Peeking into the Soul: 10 Interviewing Techniques for Engaging and Authentic Videos
As President of Reliant Studios, part of my job is to extract the nuances of life that make for compelling stories for the dozens of videos that we produce every year. However, nuances rarely come easy. Most people won’t sit down and bear it all. You have to work for it.
I've learned in my role here, and from my background as a professional therapist, that there are certain strategies that can transport people to a place where they feel safe enough to give you a peek into their soul. This peek is the difference between a lifeless "talking head" and a narrative that fulfills the soul’s desire to connect with others in authentic ways, and ultimately, motivates people to action.
If creating connections through video interviews is part of your role, here are some pointers to help you get the good stuff.
Before the Interview
Prepare open-ended questions
Know your goals for the interview and then plan open-ended questions to ask. Avoid asking questions with “yes or no” answers. These are interview dead-ends and you will be constantly prompting the client for more. Open questions allow your interviewees to clarify and explore their own thoughts and feelings in their own words. Remember, questions should be designed as guides and should only serve to help you navigate toward your goals. Don’t be afraid to take a few detours as new information emerges throughout the interview.
Learn about your subjects
Sometimes you’ll have the luxury of knowing the person you are interviewing, but more often than not, you will arrive at a shoot without much prior knowledge of the interviewees. If you can ask a co-worker about them or get a quick peak at their desk - to notice pictures or sports team pennants for example - the likelihood of building rapport (thus allowing the interviewee to let down his/her guard) is much higher!
During the Interview
Balance the Conversation
It is tempting to simply read through your list of questions when you sit down to do an interview. This is fine when you are first learning, but as you grow and develop what will eventually set your interviews apart is your ability to be comfortable in your own skin. The goal is to achieve a balance of conversation, asking questions and directing--and re-directing!--tangents. Make this balance a goal, but know that it is OK if it takes awhile to get there.
Mind Your Nonverbals
Here are the basics:
Nod and engage your facial expressions in the conversation.
Maintain an open stance: arms open, face interviewee squarely.
Match the interviewee’s pace of speech and grammatical style.
Sometimes I jump right into an interview only to realize the interviewee has totally shut down or has started answering with canned, scripted responses. When this happens, stop! Don’t keep trying to push through. Back up and ask them about something comfortable and familiar. Discuss their favorite sports team, their family, or even something you were talking about before the interview started. If they can relax, it will change the whole direction of your interview.
This was something I didn’t really believe in until I tried it a few times. As a therapist, my job is to always practice active listening. This translates into conducting interviews as well. After an interviewee gets done answering a question, simply reflect back to them what they just said. Say an interviewee just finished telling you some reasons why he thinks his staff is great. You then say something like: “So it sounds like you have an awesome team of people working for you.” I thought people would say “yes, dummy, that’s what I just told you.” But, you will be surprised when they start talking about the same topic all over again, only with much more emotion and passion.
Peel the Onion
Fritz Perls, a trained psychoanalyst and developer of the psychological therapy called Gestalt Therapy, talked about “peeling the onion” during therapy sessions. A good interview peels back layers as well. This usually occurs in three parts: (1) talking about the situation cognitively; (2) achieving emotional depth; (3) making sense of it all in a way that conveys closure or hope. Most people can do numbers one and two, but they forget number three. This is what ties it all together, so don’t forget to ask questions like: what did that all mean to you?
Don’t Take Notes!
There is nothing that takes you and the interviewee out of the moment quicker than note-taking while interviewing. Your interviewee will be be wondering what you are writing and you won’t be paying attention. Stay in the moment. Bring someone else to take notes if you absolutely have to have them.
Behind the Scenes
Some interviews go wrong simply because of distractions in and around the interview area. Make sure your crew doesn’t take the interviewee out of the moment. They should not only avoid moving around too much, but also make sure that their camera batteries are charged and that their memory cards aren’t going to fill up. Simple intentionality with your set-up is a key to success in all interview situations.
Make the Interviewee Comfortable
Offer water, adjust the temperature in the room if necessary, give them a comfortable chair and watch their body language for any signs of fatigue during the interview. If you think they need a break, ask them and then allow them to take one. Resting for 5-10 minutes and starting fresh can be much more profitable than trying to push through with a tired subject.
Remember: Work on Yourself First
There is a lot to remember, but when I’m feeling overwhelmed with technique, I go back to something I learned in grad school. If the person you are interviewing can sense that you genuinely care about them and their story, they are much more likely to open up. So much of doing a good interview is simply who you are. Work on yourself first: your attitude, your concern for the situation, your motives in conducting an interview. When you combine an appropriately caring attitude with the techniques outlined above, you’ll start to capture those authentic story-building nuances you’re seeking.