by Amani Channel
During my reporting days, there were times when getting an interview was like pulling teeth.
Sometimes it had to do with the nature of the story, or location. Some people are naturally averse to speaking out publicly, especially when a story involved crime, or controversy.
At other times, a person would be willing to speak on camera, but their sound sucked. There are various reasons: sometimes people would say what they thought I wanted to hear, others had nothing to say, and some people just weren’t natural on camera.
A recent post at ReelSEO made me reflect.
In this day and age, you never know when the camera may be put in your face. I’ve done more than my fair share of questioning, and I’ve been questioned.
The ReelSEO post features some great advice from Steve Garfield author of Get Seen.
I agree with most of the points, however for the sake of contributing to this conversation, I’m going to share some tips to help the interviewer make the subject feel more comfortable and natural.
Sometimes there’s no saving a bad interview, but there are things that the interviewer can do to ease ruffled nerves.
Conduct a pre-interview with the subject. Avoid asking the exact questions that you plan to ask during the interview. Instead ask questions about their background and expertise. You can throw in a question or two that is related to what you will ask on camera, but keep those to a minimum. If you ask the same questions in the pre-interview the person may come off as rehearsed when you are rolling.
Don’t make it obvious when you start recording. Since your subject will already be warmed up after the pre-interview, try to be subtle when you start recording. If you’re working with a cameraman you can use a signal to indicate when s/he should start rolling. Normally you’ll want to ask for the person’s first, last name and title and spelling before you start the interview, but if the person is calm and relaxed, just jump into the interview, and ask for that info at the end. If you’re shooting this yourself, it’s not as easy to “slip” into the interview but it can be done.
Conversely, I would sometimes tell a subject that the hardest question is the first one. Then I would proceed to ask them for their name and title. That would break the tension, and cause them to relax a bit.
Remind the subject that the interview is just a conversation. This works wonders. If a person is really uncomfortable with the camera, remind them to look at you (the interviewer) and ignore the camera. Again, remind them, “This is no big deal, it’s just a conversation.” If the subject can forget about the camera, there’s a greater chance that their nerves won’t sabotage their sound.
If the subject asks questions like, “What are you going to ask me?” that is a good sign that they are feeling apprehensive. As I mentioned, I normally don’t share my questions, but you can explain what the interview is about and why their response will help you give some context to your story.
Garfield suggests that you downsize cameras for those who are super anxious. In other words, use a less conspicuous camera like a Flip or Kodak pocket camera. While that may work in some situations, if you are working on a high-end video project you may have no choice but to shoot on a prosumer or broadcast camera. Lights and microphones will need to be used and there’s no way around it.
Interviewing is an art and a science. Often, the response you get is determined by your tone, and expression. The more relaxed you are, and if you do a good job of explaining the process, the more relaxed your subject will be. That will hopefully leave you with a few great sound bites to work with.