Barack Obama looking nervousYou know that knotted feeling in the pit of your stomach when you have to do something in public that you have never done before, for many people it is public speaking and for others it is being in front of a camera. It is difficult to relax and be yourself in front of a normal camera but when you have a large video camera and a crew in front of you for the first time it is very natural for this fear to surface and for some freaky defence mechanism to kick in and stop you being yourself.

It is also no lie that the performance you get in front of the camera is very much a product of what is going on behind the camera. To create any kind of successful video production that involves people being on screen, it is essential that they have a positive relationship with the crew – whether that is a one-person director/camera operator or a team of three or more.

In this post I offer some handy hints for how to prepare a contributor (or yourself) for a video interview.

Preparation for the interview

Conducting successful video interviews isn’t as easy as it looks and is a skill that comes with time and experience. Preparation is as important as the interview itself. If you aren’t prepared you will waste the opportunity, your time, your interviewee’s time. You will get to the edit room and realize you don’t have what you want – enter the editor’s worst nightmare.

Preparation is about knowing what you want from the interview. It is also about knowing as much (relevant) information as possible about the interviewee and about your theme. Your interviewee with be able to see how prepared you are – if you are organised and in control, you are more likely to be able to put them at ease. This is especially important for testimonial videos.

Being prepared can include the following:

1) A list of guidance for interviewees: this can be something that you give to the interviewees or it can be something you use as a prompt for your own purposes in explaining the process to the interviewee. Examples of guidance for contributors include:
a) A reminder that if they make a mistake, it is fine to start again.
b) It might also be that you want to encourage them to use the question in their answer e.g. If you ask ‘How long have you lived in London?’ the preferred response is ‘I have lived in London for two years’, rather than ‘two years’. In other words, you may want to cut out the interviewers/your voice and the answers need to make sense without the question.
c) Tell them where to look. The tendency is for untrained interviewees to look into the camera. Save the embarrassment by explaining in the first place where you want them to look (which would usually be to make eye contact with you/the interviewer).

2) A list of questions to guide your interview: it is best to know what you are going to ask in advance. Granted, questions may arise from responses that you didn’t predict, but in general, use a pre-prepared list. It will give you control and ensure you don’t forget to ask anything important

People skills & trust

People without strong interpersonal skills aren’t best placed to conduct video interviews. In order to get the most out of your interviewee, they need to be made to feel confident and comfortable. Everyone is different – you may be faced with interviewees who have been interviewed more times than they care to mention, or someone who has never been interviewed before. Either way, as interviewer, it is your job to connect with them so that they feel free to open up and answer your questions.

Building rapport involves small talk and banter that eases people into their interaction with you. Save your main questions for the actual interview and be prepared to have some friendly, unrelated conversation to get ‘warmed up’. How much you need to do this will depend on the person. It is your responsibility to gauge what type of person you are working with.

If the interview is personal, you are demanding a lot of trust from your contributor. Building trust can take years. Some people can establish trust with a new acquaintance in no time at all. Self-disclosure is one way to gain quick trust. Offering personal information is like a signal to the other person that you are also a human being, with a family and with hopes and fears just like them.

Building trust can be difficult if you don’t have much in common with a person. However, remember that your interviewee is there – they must have some degree of trust towards you, which has led to them agreeing to be interviewed.

How To Build Trust With Your Documentary Subject by Michael LaPointe:

Ask the right questions

What are ‘the right questions’? Well, there are questions that are correct on a technical level. Generally, open questions are far more useful to you than closed questions (closed questions only demand one word answers e.g. ‘yes’ or ‘no’).

There is also the need to ask the right questions at the right time. Being appropriate with your questions comes back to people skills. If you have managed to build any rapport with your contributor, you should be in a position to establish when a question ‘feels’ inappropriate.

Everyone is different and it is common sense that an interviewer will need to resort to different approaches to put different people at ease. A professional approach will always yield the best results. If you are really great, you will send your interviewee information in advance so that they know where they need to be (including directions), when, what they need to wear, what is expected of them. Anything that avoids fear of the unknown will ease nerves and give you a head start in terms of building trust and rapport.

Here is a nice summary from BBC reporter, David Garrido.

Read more: Quick Tips on How to Conduct a Video Interview and Prevent Heartburn Back in the Editing Suite