We recently put together a training session for economists who wanted to run their own interview series and be the interviewer asking the questions.
Know what you are getting yourself into
Interviews for video or audio are unnatural. It’s best to think of them not as a conversation between two people but as a performance for the invisible third person: the audience. So you should think: what is the story and message you want to get across to your audience? Keep thinking about your audience.
It’s possible to have a great conversation but a lousy interview that will bore your audience if you don’t follow these golden rules.
Note these rules also apply if you are not on camera yourself – perhaps more so.
It’s an interview not a meeting – add some conflict
Nobody wants to watch two people agreeing on everything – otherwise, as the saying goes, one of them is useless, and you might as well just let one person record a speech.
People have meetings every day… and for the most part they are boring. But people choose to watch and gossip about arguments and fights. This doesn’t mean you should be rude or aggressive in your interviews. But it does mean that you should try to add some salt and pepper to the interview by addressing the issues head on – and being provocative and sometimes cheeky to make this a spicy debate rather than a bland meeting.
Be engaging yourself – you are the supporting actor
Ask questions with the force you would like to see in the answer. Your interviewee will naturally mimic and respond to your style and body language.
If you are animated, so will they be.
If you are reserved or bored, so will they be.
If you speak in simple, direct English – so will your interviewee.
Importantly, if you are blustering and nervous, so will they be. Practice in front of the mirror asking the questions – do this the night and morning before the interview and picture yourself and your interviewee giving an excellent interview. This positive thinking is very effective. If you have done your practice and have this excellent interview in mind, when it comes to the interview you will be relaxed and a picture of confidence.
Ask a warm up question
Unless you are doing a live interview, you will be able to edit the interview later. When the camera rolls, ask an easy question to warm them up. We suggest asking: ‘Please introduce yourself and what brings you here today?’ The interviewee doesn’t know this is a warm up and they will answer this question in the manner they intend to speak during the interview. This is vital preparation for you as the interviewer.
This is your chance to see what kind of interviewee they are going to be. Nervous and talking too much? Will they look at the camera and fidget? Will they give short answers and expect you to do all the work? Are they having a bad day? (We have interviewed A-Listers who have been on a real off-day and you need to be prepared to put in the effort.)
The interviewee may also start blabbering on about the answer they rehearsed the night before. This is normal and is the interviewee exhaling their nervous energy so you should just let them get on with it. Sometimes there is a useful answer you can pick up on, but 90% of the time these answers are never used. But afterwards your interviewee is more relaxed.
This question also gives you a chance to correct certain problems with the interviewee. Are they looking at the camera? Are they fidgeting? Are they using jargon? Giving long-winded answers?
Keep quiet when you’re not speaking
Stay quiet when the other person is talking. You don’t want the viewer to hear you in the background. (Watch out for noises like: ‘hmmmm’, ‘Oh right..’) Just ask the question and then keep quiet. It’s good to nod, and make approving gentle facial expressions, just no sound.
Know what you can edit
Even if you are not the editor, you should know about the editing process. Put simply, it is easy to cut off the start and end of an answer but harder to chop into an answer. So if your interviewee answers: ‘Blah blah blah *perfect answer* blah blah blah’, that’s fine. If your interviewee answers: ‘Blah perfect blah answer blah’, then you should try to ask the question again or ask them to repeat.
What’s the problem? What’s at stake? Why should your audience care?
Keep asking yourself these questions in your head – if the answer from your interviewee isn’t ticking these boxes clearly, then you are probably having a boring interview that is turning into a meeting. Re-ask questions, suggest repeats, ask people to explain, and so on.
Get signed release forms
You should get in writing that the interviewee gives you ownership of the interview (the intellectual property rights) on any medium and for the duration of copyright. Why? Well unless the interviewee is your best friend, then it’s good to be clear. If there is any chance of something controversial in the interview, then it’s good to guard yourself against the possibility that the interviewee would want the interview removed from YouTube for example, if it turns out their prediction of a financial crash was wildly premature – or if you put the interview in a documentary that they aren’t chasing you for royalties. These are unlikely situations, especially if you have acted with integrity – but better to be safe than sorry.
This doesn’t cover everything but should give you a solid foundation to avoid boring meetings.