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Production Tips: Making Interviewees Comfortable

Jourdan Aldredge

Shooting interviews for your next video project? Follow these tips to make your interviewees comfortable and get the best results.

Cover image via Parker Digital.

Conducting interviews for film, video, or television requires a nuanced skill set. Yes, strong technical knowledge is important so you can set-up, light, and record audio effectively. But the hallmark of a successful interview is the quality of footage and sound bites you get out of your interviewee.

How do you do it? You have to make your interviewee relaxed, comfortable, and confident — which is easier said than done. Here are seven tried-and-true ways to help you get the most out of your next interviewee.

1. Start Recording Audio Before Video

Production Tips: Making Your Interviewee Comfortable — Start Recording

Image via Shutterstock.

First tip: Start recording audio before you get picture lock. There’s no reason to let any potential audio go to waste. If you’re trying to make your interviewee comfortable off-the-bat, it doesn’t hurt to have that off-the-cuff audio available in case you need it in a pinch later.

Pro-tip: Use a wireless lapel mic on all interview shoots (even if you’re recording audio with a boom) to ensure you don’t miss anything.

2. Tell Them What You’re Looking For — and Why

Production Tips: Making Your Interviewee Comfortable — Inform Interviewees
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From the moment your interviewee arrives on set to the moment they leave,  your highest priority is to connect with them to make them feel comfortable. One great way to connect with your interviewee is to share information about yourself, the project, and the day’s specific shoot. Be upfront and honest and share your expectations for sound bites or emotional reactions.

Most importantly, share why you’re seeking this information so they can understand where you’re coming from. This helps them articulate their answers and talking points more clearly.

3. Give Hints in Your Questions

Production Tips: Making Your Interviewee Comfortable — Hints
Image via Steve Spence.

When asking your interview questions, it can be helpful to give “hints” about what you want to hear (especially if you’re working on a storyboarded project). 99 percent of the time, if your questions are specific and thought-out, you’ll hear your own talking points in the answer. Here’s an example:

Q: What about this event do you love? Is it the people, is it the venue, is it the location — anything like that?

A: Well, I love this event; it’s the people, the venue, the location — it’s just great!

(Author’s note: I know this sounds forced, but I swear, try it. If they don’t repeat the information point by point, they’ll at least mimic your tone.)

4. Make Them Smile

Production Tips: Making Your Interviewee Comfortable — Laugh

Image via Wikipedia.

Easier said than done right? Some interviewees just seem perpetually uncomfortable. However, science has proved that people are more relaxed and engaged when they smile and laugh. Same goes for you as the interviewer: smile, laugh, and relax to put your interviewee at ease.

Pro-tip: If you can get a chuckle, then encourage them to keep smiling as they talk. It’s a well known radio-trick that broadcasters smile while they talk because it energizes their voices (and their nerves).

5. Get Them to Say Yes

Production Tips: Making Your Interviewee Comfortable — Agreeable
Image via Wistia.

Another psychological trick that you can use is to condition people to be more agreeable and open by simply getting them to say “Yes.” It’s a little manipulative, yes, but it’s for a good cause, right? See what I’m doing here?

Pro-tip: If you gather basic information about your interviewee, a good way to get them agreeing is by asking them to confirm basic things like their name, employer, job title, and address by asking yes-or-no questions. Remember, it feels good to say yes!

6. Free Their Hands (and Bodies)

Production Tips: Making Your Interviewee Comfortable — Hands

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Depending on your interview set-up, your interviewees may be sitting, standing, or moving around. Sitting stationary has its advantages for technical aspects like lighting, focus, and sound, but it can make your interviewee uncomfortable. People like to move around, especially when they talk.

If you have to keep your interviewee in one spot, encourage them to use their hands. It helps them emote and convey information, and it can often make them more expressive.

7. Get Them in a Conversation

On that same subject, people really like to converse. While some can do it well, most people are not inclined to talk for the sake of talking. People respond best when they are in a conversation with another human being. It’s much more natural to explain ideas or processes to another person than it is to simply speak to a camera or a light.

Pro-tip: Consider shooting your interviews slightly from the side. If you are using a producer or interviewer, position them there where they can engage with the interviewee face to face and actually, you know, chat.

If you’re looking for more video interview tips and tricks (both technical and practical), check out some of these resources.

Have any tips or tricks of your own for making an interviewee comfortable? Let us know in the comments.