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How to Conduct an Interview

Everyone has a different interview style that works best for them; you’ll find yours the more interviews you do.  But especially when you’re just starting out, sitting down to record someone in an interview isn’t the most natural thing in the world — for you or the person you’re interviewing. We’d like to share some basic techniques that will help make the interview process as comfortable and fruitful as possible for both you and your interviewee.

Image of an interview

Tip 1

Help the person you’re interviewing feel comfortable

You think you’re nervous?  Unless the person you’re interviewing has been in the interview hot seat many times, imagine how they feel!  Your first order of business is to focus on your guest (yes, think of them as your guest) and make them feel as comfortable as possible in an unnatural situation.  Think of it like inviting someone into your home. Welcome them.  Before the interview begins, create a comfortable atmosphere by engaging in casual conversation and being curious about the person’s life beyond the topic at hand.  Before you start, ask if they’d like to use the restroom or would like some water on hand.

Image of comfy chair(s) and water?

Sit down in your respective interview spots before the interview starts and explain to them how the interview will work.  Put them at ease with the sometimes intimidating equipment in the room by letting them know that they can ignore the camera(s), lights, and even the other people in the room and should look directly at and interact with you once the camera starts rolling.  This not only ensures that they’re looking in the right direction for proper framing and eye line, it also gives them a warm, human anchor point — you! — amidst all the not-so-warm tech all around them.

Images of microphone and cereal or donut?

If there’s a sound check that takes place before you get started, ask them to tell you about what they had for breakfast, their pets, anything low stress.

The key to a successful interview is building a trusting relationship where the person you’re interviewing feels supported by you and your team.

Image of a satellite with an ‘x’ through it?  Or a test with an ‘F’ grade that’s crossed out? 

Tip 2

Before you start rolling, let your interviewee know what’s coming

Before you get started with your interview, let the person know what to expect.  Some examples: You’ll be asking a series of questions over the next thirty minutes or so. You’re not recording your own voice, only theirs, so it would be helpful if they could answer in complete sentences and include the context of the question in their answer.  Tell them that here are no “wrong” answers. That nothing’s going out live via satellite to induce immediate, worldwide embarrassment or humiliation!  That you’ll be editing what’s recorded and only using the good stuff.  That if they mess up, you can ask the question again and they can correct their answer.  Furthermore, let them know that you’re not there to grill them under hot detective lights or stump them with questions about obscure geography. You’re simply having a somewhat directed conversation that gives them a platform to speak about what they already know well.  They’ve got this!

Let them know you may reask some questions in slightly different ways — not because you didn’t like their answer, but because you’re thinking about how this is all going to go together in editing and may want to address it from another angle.

BONUS TIP!

Tell them that linear time doesn’t exist during the interview; they should refrain from saying “as I said earlier” in their answers, because through the magic of editing, they may in fact say what they said earlier later in the video, or they may not say it at all!

image of a clock with an x through it?

Tip 3

During the interview, make it easier for the person you’re interviewing

Engage in active listening.  You may not be able to say anything because you want to keep their audio track clean, but look at the person, smile, nod your head in encouragement.  This will help them feel supported in the somewhat unnatural context of being on camera. (Having been in the position of being interviewed when an interviewer was not doing this, and was instead absorbed in their notes and not giving any encouraging body language cues, we can tell you that this a) feels terrible and b) makes it much harder to relax and give good answers.)

Image of smiling, listening face

Start with easy questions to help get the person comfortable.  For example, “Introduce yourself.  Tell me who you are and what you do” or “What’s your connection with (the topic you’re talking about)?”

NOTE: Sometimes, if an interviewee is particularly nervous answering the first couple of questions, it might make sense to revisit one or two of those early questions at the end of the interview when they’re more relaxed.

Tip 4

Think of the interview like a dance

At first glance, doing an interview might seem like a game of tennis: You put your question out there, and the person answers. A simple back and forth, right?  But it’s actually more like a dance where you have to adjust your next move in reaction to your partner’s steps.  This involves being quick on your feet. While the person you’re interviewing is answering your question, you need to do the following simultaneously:

  • Listen for the answer your question was meant to elicit
  • Think about your next question
  • Keep your ears open for something they say that you might not have anticipated that could lead you into even more interesting territory for your story. 

