11 tips for conducting a great video interview

Interviews are a staple part of any video production company or internal marketing teams roster. Whilst they aren’t always considered the most dynamic type of video content in the world, they are unanimously understood by those creating them and those watching them. Regardless of where the world of video marketing goes, interviews are never going to be outdated.

I’ve spent six years interviewing everyone from CEOs of multi-billion pound organisations, through to primary school children and in that time I worked out a number of techniques and tricks to ensure your interview goes smoothly and you capture the content that you need. Below is a 11 things you can use to conduct a successful video interview.

#1 Know your questions beforehand and share them with your interviewee

Before you interview anyone, even a colleague you know really well, it’s important to know what you need to get from them. What’s the point of this video? What do you need them to comment on? Interviews can be long and sprawling and they often veer off in directions you hadn’t foreseen, so it’s really important to know when you’re going too far off tangent.

Before you interview anybody, write down what your goal is from this interview and write down a base set of questions to ask. You don’t necessarily need to cover all bases and you’ll naturally miss off a few things. As I’ve mentioned, interviews will veer off in different directions and that’s ok, but it’s important you know how to bring them back on topic and understand what content is usable and hits the points you’re trying to cover.

Once you’ve completed this, it’s good practise to share this with your interviewee beforehand to give them a bit of a heads up on what is expected of them. Some people won’t read it, but hey, that’s on them right!

If you can, it’s also a good idea to try to memorise your questions in some way, not word for word, but memorised enough that you know off the top of your head, at least some of what you want to ask this person. It can be off putting for the interviewee to be sitting across from someone who is literally reading questions off a piece of paper. Interviews work best when there’s a face to face connection, when they’re run more like conversations than interviews. Inexperienced journalists will sometimes simply read from a piece of paper and it’s not a nice experience for the person on camera.

#2 Ask them to say and spell their name and job title

This is necessarily relevant if you’re interviewing someone you know well, but it is a good habit to get into. When you’re interviewing someone you don’t know, either in their office or at an event, it might not always be clear or obvious how their name is spelt or what their exact job title is. Asking them to say and spell it out on camera whilst recording, means you’ve got an exact copy of it in your video footage so that when you’re editing, you’ve got that on record for if and when you decide to add in name titles.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been caught out and looked silly by not asking people to do this. It then becomes a bit of a detective operation to track them down, scrawling through Google and LinkedIn trying to match names to faces. Learn from my mistakes and please make sure you do this, it will save you a huge amount of headaches in the long run.

#3 Ask one question at a time

Some people are amazing at being on camera, they know their stuff, they know what they want to say and they’re capable of holding a lot of information in their head whilst they think about how to answer a question. However, they are few and far between, most people will struggle if you ask them too many things at once. When running your interview, try to only ask them one question at a time and don’t make them too long. You can ask follow up questions straight after their first answer and you’ll likely get a better response because you’re allowing them to focus on one thing at a time.

If it makes sense, you can ask two part questions, but only if they’re fairly simple. For example you might ask a lawyer, “When did you first hear about the new legislation? What was your initial impression?”

Whilst these are two separate questions, they relate very closely to each other and aren’t asking a huge amount from the interviewee.

#4 Don’t interrupt your interviewee

When we talk to other people, we naturally nod and smile and say things like “yes, hmm, oh no”, and whilst these are fine in day to day conversation, these can really ruin an interview. So my biggest piece of advice when you’ve asked a question, is to shut up and wait for them to finish.

You see, when someone is wearing a microphone, it will pick up other loud noises from around it, so if you’re talking over the top of them, even just a simple “hmm”, will be heard on the recording. It’s unlikely that you’ll use everything from a single interview in your final video, you’ll naturally cut things out when you’re editing, so you want to make it easy for you to end a clip, without there being a random noise at the end of someone’s sentence.

#5 Don’t be afraid to ask other questions

As we’ve discussed, it’s important to have your questions written out before and interview so that you have a guide to reference, however, don’t be afraid to go off-piste and ask other questions. When you get into the groove and you and your interviewee relax around each other, the conversation will naturally go down different paths. Some of these paths won’t be relevant, so you’ll want to veer away from them quickly, but other times someone will say something that will spark another line of questioning and these hunches or insights, whatever you want to call them, are really worth exploring.

I’m always waiting for those magic moments when someone says something that instantly clicks and opens up a whole other conversation that I didn’t even think of beforehand, but which I know will be really useful to the final video. Lean into them and go for it.

