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4 Quick, Helpful Fixes for Stimulating a Compelling Interview

When staging an interview, there are obstacles for both the interviewer and interviewee. Here are a few tricks that can make your interview shine.

Problem: The subject uses lots of jargon, is hard to follow, or gives lifeless, canned answers.

Solution: Reset the conversation.

There’s a stellar trick NPR reporters use when interviewing experts. If the subject veers off track from the question, or is otherwise unclear, use this line:

Pretend I’m a bright high-schooler who has trouble paying attention.

This really works to encourage clarity, which helps them stay present in the discussion.

Maybe the answers are making sense, but your subject sounds coached. Don’t be afraid to show you’re actively listening, and ask, earnestly “Can you explain that again for me?” or “What does that mission statement mean to you?” This can help engage founders, entrepreneurs, and marketing-oriented people who are used to giving the same lines over and over.

Quick, Helpful Fixes For Stimulating Compelling Interviews - Kim Gordon

In The Punk Singer, Kim Gordon talks about the reluctance she and others felt to address the riot grrrl movement in the mainstream press.

Problem: You’re interviewing multiple people at an event, junket-style, in the same space.

Solution: Use setups and objects, while staging, that showcase individual personalities and help tell the story.

For The Punk Singer, Sini Anderson needed to hear from the many musicians who’d been influenced by riot grrrl pioneer Kathleen Hanna. There was a tribute show coming up that featured many of the artists she wanted to interview for the documentary. So Anderson parked a van outside the show and did interviews inside it, one by one, sometimes in groups, if a full band was present.

There was a colorful blanket on the bench seat. Each person fidgeted with it in different ways, suggesting vulnerability, the sensitivity of a particular memory, or their level of relief at remembering the world they made together as riot grrrl comrades. The interviews in this space were all distinct and memorable. Many of the musicians were talking about times on the road, so the visual served the tone perfectly.

Problem: You’re filming in an office and want to make sure there’s energy in the footage.

Solution: Use a second camera to capture abstractions and B-roll in the room.

A subject’s belongings, jewelry, notes, or shoes could help convey their personality when the viewer tires of seeing them talk. Even if archival footage or other B-roll isn’t possible, the feel of the room itself could be helpful when spliced with images of the subject. Establishing shots of the location, the subject getting settled in their chair, or a wide shot of the set could be a simple answer to interview fatigue in short-form videos.

Problem: There’s more context needed to supplement the subject’s story than you have time for.

Solution: Use title transitions to summarize history, timelines, or provide a segue.

Titles can provide a helpful shortcut to information viewers need. When dealing with politics, immigration, or complex personal stories, text can be a more effective way of keeping audiences on track with you. Nora Mandray‘s Dancing With Le Pen (for Field of Vision) has a stellar example of pithy title transitions that explain decades of French politics. In an interview subject’s voice, these facts would seem long-winded, wonky, or even lost altogether to the viewer.

Cover image via Scarc.

Looking for more interview tips and tricks? Check out these articles.

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