YOU’RE HAVING A PERFECTLY natural conversation with someone — you laugh easily, swap stories and are making an obvious connection. Sometimes it’s even as if you’ve known each other your whole lives. Then the lights come on, the cameras start rolling, and…action! Everything changes. You ask something simple: “Start with your name.” They freeze up. “My…umm…my name?”
For anyone who’s tried stepping in front of the camera for an interview, you may have experienced how intimidating it can be to not only be the center of attention, but to be under the heat of lights with a mechanical eye “judging” and recording your every word and gesture to be captured permanently, out of your hands and perhaps beyond your lifetime. Interviews transcend generations, living permanently in the reality of the time, capturing an individual in a moment — ideologies, wisdom, flaws and all. It’s no wonder something so personal and momentous brings on the nerves.
With all this in mind, there are some things you can control that will make it easier for your subject to share their story.
1. Know your environment.
In an interview, the audio component is arguably more important than the video. Before setting up, take a moment to close your eyes and listen to the interview environment. What do you hear? A refrigerator hum, fans whirring, someone in the next room microwaving a burrito perhaps. Eliminate the noises that are distracting and accentuate the ones that help to tell your story.
2. Stand directly above and behind the camera.
Have you ever heard this trick in public speaking? “If you’re nervous, try looking at your audiences’ foreheads rather than meeting their eyes.” This trick works with video interviews as well. Have the interviewee ignore the cameras and speak directly to you (as you stand eye level right behind the camera). It will look as if they’re looking directly into the lens and will lead to a much more captivating, direct interview. Footage in which the subject appears nervous or distracted (looking off to the side and fidgeting) is a nightmare for your editor.
3. Remove distractions.
This may seem like an obvious one, but is commonly overlooked. From the small items around a person, down to the chair they are sitting in, simplifying the environment will lead to a more focused interview. Start with a comfortable stationary chair to avoid constant swiveling and bouncing. Then remove any smaller distractions; especially those that create unwanted noise. There’s nothing worse than watching an interview and hearing the steady “click, click, click” of a pen. Thinking about this ahead of time is sure to avoid headaches in the long run.
The above video is a good example in which I used some of the above techniques to make the subject feel more comfortable. I stood directly behind the camera, and also turned off the gas fireplace to reduce the hissing noise, even though it would have looked great being on. The audio was more important to me.
4. Know your interviewee and know the subject.
Some people are well-practiced in front of a camera. They may even have prepared what they want to say. This isn’t their first rodeo and they have an agenda to accomplish. Let them take charge and encourage them to delve into certain topics for a well-rounded interview. Other folks may need a little prompting or interpersonal connection to feel as though they’re talking with you, a real human being rather than the hundreds of people who will see this video down the line.
5. Lose the script.
In your preparation for the interview, you may have a list of questions that you want answered. Rather than letting your list control the conversation, allow your subject to talk around topics, speaking to what they’re most passionate about and encouraging further discussion. Changing the subject suddenly with “the next question on the list…” leads to short, insincere answers. Have a flowing, natural conversation.
6. If they’re obviously nervous, turn off the cameras.
Turn off my camera?! But what if I miss some “gold”? Nothing good comes from a nervous subject. You will often notice as soon as you turn the camera off that the conversation flows naturally and that their expertise and passion shine through instantly. Make your interview a conversation and when they least notice it, turn the camera back on and keep the conversation flowing. If gold happens, at least your audio will be running.