Why do we have to do this?
A great majority of good corporate videos or business films will include one or many interviews with various company stakeholders to convey important information to the viewers. Although I tend to advise clients to stay away from too many talking heads in their videos, they are sometimes very necessary and there are always various ways to make interview footage compelling and engaging. Having a relatable and charismatic interviewee who can deliver relevant information in an interesting manner can really help to make the difference between a boring video and an engaging one.
I should mention that this article deals primarily with the “off-camera” interview style. I know that sounds a little contradictory. It just means that the interviewee speaks to someone (the interviewer or producer) who is not seen by the viewer. So the person speaking doesn’t look straight into the camera but rather “off-camera”. This is often a preferred style as it feels less scripted and more like the viewer was allowed to listen in to a private conversation.
So what’s the problem
I can say that for some people, camera interviews just come naturally. The interview feels like an engrossing conversation and the person I am interviewing is relaxed and clearly finds enjoyment in discussing the subject at hand and sharing his or her opinions. The information is conveyed smoothly in a positive and sometimes humorous manner.
For others its not that easy. When they sit in the chair and see the camera staring at them with lights and crew and microphones and everything else, they become very self-conscious and uncomfortable. They lose their conversational attitude and become stiff. The more they are aware of this, the more they spiral into anxiety. The interview becomes a laborious process for both the interviewer and the interviewee.
In my years as a producer and documentary filmmaker I have interviewed countless people including corporate executives of all levels from the bottom to the very top and from all walks of life. Having someone who knows how to conduct a good interview can also be very important. I have encountered all forms of nervous subjects and found many ways to alleviate the tension. But ultimately, in the end, the interviewee is the person viewers will either connect with or not and I found that most people who come to an interview feeling comfortable and positive and who perform well have one crucial thing in common. They are prepared. And this is regardless of whether it’s their first or hundredth interview.
PR training can be a good idea as it helps to tackle a given subject in a structured and rehearsed manner. This however doesn’t always produce the best interview footage as it can steer the conversation away from a conversational tone and make it feel more like a rehearsed pitch. This can make it hard for the viewers to relate with the topic at hand and with the person speaking.
Some tricks of the trade that you shouldn’t count on
It is true that an experienced and skilled editor will know how to cut your interview footage with other relevant action footage (called B-roll) and fix the stutters and stitch your sentences to make them sound like they came out effortlessly. But this can take time and the editor can’t fix everything like for instance bad grammar, poor pronunciation, bad posture, certain vague statements and most importantly, the general tone and manner with which you convey your message.
If the interview is shot with 2 cameras, it can enable the editor to stitch partial sentences together by cutting between the 2 shots, thereby eliminating the awkward jump cuts.
There are other tricks I won’t mention but the point is you should never count on these tricks to save you. There is nothing like an interesting and engaging interviewee, period.
Although there are many long lists of tips floating around on the net about how to pull off good interviews, with tips like drink water, wear clothes that make you feel good, smile with your eyes, etc., here is what I find are the 4 most important things to do in order to increase your “on-camera” interview performance. These are in my mind the non-negotiable tips, the ones you should focus on first before moving on to any other strategies.
The 4 most important things you should do to pull off a great interview:
1- Prepare, prepare, prepare.
Make sure you are fluid with the subject at hand. Even if you are master of the topic to be discussed, prepare in your head or on paper the points that you want to make and practise speaking them out loud. These points will become anchor phrases that you can gravitate around and toward while answering questions. They will give you confidence and help you to keep a straight line of thought. Don’t expect the interviewer to ask the perfect question for your answers. That may not happen. But by working your well prepared anchors into the dialogue, you can gently steer the conversation in your favour. Although you can memorize certain key sentences, DO NOT rehearse a written script. It will come across a stiff and unnatural.
2- Think in sound bites
The anchor phrases mentioned above can become good sound bites that the editor will love to use. But not if they are too long. A sound bite should be concise and to the point. Ideally the question should be answered first with one short sentence that summarizes your point of view. That’s the sound bite. Then you can elaborate further, bringing about more details and subtleties that complement your opening. But don’t go on for too long. Saying too much is as bad as saying too little. When your point is made, just end your sentence, smile and let the interviewer scramble for the next question. The editor will love you for this because it gives him/her coherent material to work with and it will ultimately make you look good.
Take your time. The interview is probably going to be cut down to a small fraction of it’s length in the final video so don’t worry about the pauses, the editor will know not to show them if he wants his piece to be engaging. Even if the interview is to be shown in it’s entirety, the one or two seconds you take to think about the question and compose yourself for the answer will show the viewers that you care. Pacing is good. Don’t rush. Use your natural voice and choose your words and pronounce them with care. Clear and simple beats a mouthful of garbled syllables every time.
4- Be aware of your posture
Everything on camera is amplified and that includes your body language. Don’t try to be perfect but sit up straight while being authentic. You can lean forward a bit to look engaged. This will also increase your air supply by opening up your diaphragm. If you are passionate about the subject, you will naturally lock in to a posture that makes you look engaging and likeable. It’s ok to use your hands. If you gesture a lot, people will find you compelling and interesting, that is if the 3 previous tips were followed as well.
Having the ability to express your thoughts verbally in a structured and well delivered manner is a skill that of course needs constant honing and is beyond the scope of this article but I will say that it’s a very useful skill to have for camera interviews.
Writing your thoughts down can often be of tremendous help because it forces you to think empathically for the reader and drives you to structure your thought in a way that is easy for someone else to understand. If this is something that interests you, you may want to look into your local Toastmasters club as they have helped millions of people with public speaking.
Bottom line, be prepared, take your time, be excited about what you are going to talk about and be yourself – oh, and check your posture.
If any of you have any extra tips to add or feel I have omitted something important, I would love to see your comments.