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8 Tips for Conducting a Video Interview

8 Tips for Conducting a Video Interview

The word "interview" often brings to mind images of a TV news anchor asking tough, pointed questions as he tries to get to the bottom of an issue. But when you're conducting an interview for a company's marketing video, that's where things are a little bit different.

Anyone can conduct an interview for a story, but when producing a marketing video for a client (internal or external) who has key messages to convey, it's important that the producer go into each interview with a specific focus so they can produce the video that is needed. Of course, it's critical to make sure the subject looks good on camera, but your messaging also needs to be on point so the client can put their best foot forward (and not in their mouth). Here are a few tips on how to position yourself and the interviewee for success when conducting a video interview.

Before the Interview

1. Get to Know the Interviewee Before the Interview

I always ask our clients to provide me with some background information on the people I’m going to be interviewing. Often this helps create conversation points that can be used to put the interviewee at ease and disarm them before the real questions begin to fly! Information that is helpful to have before the interview are things like:

  • What do they do for a living?
  • Why have you selected them as a subject for this video?
  • What is their involvement with the organization?
  • What are their hobbies or interests?

Having a little background information makes it easy to connect with the interview subject, which often makes them more comfortable when it comes to answering questions in front of a camera.

To give you an illustration of this, I was interviewing a man named Paul who was getting an award for being the "Employee of the Year". Paul was very shy, and the minute he sat down and began talking, his neck and cheeks became flush and his voice became shaky.

Before the interview, my client had mentioned that Paul had pet fish and that he loved learning about all kinds of fish. Every time Paul began to get nervous during the interview I would ask him about his fish and he would immediately calm down and we were able to move on to next question. By the time the interview was done, I had some of the most inspiring and emotional content I'd ever received in an interview.

Also, make yourself available prior to the interview in case the interviewee would like to ask you any questions about the interview process. It's all about making sure there's nothing between you and the story you need to tell, so make the interview subject feel as comfortable as possible.

2. Script Open-ended Questions

Always try to script open-ended questions. Think who, what, where, when and why. Who do you work for? What does your job entail? Where did you learn about this particular organization? When did you decide to get involved with this project? Why do you support this organization? And most importantly, remember to ask "how" questions - How did that make you feel? How did that result differ from what you thought it would be?

When preparing questions, envision the answers you may hear. Do these anticipated sound bites align with the goals of the interview in terms of  messaging or storytelling? If not, you may want to refine your script. 

During the Interview

3. Eliminate Distractions

It’s easiest to conduct interviews in a controlled setting (preferably with a nice video interview background) where you can eliminate all audible and visual distractions. Turn off all cell phones and unused electronics and put any office phones on do-not-disturb mode. There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of the perfect sound bite and having a ringtone go off. Additionally, if your video calls for a quiet background, avoid noisy locations where you can hear buses going by or airplanes flying overhead. Visually, pay close attention to the background, shadows on the face of your subject, or unusual lighting. Remember, when the distractions take away from the message, you have a problem.

Try to keep the number of people in the room to a minimum, even if they aren't going to be talking. This will help to eliminate whispering and any other extraneous noise caused by people rustling around. You'll also find your interview subject will appreciate a smaller in-studio "audience."

4. Get Your Subject Talking

It's important to get the interview subject talking from the get-go! It's not uncommon for people to become a little shy once the cameras start rolling, even if it's just a one-on-one interview. So before you begin the shoot, start the conversation by asking how their day or week is going, and give positive feedback as you listen to what they have to say. If possible, have the videographer start to "roll tape" without making it a big deal - just have them press record during the idle conversation. 

5. Prompt the Interviewee to Start Responses with the Posed Question

You'll want to get the interviewee to begin his or her answers by restating the question that you asked. More often than not, audio from the interviewer's questions will be edited out before the video is actually put together. A great sound bite can be unusable if it doesn't have context. For example, if the question is "tell me about the day you heard the news", the response should be "the day I heard the news...."

6. Engage the Interviewee / Take the Pressure Off

Here are a few tips to remove as much stress as possible from the interview:

  • Always have some water on hand for the interviewee
  • Make eye contact during the interview
  • Smile and nod – take a sincere interest in what they’re saying. Don’t just be thinking about the next question on your list
  • Square up with your interviewee and don’t cross your arms. Keep an open and relaxed stance
  • Let them know it’s okay to relax, too

Let them know they don’t have to get the answer right the first time. As long as you’re not conducting a live interview, there is usually room for "do-overs".

7. Ask Follow-Up Questions

Be open to asking a lot of follow-up questions. Usually the most genuine answers come from off-the-cuff inquiries, because people's answers tend to reflect the way in which the question was asked. If you ask a lot of overly-prepared questions, you may get a lot of overly-prepared answers.

If you're not getting the answer you'd like, don’t be afraid to ask the same question again, just stated in a different way. You might ask, “Tell me why you choose to support this effort.” Depending on their answer, you may want to follow up with, “Wow, it sounds like you have a real passion for the work this group doing" – which is more or less the same prompt, just framed in a way that may get the interviewee to think differently about how they answer it. Often times the interview subject will begin answer the question all over again, but the result is a much more emotional and often times a more inspiring or passionate response.

When asking follow-up questions, be sure to avoid yes or no questions, at all costs. This typically breaks the flow of the natural conversation you're trying to create as an interviewer, and can lead to an awkward transition to a new topic. 

8. Check for Other Details

Before the interview is over, make sure you ask the subject if there is anything that you may not have covered. Just because you researched the company before the interview doesn't mean you know everything there is to know, so defer to your interviewee who lives and breathes the subject matter day in and day out.

Ask them if there's anything else they'd like to talk about, or if there is a question they hoped you would ask but didn't. When people hear they'll be interviewed, they start prepping their answers mentally – and you might not be able to shake all of them loose with your own questions.

Remember, video production isn't the same as live television! You have the ability to ask questions several times until you get the answer you most desire. So be thorough, and don't stop until you have exactly what you're looking for. 

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