy Lee Jones is bilingual. I don’t remember exactly what I asked him in regards to speaking Spanish, but to be frank, he was not impressed. Lesson learned.
2. Know Your Goal (Story Arc)
Don’t skip this step. It’s the step that many people overlook, my former self included. Take the time to sit down and write your Interview Treatment. Think of it as your Show Bible.
Too many interviews are open ended ramblings. This awkward for you, awkward for them and confusing for your viewer.
Plot out your storyline by combining the research you’ve completed and your own spin on the insight you’d like to glean from them.
This. Is. Critical. When you have a clear goal you are more relaxed and when you are more relaxed, your subject is more relaxed.
This step serves as the scaffolding from which candid conversational points will grow. It will serve as the structure your end product will need for success. When you are in the editing room, you won’t have to back into the story. It will be neatly laid out for you (and your editor).
3. Get the Bite
Sound bites are key. They are important for written pieces but they are crucial for video. They make your video stand out and perhaps even more importantly, they make it repurpose-able. Think blog series, video series and 15 second social promos (videos 15 seconds and shorter are shared 37% more than their 30 second counterparts).
In your head, make a list of 5 simple phrases that you’d like to hear them say so you can get your video done.
“Working at Good Will has been the greatest satisfaction of my life.”
“The single most important day of my life was the day I met Bill Gates.”
“The most transformative book I’ve ever read was Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
You get the idea.
Now that you have a list of bytes you need, set your subject up to say them. Write pointed, passionately phrased questions. And this leads me right into Number 4.
4. Be Innovative
Don’t regurgitate interviews you’ve seen with this person. Don’t start listing off their achievements. They’ve lived through both, and you’re blowing an opportunity to create compelling content.
You’ve done your research, you know your goal, you’ve got this.
Imagine this talent has been the CEO of three successful startups. Imagine you know from reading the forward of his autobiography that he/she loved building with legos when he was a child. If it was important enough for him/her to share, there must be a story behind it.
Come to the interview with a lego set and present it to him or her.
‘I read that you enjoy legos. Is there anything that you loved doing as a child that translates into your present career trajectory?’
I guarantee you that you’ll get a smile and an answer you (and your viewers) haven’t heard before.
I had the opportunity to speak with writer/director Robert Towne during his Ask the Dust film press junket tour. Ask the Dust is a book by John Fante that Towne adapted to film. Now, I’m a John Fante fan. A geeky, geeky John Fante fan. But somehow the fact that I had poet/novelist Charles Bukowski to thank for the knowledge of Fante eluded me until I sat down to do my research.
My first question was “How would you thank Charles Bukowski for giving you the opportunity to work Salma Hayek?”
He laughed and thanked me for not asking what it was like to work with Colin Farrell (who played the lead and Salma’s love interest). We went on to have a great conversation about his friendship with Bukowski.
5. Make Eye Contact
Engage your guest. You are there to have a conversation with someone who has generously agreed to give you their time.
I know it’s tempting to check your questions while they’re talking. But while doing so may ground you, it disengages your subject. They were having a conversation and then suddenly, they are talking to the top of your head. Their entire demeanor will shift. At best they’ll follow your lead and look down at their feet or off-camera. At worst they’ll sigh or roll their eyes in frustration.
It’s a great idea for any interviewer to engage their interviewee. To keep eye contact, to smile, to encourage their responses with facial expressions. But it is absolutely critical to do this for video. Your subject could say all the right things. They could hit every one of your must-have bytes, but if they aren’t engaged with you, they could gaze off camera. They could look around in the room or in the wrong direction and then it doesn’t work in the shot. You need to take an active role even if you are off camera.
Think of yourself as the host of a two-person party. Your job is to make your guest feel at home and appreciated. You wouldn’t welcome party goers into your home only to retreat into your bedroom to read a book; don’t invite someone to sit down and have a conversation with you and then not pay attention to their physical cues.
I’m an Eye Contact Ninja and I’ve been one since I was a child. I’ll tell you why: my auditory comprehension speed is sub-par, to be polite about it. If I’m not looking at you, I’ll need seconds to figure out how I should react based on what you said. I’m terrible on the phone. If I am looking at you, my understanding is instantaneous. I’ll be able to tell how you hoped I’d react to your statement and give you encouraging facial cues before my brain catches up to speed.
You don’t want lag-time during an interview. Even a second of incomprehension can lead to visible frustration. These brief looks will render your footage unusable. Do not look at your notes mid-answer. Don’t do it!
6. Keep Your Questions Short and Sweet
Think 10:1. For every 1 word you say, you should hear 10 words from your subject. In short, your questions need to be short.
When you sit down to compose your innovative questions, slap the writer and/or marketer in you on the wrist and remind them that writing and speaking are two very different mediums. You will not get points for complex thoughts and a large vocabulary in an interview setting.
Get to the point, and get there quickly, one, short question at a time.
The reason behind short and to the point questions is the same reason you put just one call-to-action on a landing page. If your questions are 2, 3 or 4 part-ers then you run the risk of confusing your interviewee about how you want them to respond and you get a convoluted answer that doesn’t effectively answer any of your points. And your editor will grumble about you under their breath.
Interview Tips In Summary:
- Do your research and fact check
- Know your story arc
- Get the bite
- Be innovative
- Make eye contact
- Keep your questions short and sweet
Bonus Interview Tip:
If you won’t appear in the video with your guest and are asking the questions off-camera remember to ask them to repeat a part of your question in their reply.
Example: When did you know you wanted to become a submarine commander?
Answer: I knew I wanted to become a submarine commander the first time I heard The Beatles song, Octopus’s Garden.
Now, what would you add to this list? What tip(s) has/have helped in your interviewing process?