By Kevin Elliott
A meaningful interview can make your video project, but getting those golden soundbites is hard.
I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews for video projects across the country. Here are the pro tips I’ve learned along the way.
1. Chat First
Your number one priority for a good interview is your subject’s comfort. She will be nervous and so will you. You have to warm up the room before starting the interview.
Do this with small talk. Ask your subject about her day, talk about the weather, whatever. The topic doesn’t matter, just get them talking before the camera is on.
After you’ve chatted a little (I typically do this while they are having the mic put on them) it’s much easier to slide into the interview.
2. Start with Trash Questions
Small talk is important, but your subject will still be nervous when the interview starts. Even if they say they are not (especially then).
Your subject’s mindset will change when the interview officially begins and their adrenaline will start pumping. They’ll stiffen up. You have to calm this down and make them forget they are being filmed.
Do this with “trash questions.” Ask a couple broad questions just to get your subject in the groove and talking. The subject will likely give stiff or partial answers at first.
That is okay, this is just warm up. You will ask these questions again when the subject relaxes (see below) and you will get better answers.
In my experience, you only need one or two trash questions. If you’ve done your job making the subject comfortable, things should flow after that.
2. Lose Your Notes
The best interviews are conversations, not inquisitions. You definitely need to plan your questions but, once the interview starts, you should only look at your notes a couple times, usually at the end to make sure you didn’t forget anything.
Eye contact is crucial to a good interview. If you continually look at your notes, your subject will feel like she is not answering your questions “correctly” and will freeze up. She will overthink. That is disastrous.
How do you do an interview without notes? Prepare the hell out of yourself and memorize your questions. You are the professional, not them. Don’t put the burden on your subject.
You do all the hard work so they don’t have to.
3. Watch For Their Hands
At the beginning of the interview, your subject will be visibly stiff. Many times, they will literally sit on their hands.
Something magical usually happens after the trash questions, though. Their hands come up and start to move as they speak.
This is the moment the interview has really begun. They are comfortable now, whether they know it or not. You’ll get good stuff now.
DO NOT MENTION THIS TO THEM. They will get nervous again. Just watch for those hands to start moving, then ask your money questions.
4. Actively Listen
A compelling interview is a dynamic experience. Your prepared questions should be a guide to the interview, not the law.
Listen carefully as your subject speaks. Feel free to lean in, show expressions (surprise, humor, interest), and get into it. Humans are fascinating to listen to. If you don’t think so, you shouldn’t be doing interviews.
Also listen actively for the unexpected. Did your subject mention some aspect of their life you didn’t know or plan for? There might be interview gold there, so pay attention.
Watch your subject carefully. Pay attention to their micro-expressions. Look for signs of emotion. That is where the good stuff is.
If you plow through them to your next question, you will not only miss something meaningful, you will send your subject the message that this is not actually a conversation. You are phoning it in.
Now, if you hear or see something unexpected that seems interesting, do the next step.
5. Follow Up
It is totally fine to go off script and ask a follow up question, especially if the topic seems meaningful to your subject.
The best interviews convey emotion, so if your subject suddenly hits on something that lights them up or moves them, follow that trail and ask more about it.
Mark my words – the best soundbites come when you and your subject go off the reservation. And those moments look amazing on camera.
6. Ask the Trash Questions Again
Now that you’re rolling, circle back to your original questions. I promise you will get better answers.
But won’t they be annoyed if you ask the same questions twice? Nope.
Funny thing about adrenaline, it turns off our short term memory. They will not remember you asked the questions the first time. In fact, they probably won’t remember much of the interview at all.
Remember when you had to give speeches in school? Do you remember what you said? Exactly.
7. Finish With the Magic Question
Alright, it’s time to bring it in for a landing. But there is one more question to ask, and you should ask it every time, because it typically gets the best answer.
The magic question is, “Is there anything I forgot to ask about?”
They’ll say no, right? At first, maybe.
Here’s how it usually goes down:
ME: “Is there anything I forgot to ask about?”
SUBJECT: “I don’t think so. I think we covered it all.”
Wait for it … wait for it …
SUBJECT: “Well, I guess if I had to say one thing, it would be [INSERT AMAZING ANSWER].
This happens 9 times out of 10. I don’t know why. I don’t question it. It just works.
The key here is to wait a moment after they say, “I think we covered it all.” Just a moment or two. They usually think of something and it is usually great.
Pro-level Videos Need Pro-level Interviews
There is nothing as powerful in video as a compelling interview. Do these things and up your game immediately.