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How to interview someone on camera successfully with these 9 insider tricks

To interview someone is pretty easy, right? After all, asking questions is not such a big problem! And yet, 95% of interviews you’ll find online are just boring. Sometimes that can be funny. But mostly it’s just annoying.

Let us change that and equip you with some tricks on how to conduct your next interview in a fun yet a personal way for both sides. Using these tricks you make sure your interviews become legendary. Let’s start!

What makes a good interview?

Good interviews not only convey facts but also bring out the personality of the interviewee. Because let’s be honest: For facts and figures you can just look up some diagrams. If a person sitting in front of a camera is addressing an issue, then he or she should come across as a human being out of flesh and blood and not as a number-pushing answering machine.

So what makes an excellent interview? Empathy. Because after all, that’s whats most interesting: the personality behind the poker face.

In order to achieve a great interview, you need two things

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To interview someone is like a journey together with the person in front of the camera. The most important thing while you’re traveling together is to explore and be curious.

1. a brave interview guest who can open up to the viewer and
2. an interviewer who is even bolder and dares to ask curious questions, come what may

After thousands of interviews I’ve conducted in the last decades, this is actually already my trick of all tricks:

“Be curious, have the chutzpah and yet respect for your interviewee!”

With that in mind, you’ll be surprised what great stories you can elicit from your interviewee.

However, there are still some details that are worth taking a look at.
All the following tricks have one goal: To give your interviewee an atmosphere in which he can open himself up.

1. Your equipment must work 1000%

What I hate the most are interruptions due to technical problems. When the cameraman suddenly says, “Oh, can we do the last question again, the camera didn’t record.” or “Sorry, I have to change the battery.”

All this destroys the trusting atmosphere that you have built between you and your interviewee.
Exclude all sources of distraction before your interviewee enters the room.

  • Low on battery? Attach the camera to a power adapter.
  • The memory card  is full? Check that you can record consistently for at least half an hour without having to change the card.
  • Coworkers are entering the room again and again with an “Oh, sorry”? Place a sign outside the door: “Attention TV recordings! Silence please!”
  • The lighting has to be adjusted because the subjects glasses reflect? Have the cameraman test and set up the lights with him before the interview.
  • Suddenly the sun beams through the window? Close the curtains so that it’s not disturbing you.

Choosing the right location already solves some of these problems.

2. The right location to interview someone: quiet, comfortable, neutral

It’s not only important to have a quiet place, in the sense of “a silent space”. It should also be a peaceful space. For example, a carpet or floor covering ensures that reverb is suppressed. This immediately creates a coziness that will please your interviewee.

To give you a maximum of flexibility in using the interview sequences, choose a neutral or blurred-abstract background, which can easily be used in different contexts.

And last but not least:

  • the room should have a comfortable temperature
  • there should be as few people in the room as possible. If I conduct an interview, the only persons present are the cameraman, the interviewee and myself.
  • a glass of still water (with a straw for the ladies, so the lipstick doesn’t vanish) to make it comfortable for your guest.

3. Sitting or standing?

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Sitting during an interview is always a bad idea. The most horrible furniture one could choose for an interview is a bar chair. It just doesn’t look very sexy :).

I prefer to talk while standing. I’ve noticed that people standing in front of the camera have a better posture than sitting slumped in a chair. In addition, the gesture is more agile and thus the body language more meaningful.

A trick: when the light is set up, mark the interviewees position with a small piece of tape between his or her feet. This helps you to recognize whether the person moves too far out of the picture during the interview. If necessary, you can remind politely without the cameraman having to intervene.

4. No questions before you interview someone

Most interlocutors ask me in advance: “What questions will you ask during the interview?”. I always jokingly answer: “I don’t know yet.” Which already makes for a first smile.

I do not like the term “interview” either. Usually I say, “We’ll just having a conversation.” That, too, lowers the nervousness.

However, if the person insists on having an orientation in advance, I’ll talk about the topic and the goal of our conversation and that I would like to know his or her personal opinion about it.

Mostly the’re satisfied with that.

5. Advance information to the interviewee

You can simplify the conversation for you and your counterpart with a few little hints in advance:

  • “Please answer in full sentences. The easiest way is to include parts of my question in your response. So if I ask you, ‘What’s the weather like today?’ Then do not answer ‘It’s nice.’, but ‘The weather is beautiful today’.”
  • “Should I repeat a question, it is not because of my forgetfulness. It’s just because we need another version of your answer for editing. In this case please be careful not to say “As I said before…”
  • “Avoid “one” sentences. Instead, refer to yourself as the one who is making that point.”
  • “Please look at me, the camera is not present.” – and that is easier said than done :).