GIF of two people dancing together 

GIF of juggling 

This may sound more like juggling and dancing at the same time!  But what it really comes down to is that you really need to LISTEN.  Good listening, combined with remaining open and curious during the interview will yield the best results. If you’re really listening, you’ll find that you won’t always want to just stick to your prepared questions*. Other intriguing lines of inquiry may pop into your head as you hear the person talk.  If they seem fruitful, trust your (curious) gut and pursue them. Don’t worry about losing your original train of thought; you’ll always have your questions as an anchor to come back to to make sure you cover everything you originally intended to.

NOTE: To learn about how to write interview questions, visit (link to that lesson here) 

Tip 5

Question and answer tips

Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of what your interviewee is saying:

Image:  Q & A

Tip 5.1: Sometimes people can feel like they need to “talk like an expert”, especially if they’re in a scientific or technical field, which can come across as feeling stiff, unnatural, and even boring. 

Encourage the person you’re interviewing to talk to you as if they’re explaining their cool concepts and ideas to someone they’ve just met at a cocktail or dinner party.  This can help them shift from sounding more like they’re talking to a colleague with a lot more knowledge about the subject who they’re trying to impress, making what they say much more interesting and accessible to regular civilians!

(Cocktails image here.)

Tip 5.2: If you asked a question and the person gave a great answer but it rambled a bit (or a lot) and you think it will be too long for your video, don’t be afraid to ask the person to condense and restate.  (“That was such a great answer!  I want to make sure we can fit it into our short video.  Could you please restate that in a more condensed way?”)

Some kind of “squeezing/compressing/hands pushing together from the side” GIF?

Tip 5.3: Don’t be afraid to have the person restart their answer if you know it’s starting out in a way that will make it unusable.  A quick, “I’m sorry, can you answer that again starting with …” will suffice.  That said, try not to interrupt your interviewee’s responses unless you absolutely have to; a lot of this can erode their confidence and get in the way of the conversational flow.

If you know you need a very particular statement but you’re not hearing it in the person’s answers, you can ask the person to repeat and complete a statement that you start.

EXAMPLE:  “Could you please repeat and finish this sentence for me? ‘The most valuable thing I gained from participating in the Acme World Health Summit was …’ ”

Rewind image or GIF

Tip 5.4: If you want to elicit feelings or impassioned statements, rather than facts in an answer, ask a question like: 

What do you love about teaching?” (And maybe add “If you could start your answer with ‘The thing I love most about teaching is …’, that would be great”.)

“Why should we care about the environment, anyway?” 

Tip 6

Ending the interview

It’s always a good idea to end your interview by asking the person you’re interviewing if there’s anything you haven’t asked them that they feel is important to say. This way you won’t miss a gem that you hadn’t thought to ask about, and your interviewee won’t feel frustrated that they didn’t get to say what was on their mind.

Once you’ve finished the conversation, tell the person it’s time to sit quietly and record thirty seconds of “room tone” (the sound of the room without anyone talking) that will help you in editing.  You can tell them it also serves as a nice post-interview moment of Zen.  After that, if you’re using them, lavalier microphones can be removed and the interview is over.

After the interview, always thank the person you interviewed for their time and for sharing their insights with you.  Reinforce how well they did and how meaningful it will be for other people to hear what they have to say.

Pat on back GIF?

And don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back!  Interviewing is an art that requires a lot of planning, hard work, concentration, quick thinking, and supportive nurturing of your conversation partner.  The good news is that the more you do it, the easier and more natural it will become.  

Oh, and one last note.  It’s almost inevitable that either right after the person you’ve interviewed leaves the room or at two o’clock in the morning you’ll suddenly realize that you forgot to ask them a key question.  Aaargh!  It happens to all of us. 

Two things to keep in mind: 

  1. You already got a lot of great material from the interview; often you’ll find when you get to the edit that this last bit of information was not as critical as you thought.
  2. There may well be other ways you can get the answer to that question for your video.  You may be interviewing someone else you can pose the question to, or if you’re using narration, you can always include that information in the narration. 

Finally, remember: we’re all human; we all make mistakes; it’s not the end of the world.  Be as kind to yourself as you are to the person you’re interviewing!