Over the last several decades, we’ve conducted on-camera interviews with people from every kind of background you could think of—federal agents, heart attack survivors, happy employees—you name it. For every one of those interviews, we’ve found that all of the production values in the world don’t mean a thing unless the interviewee feels completely comfortable on set. You could spend months on preparation, thousands on camera set-ups and lighting, but all of that won’t matter unless your interview subject is properly prepared. Here are some tips on how we make sure we’re set up to succeed when it comes to capturing effective, on-camera interviews:
1. Do the Research
When telling someone’s story, the best place to start is…well, their story. We talk to the interview subject well before the on-camera interview so that we know ahead of time what specifically to ask them when the cameras are rolling. Even before this “pre-interview,” we do as much research as possible on their backstory—we research the subject we’re going to discuss with them, we dig into any available materials we can find about what makes their story unique, etc. In other words, we prepare in every way possible, so that when the interview actually happens, we get to the heart of the matter with our subject as quickly as possible.
2. Set Expectations
Even if all of the preparations above are done meticulously, it won’t matter if the interviewee is uncomfortable on set. If you’re used to being behind the camera, it’s easy to forget what it’s like on the other side: to suddenly be surrounded by lights and cameras, and to have to speak and act normally with a full crew watching you. We try to take an empathetic approach to preparing someone by explaining exactly what to expect. For instance, we tell them what the set will look like, how many people will be there, how long it will take, and so on. And we make sure the interviewee knows that our interviews are less like “hot seat” interviews, and more like friendly conversations.
3. Be a Generous and Honest Host
When the day of the interview arrives, we make sure we’re completely ready when the interviewee arrives, and that they are greeted warmly—we have coffee and snacks ready, water by their chair, and so on. In addition, we always make sure to prepare the interviewee with some housekeeping notes: we tell them where to look during the interview (either at the camera or at the interviewer), we let them know how much they need to work the interview question into their answer, etc. In other words, we’re sure to be up front in letting the interviewee know exactly what we’re looking for. When we’re clear and honest about what we want from their testimony, interviewees appreciate and respect our directness and transparency, and ultimately feel more confident in the interview. That builds trust and makes everyone more comfortable.
I hope this helps shed light on what it takes to capture an effective interview. Gaining people’s trust in an interview setting takes time and effort, but it’s hard work that delivers great results.