The Value of a Video Interviewer

Case study videos come in many flavors, but most share a common ingredient: on-camera interviews. “Talking head” footage is a time-tested way to tell your client’s success story. There’s nothing more compelling than a satisfied customer singing your praises on camera.

To derive the best possible sound bites, an on-set interviewer often sits off camera and guides the subject through a focused conversation. Based on my experience in the interviewer’s chair, here are my tips for the job:

1. Prepare

Your job starts long before you sit down for the interview. You want to walk in knowing as much as possible about the goals of the video and about the people you’ll be interviewing.

You’ll also want to prepare a list of questions or topics to cover. Know which answers are essential to the project and which would simply be nice to have.

If possible, speak to your subject on the phone prior to the shoot. Walk them through the process and answer their questions. You’ll not only help them feel at ease, you’ll also get a sense for personality and vocal rhythm. You’ll know what you’re in for, and so will they.

Think carefully before sharing your precise interview questions in advance. You want your subjects to seem natural, not over-prepared. It’s often better to give a general sense of the topics you’ll cover. If you need them to know specific details, like dates or dollars figures, ask them to bring notes.

2. Prepare to Improvise

If you find yourself interviewing a subject who answers every question perfectly, in order, with no need for follow-up, you’re probably interviewing a robot. Even with careful preparation, your interview will never go exactly as planned. Accept this from the outset.

Your subject may need to repeat the same point in five different ways. The answer to your first question may invalidate your second. Tangents may lead to soundbites you never expected.

Embrace the uncertainty. After all, your job isn’t to methodically read a list of prepared questions. Your job is to engage your subjects in a real conversations that yield authentic human responses.

3. Help Your Subject Relax

Not everyone is comfortable on camera. In fact, some of your subjects may be in the hot seat for the first time. Your task is to reduce their anxiety. The process starts before the two of you sit down, both with the aforementioned phone call and with the small talk you make in the room.

Your subject is about to face cameras, lights, and crew all staring back at them. They are literally looking to you for guidance.

I like to tell subjects that there are no wrong answers and that they are always welcome to redo their statements. I also reassure them that my requests to repeat something aren’t criticisms. I just want different (usually shorter) options for the editing process.

4. Give Yourself Plenty of Time

When you’re blocking off an interview on your calendar, include a large buffer on either end of the schedule. Schedules change. Interviews run long. The lighting shifts or a helicopter flies overhead. Give yourself plenty of time to roll with all of it.

Interviewing requires 100% of your focus, and you don’t want to be distracted by the pressing feeling that you need to be somewhere else.

5. You Are Always On

Maintain an air of friendly professionalism every step of the way. Your demeanor sets the tone for your subject’s entire experience, and their desire to work with you again depends on your behavior before, during, and after the interview. You should be on even when the cameras are off.