Now maybe interviewing isn't your strong suite, but just like anything, it takes practice. There are many things you can do to improve those skills, make a lasting impression on your interviewee, and of course, come up with that amazing unforgettable story. I won't forget the time I did an interview with one of my favourite ex-BC Lions players while I was still in school, Cam Wake who actually moved on to the NFL the next year. It was for the school's sports radio show and I probably didn't need more than a couple of good clips, 15 seconds each, but I did a 15 minute phone interview with him and at the end of the interview he said it was one of the best interviews he'd ever done! Imagine how awesome it was to hear that (I still have the full recording of that interview, hehehe).
I won't say that I'm an expert interviewer, and I keep learning new things each and every day, but here are a few things that I found are helpful in conducting a memorable interviews as a VJ:
1. Break the ice
This to me is very important and it has helped me numerous times in breaking through tough interview subjects. Smile, share some of your stories, talk about your family or what you guys did last weekend, try to connect with your interview subjects as if they're a friend, and try to get them at ease so they can open up to you. I have found that being the only one present in the room during an interview (since I'm the reporter and the shooter) works to my advantage since it eliminates that fear of camera crew and the formality of it all. Also, I always tell my interview subjects that this is not live, and they can always stop and repeat an answer, and that seems to help ease their nerves tremendously. Be warm and welcoming.
2. Warm them up
If you're doing stories with everyday people 9 times out of ten they've never done an interview before and you're probably the first reporter they're working with. That means the answers they give to your first couple of questions are usually, not the best and are probably not usable. They're a bit nervous, they haven't gathered their thoughts yet and they might ramble a little. But that's totally Ok. That's why you can start with some easy question to get them warmed up or you can ask the questions you really need but expect to rephrase them later on to get a better answer.
3. Don't forget the 5 W's
You probably know these already: the what, when, where, who & why. I'd like to add to these the 'how' as well. One of the questions that usually gives me some of the best quotes is "How important is bla blah...", " how important is it to you..". Try to avoid close-ended questions that get you a 'Yes/no' answer. Also it's always good to ask them to give you examples.
Here are some good sample questions I use a lot:
- Why is this important for you
- What does it mean to you
- What makes you say that
- How did it effect you
- Can you give me an example
- What so exciting about what you do
4. Have some throw away questions
These are questions that you don't really need the answer to for your story but they can help you gather your thoughts and thank of the next question you're about to ask.
5. Be sincere
It's hard to define what sincerity really is, but I guess what I mean is to be your true self. Don't take on a different personality, trying to imitate your favourite TV personality (well in my case Oprah Winfrey or Barbra Walters, hehe). People can see through you so be as real as you can be.
6. Do your research
Doing a pre-interview over the phone is the best scenario, but that's not always possible so make sure you research articles and websites that might give you some more material to ask questions about. It's always nice to be prepared.
7. Be an 'Active' listener
Yes, I have had the occasion earlier in my career where I would ask a question that the subject just answered in their previous statement, so don't worry if that happens to you. As a VJ you're multi-tasking constantly, trying to keep an eye on exposure, audio and the shot, and also trying to come up with your next question.. It's a lot to do all at the same time but it does get better with practice. As you get more comfortable and confident using the camera, you will notice you're getting better at listening to the whole interview. I also found it useful to write up my questions beforehand (I know it might look awkward but even Barbra Walters does that, so don't be ashamed of it). Taking 5 minutes to clear your head and write your interview questions before you leave on a shoot can be quite the time saver later on and it helps focus your interview so you can ask the most imporant questions relevant to your story. And again, it helps you focus on the person and their answers, and it lifts the pressure of coming up with another question on the fly.
8. Don't be afraid of Pauses
I know we are usually uncomfortable with silence, but actually most of the time it can work in your favor during an interview. Let the interview subject take their time answering your question. So you ask a question, they start answering but they give you a short answer, what do you do? Wait a few seconds before you ask another question. Most of the time people start elaborating after a moment of silence and sometimes you get your best clips that way, you also can get the emotion that way too.
9. Maintain Eye contact
Make sure you try your best to look at your subject in between your attempts to adjust audio & video. The eyes are the biggest source of comfort for your subject and they can also help you make a connection. You can show empathy through your eyes and that can help keep them at ease and it might help you get your Barbra Walters moment (i.e. make them tear up.. if that's what you were after).
Don't forget to ask the subject their first and last name for key/graphics purposes. I usually do that right at the start and I also ask them to spell it. This helps you adjust your audio as well.
Well, there are many other techniques and tips out there and below is a cool video I found with interview tips on how to conduct an interview with Katie Couric.
What do you do during an interview? what are your favourite techniques?