6. Start without your counterpart noticing

This point requires wordless communication with your cameraman.
With each cameraman I’m working with I arrange different signs for certain scenarios. This helps me to control unexpected breaks myself.

A pluck on the sleeve when the interviewee threatens to dance out of the picture.
Or, and that’s the fine art, tapping my shoulder when the camera is running.

Never, never, never ever say: “So, the camera is running and here is my first question …” – that’s the moment you can say goodbye and pack your stuff. The pulse of your interviewee skyrockets, he becomes the answering machine you never wanted in the first place. And he delivers phrases of platitudes that nobody wants to hear.

“When do we start the interview?” – “We are already finished!”

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If your interviewee no longer recognizes all the lighting and camera equipment, that is the moment when you will get the best possible answers.

Let the cameraman turn on the camera at the very moment your guest enters the room. Since all the gear is already set up, the only things left to do are small light and sound adjustments. While this is happening you can engage in a small talk, which distracts your guest from all the lighting and camera technology that suddenly surrounds him or her.

And as soon as your cameraman gives you the subtle shoulder-tip, you glide easily like a feather from small talk to your first specific question.

I once interviewed a lady who asked me after 25 minutes of conversation: “When do we start the interview?”. “We are already finished!” I answered. I will never forget the look on her face.

7. Do not prepare too much

The best interviews I had were the ones I almost did not prepare for. Of course, I know the context and what the goal of the interview is. But the way there is also completely foggy to me before.

This approach has two advantages:
I process the answers from the point of view of my target group.
Since my counterpart doesn’t presume knowledge about the topic on my side, he automatically goes more into detail in his remarks. And if I ask naively, because I simply do not know the answer, all of a sudden new and interesting aspects pop up that I didn’t even think about before.

8. Ask questions with chutzpah

Let’s make it clear: there are no stupid questions, just stupid answers.
So if a conversation partner rolls his eyes saying: “What’s that absurd question!?”, then he either does not understand his own answer or he just has as little of a clue as you :).

There are some questioning techniques that will help you to have an interesting and personal conversation on any topic. Here are some examples.

Questions with BINGO! effect

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Be curious and respectful – these are the keys to open your interview guest’s hearts and discover their stories.

Your partner has invented a fantastic new electric scooter and is about to describe it very technically. To give the conversation a more emotional tonality:

  • Take a counter position.
    “But a car is much more practical than a scooter.”
    He will now tell you even more vigorously: “But think about how many hours you save each year if you can easily bypass rush hour with our e-scooter!” Exactly the empathy you need.
  • Do it concretely and personally through naivety:
    He says: “These extra-elliptical halogen emitters radiate a power of 15,000 lumens.” And you with question marks in mind: “Oh, and that burns the oncoming traffics retina?” – He may roll his eyes, but says: “No! The headlamp ensures your safety as it already radiates around the corner before you even drive around it!” BINGO!
  • No “yes/no questions”:
    You say: “And the shape of the handlebar makes the scooter less air resistance?” – He says: “Exactly!” – Nope, that’s definitely not a good answer.
    Better: “And what’s the reason for this special shape of the handlebar?” – Now he can explain how little air resistance the scooter has, in detail.
  • If a statement is not precise enough for you, or it is not editable in post-production, then dare to ask the same question again. Note, however, that the interviewee does not refer to his last answer with “as I’ve just said …”.

More details? Put yourself in the shoes of your target group

For the level of detail also have the target audience in mind, for whom the interview is intended. What knowledge can be expected from the target group? It makes a difference whether there are professionals who are more in the subject or complete novices.

And during the entire conversation, it is important to keep fixed eye contact and smile on the opposite. He will unconsciously mimic you and smile back – and that’s much better than a tense grumpy face.

9. “Did we forget something?”

This important last question of all my interviews is aimed not only at the guest but also at my cameraman. Because sometimes there are quite interesting aspects that I may have overlooked.

On average, my interviews have a length of 20-40 minutes, sometimes even longer if time permits and we all have fun – because then time flies so fast. This is also the time to really get closer to the people in front of the camera and to get to the core, the personality. Only then a conversation is really worth something.

Well, those are tricks. Quite a lot, hm? And now you might ask yourself: how do I get that on tape?

Well, if you want to know how to shoot and edit your interviews with very easy-to-use equipment, then subscribe to our free Waitlist and learn more about our online Masterclass “Smart Video”

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