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The Nuances to Conducting On-Camera Interviews Like a Pro


I was really racking my brain trying to remember the first time I conducted an on-camera interview. I had done some in college but I was really trying to recall when my first professional, paying, you-can’t-screw-this-up-Kaj interview was.”Odd,” I thought. “You think I’d remember a first like that.”

 

Ah.

 

I can remember why. I had blocked it out of my memory because I was so mortified. Sweaty palms. Weak stomach. I could barely form coherent sentences. I was lucky none of the interviewees asked me, “Can I help you find your parent?” (For the record I was in my early twenties). The mortifying thing was, it wasn’t just one interview, it was multiple people who had very little experience in that department and were looking to me for guidance.

 

Luckily, that’s all in the past and I’ve conducted many, many interviews since then… but thanks for helping me dredge up that repressed, mortifying memory for this blog post you monster.

 

Interviewing seems fairly straightforward right? Ask them questions and they’ll give you answers. For the most part it is – but I’m going to help share the nuances that I’ve learned so that you can increase your chances of helping interviewees do their best.

 

I equate interviewing to the sport of curling; your job is to guide the interviewee to success. There is no magic recipe for turning a poor interview into an award winning one. However, you can increase your chances to make your subject shine.

 
 

  1. Prep your interviewee: Let them know what they can expect. Tell them what will be the best outfit to wear on camera. Give them a list of some preliminary questions so they can wrap their head around what they are going to be talking about, but stress that they should avoid memorizing answers. You want them to appear natural on camera.
  2. Gain rapport: Some of the best interviews that I’ve gotten were because I spent some time on the front end getting to know them. If it is a particularly important or sensitive interview, see if you can grab dinner with them the night before. I wish I would have learned that one sooner! People bond over food and great dinner-table conversation.
  3. Make them smile: Anyone who knows me can attest that I’m a goof-ball with a really dumb sense of humor. Laughter really is the best medicine in life. It disarms people who have their walls up, lightens the mood and generally makes for a low-key set. The most important thing to remember is this: know when it is appropriate to joke and when to keep your mouth closed! That deserves it’s own blog but achieving the perfect middle ground is key. People still have to take you seriously when you give them direction.
  4. Learn how to read non-verbals: Again, this could constitute its own blog. However, this will either open up doors for you or have them come slamming into your face. Can you spot the fake smile in this quiz? http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/mind/surveys/smiles/
  5. Your ability to be present, to keep your nose out of your notebook, will keep your interviewees engaged.  If you can, try and have someone else there who is making notes about what they touched on or what the interviewee may have missed. Your goal as interviewer is to engage them and make their performance come to life.
  6. Your best tool – silence: Embrace it. There’s nothing wrong with silence. It is not your duty to fill it with your own ramblings. Let them do the talking.
  7. Ask questions that won’t end in a yes or no: Pretty self-explanatory.
  8. Mix it up, ask pointed questions and light-hearted questions: Sometimes, interviewees can be stuck in a rut or they aren’t in the right frame of mind. Changing things up can act as a reset switch for the interviewee’s train of thought.
  9. Ask short questions: Long questions can often confuse or derail. The short questions act as little breadcrumbs to help lead them to the overall point your are trying to make.
  10. Come up with a lot of questions and then slash, slash, slash: You only have a limited time with them, be sure you are asking the questions that count.
  11. Create a procedure for every interview: send him/her confirmation email immediately, include your questions, tell him/her you’ll run the interview, give your guest a deadline to return written interview answers, confirm a time and date.
  12. Interview fatigue is REAL: I see it every time without fail. Interviewees will start to wilt after about 20-30 minutes of questioning. Doing all that thinking in front of a camera no less is mentally exhausting. You typically get your best answers in the first half hour. Seasoned on-camera personalities fair waaaay better but 99.9% of the time you will not be interviewing Anderson Cooper.
  13. Be brave: Don’t be afraid to make big asks or ask pointed questions. And remember, don’t apologize!
  14. Have questions ahead of time but prioritize conversation: If your subject is leading you in an interesting direction, don’t be afraid to just go with the flow.
  15. Don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions: Understanding is much more valuable than ego.
  16. Be their biggest fan: Seriously, do your research. They are more apt to open up and talk if you read up on them and understand their subject matter. Interviewers with limited subject matter experience in the topic get the most bland answers back. However, if you spark their interest and can talk in their lingo, you are going to get much more passionate responses back.
  17. Ask, “Is there anything else you’d like people to know?”: Many people have nothing to say here, but about 10% have been thinking about it and will have a gold nugget for a response that will probably make the interview.
  18. Don’t make the record button a big deal: Don’t make it a production. Make it feel like a dinner table conversation. If you yell, “WE ARE ROLLING,” you are more apt to get the deer-in-the-headlights look and very rigid answers. Be subtle about those kind of things.
  19. Don’t forget to get the soundbites: Don’t forget, if they give you long rambling answers you’ll have to go back afterwards and help them condense it into a soundbite. Your editor will thank you.
  20.  
    Bottom line: Do for your interviewee what you’d like done for you if your roles were reversed.
     
     

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