How to ruin an interview

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Ten ways you will ruin a video interview:

Filming interviews is a great way to capture expertise from those you film. This is great when it works, however there are a few things that can ruin the process.

  1. Interrupting the interviewee
    Many people are uncomfortable when on camera. Help them get through the process by not interrupting them. Allow them to finish their thoughts. If they ramble allow them to finish and then ask them to summarise what they just said. Often after they have said it once, they can summarise it more concisely.
  2. Talking over the top
    When filming someone it’s critical that you can capture editable grabs. That is, pieces of footage that can stand alone. If an interviewer can be heard commenting throughout the interview it can make it hard to edit. It can also be distracting to the viewer. So avoid making noises if at all possible. If you need to let the interviewee know you are engaged, then nod your head and smile when possible.
  3. Pre-interviewing
    It is very tempting to talk through the content of the interview just before filming starts. I did this in the early days. I’d have great conversations before we started filming and then stilted conversations once the camera was rolling. I realised that the interviewees felt that had already said everything so they would just give short responses when filming. I find if I avoid, what I call, pre-interviewing I get much richer content on camera. Certainly prepare your interviewees but don’t talk about their answers just prior to filming.
  4. Not knowing the topic
    Being ignorant of what is being discussed is disrespectful to the interviewee. You don’t need to be the expert but you do need to have an understanding of the topic so you can engage with the interviewee during the filming.
  5. Not knowing the person you are filming
    Similarly take the time to understand who you are filming. What is their story and why are they being filmed? Simply understanding this will open up a range of conversations you can explore. Not knowing this will mostly likely mean you miss some great opportunities.
  6. Using the wrong name
    If needed write the name of the person at the top of your notes in big thick pen. Use their name as it will put them at ease. It’s almost too obvious to include in this list, but if you get it wrong you will put the interviewee off side and that won’t look good on camera.
  7. Is it about you or the interviewee?
    Be clear on the purpose of the interview. Is it to feature them only or is the interviewer part of the story. 9 times out of 10 the focus is 100% on the interviewee. In which case we shouldn’t hear from the interviewer. This means you need to tell the interviewee to not mention the interviewer’s name as it won’t make sense when edited. You will also need the interviewee to provide self containted answers. That is, the answers should stand alone. For example if the interviewee is asked, “how long have you worked at this company?” then “3 years” is not a self contained answer. It makes no sense on its own. However if they say “I’ve worked at XZY Pty Ltd for 3 years” you then have something you can use.Occasionally there is a reason to include the interviewer. In this case make sure the interviewer is also wearing a microphone and is filmed.
  8. Not listening to the answer
    It’s easy to focus on your questions but it’s important to be listening to what is being said. Often you will hear a glimpse of a bigger story if you are listening well to the answers. Be ready to explore such hints with simple follow up questions such as, “why was that”, “how did you feel”, “how did that happen”. Simply pay attention and engage.
  9. Asking irrelevant questions
    Do your research and make sure your questions are relevant to the interview. Don’t waste their time or yours by asking poorly prepared questions. You should know why each person is being interviewed and what you are expecting from them.
  10. Not being clear on what outcome you want
    Before you even book the person for the interview you should be clear on how they fit into your narrative. What is your narrative and what is the end production you are creating. Is it a 1 hour documentary or a 1 minute promotional video? If it is a short video then don’t film for an hour. This will just create more costs in the edit suite. If it is a short production then you should know what you are expecting from the interview and stick to that. Over interviewing can be tedious for everyone involved (especially the editor).

Interviews are a highly effective resource in video production. You can associate yourself with experts in their fields, you can share case studies of happy customers and you can create engaging narratives with interesting characters. Just  follow these tips to ensure you tell a great story.

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About Geoff Anderson

About Geoff Anderson

Geoff Anderson is the owner of Sonic Sight and has been producing videos for 30 years. He is an author, presenter as well as a video producer.

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