Photo from the Wewa Films docu-series CRAFT.
By Kevin Elliott
The biggest mistake in interviewing is for the interviewer to talk too much.
It’s really easy to do, especially if you are new to interviewing. You, the interviewer, are nervous and want to get good soundbites from your subject. Your subject is nervous too. You are afraid they will lock up and say nothing.
So you talk too much, filling any instant of silence with banter or another question.
Hold your horses.
Trust the sound of silence
Some subjects are easy interviews. They talk a lot and need only slight prompting. But for those who are less wordy, strategic silence is your interviewing friend.
If your subject doesn’t start talking immediately after you ask a question, DO NOT jump in right away. Just pause a moment. Let the silence linger. It will feel awkward, but about 90% of the time, it pays off.
Some people like to think a bit before they speak, especially on camera. So let them think. They usually break the silence with a thoughtful soundbite. Most of us are also taught that interrupting someone is rude. If your subject thinks you want to talk, they will stop talking. If you do this repeatedly, you will train your subject to clam up.
So ask your question and pause.
What if it gets really weird?
As with everything in life, there is balance. If your subject gets agitated, starts to squirm in the chair, or look panicked, you have to jump in. Clarify your question or reword it. Assure them that they are doing fine. This usually gets them going. If they still don’t know how to answer, move on quickly and ask another question.
This happens rarely. Typically the pause brings out a great answer and lets your subject know you really want to listen to them.
That’s the whole point of an interview, right?
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