#6 Let them talk (even if they go on and on)

Some people are ramblers, they need to talk for 10 minutes to get to the point and that’s ok, even if you know you’re not going to use the waffle at the beginning. We all have our own ways of explaining things and when you’re interviewing someone who likes to waffle, it can throw them a bit if you suddenly ask them to really think succinctly about their answer. It might be a bit painful when it comes to editing because you’ll have more footage to go through, but it will help ensure they are at ease. When people are comfortable you’ll get the best out of them and from my experience the last 15 seconds of an epic ramble, can often be the gold topped cherry that rounds up the whole video.

#7 It’s ok to ask questions again

Sometimes people don’t say what you want them to say the first time around. Occasionally they misunderstand the question or just can’t quite articulate what they want. It’s ok to ask questions again. For me personally, if I know I need to ask a question again I’ll move the conversation on, but make a mental note to ask that question again towards the end. The reason I do this is it’s important to make the person feel like they’re doing a good job, if they suddenly feel like they’re messing up or letting you down, it can make them cramp up and they become nervous and self-conscious. By asking it again 15 minutes later, you can frame the question in a way that makes it look like you just thought of something else to ask.

Now you can of course, ask the same question again straightaway and if that’s easier for you then by all means do that, but if you can make a mental or written note to come back to it, I promise it will do wonders for your interview.

#8 Pay attention to them when they’re talking

I’ve seen some really bad interviewers over the years who not only are terrible at asking questions, but they’re not even listening to the person whilst they’re answering, which amongst all else, is just rude.

Conducting an interview is not about call and answer, you don’t ask a question, wait for a response, ask another question and repeat. That style never works and you’ll never get good answers out of someone if you do it like that.

The best interviews are conversations. Look at Oprah or Ellen, they know their topics, they have questions and other snippets of information on cards in front of them, but for the most part, they ask questions, they listen and they run a real conversation. It sounds fairly obvious, but by listening to your interviewee not only do they feel like their responses are valuable, but you’ll also pick up on ideas and tangents that you didn’t think about before. Remember, even if you’re interviewing your own colleague, they have given up some of their time to sit down and talk to you, so the least you can do is listen to what they have to say.

#9 Always tell them they’re doing a good job (even if they’re not)

When people are nervous about being in front of a camera, they’ll often ask you if they’re doing ok, if you’re getting what you need and it’s inherently important you say “yes”, even if that’s a lie. The minute you tell a nervous interviewee that they’re doing a bad job, they’ll close up, feel really self conscious and you may as well end the interview right there. Now I’m not saying you’d deliberately tell someone they’re doing a bad job, but sometimes even the slightest hint can make them feel bad, so tell them they’re doing a good job, says things like, “that’s really interesting”, “that’s a great answer”, “tell me more about that”. All of these things will condition them to think they’re doing well and over the course of the interview they will.

#10 Some people suck (you’re allowed to end the interview early)

On occasion you’ll get someone who really doesn’t want to be there, is really inarticulate and often isn’t the right person to answer these types of questions. I’ve been asked to interview people before who didn’t know anything about the topic we were talking about, which becomes an interesting interaction because deep down both you and them are wondering why on earth they were chosen to do the interview.

If and when this happens, it’s ok to round off the interview quickly. There is a very distinct difference between someone who is nervous and someone who just isn’t going to talk. Nervous people can be helped along the journey, those you don’t want to talk, can’t. You’ll know very quickly if you’re not going to get what you need from this person. When that’s the case, ask them a couple of questions, 2, 3, 4, enough to make them think you’ve got what you need from them and then politely round up the interview, thank them for coming and move on to the next person.

It might seem somewhat mean, but it’s highly likely they don’t really want to be there and it’s not an efficient use of time to spend 20 minutes with someone you know you’re going to cut from the video, when you could use that time to interview someone great!

#11 Ask them if there’s anything else they’d like to say

As you get towards the end of your interview and you’ve had all of your questions answered, it’s worth asking your interviewee if there’s anything else they’d like to say or add. A lot of the time they’ll say no, particularly if they’re a bit nervous, but sometimes they’ll think of something else that slipped your mind that would add another level to the video. Unless you feel really strongly that their suggestion is irrelevant to the video, it’s worth spending 5 minutes or so letting them talk about it.