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Old January 28th, 2010, 05:25 PM   #1
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Interviewing Techniques For Making Subjects Less Nervous?

We interview lots of "regular" people for our business. Any suggestions on getting people less nervous while they are on camera?

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Old January 28th, 2010, 05:50 PM   #2
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As an interviewer, make eye contact and engage the subject in conversation. Give them a a few minutes to settle down with some lightweight banter as the camera is running. Then move into the important topics.

Non-actors can't be expected to deliver canned lines. I've seen producers try to do that with terrible results.

And make sure the camera crew knows how to avoid drawing attention to themselves, and can get it done right the first time. Because if the subject is asked to repeat something, it's going to sound contrived.
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Old January 28th, 2010, 07:11 PM   #3
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Like Dean said, eye contact and engage with them. Make sure you communicate with them at all times, I'm not talking about verbal communication, but your body language. Smile, nod your head, lean forward, look interested, anything that interacts with the interviewee.

One thing I always do with my interviews is ask all the fact questions first ("What is...?") and move into the more personal questions later ("What do you think of...?"). It lets them answer the easy questions first and also allows the interviewee to get a little but more comfortable (in front of the camera and yourself) before you ask more personal or sensitive questions.

Also, forget to turn the camera off at the end of the interview. Say "Now that wasn't hard was it?" and keep talking about the subject. I've gotten some really good material just by leaving the camera on after finishing the set questions. The interviewee will really allow them self to become relaxed once they think the camera is turned off. Sneaky, but it works (sometimes).
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Old January 28th, 2010, 07:21 PM   #4
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Humor. Nothing is as effective as a (genuine) good laugh, for relaxing.
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Old January 29th, 2010, 09:20 AM   #5
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Don't play with the camera!!
Get it set and then don't look back at it for at least a few questions until you sense that they have relaxed. Check it quickly, announce that everything is fine and going great and that they're doing fantastic, smile and press on.
After you've gone through your questions, if there are some you want to revisit because they seemed tentative or nervous, blame the audio or shot framing and ask them if you could go back over it a second time just to make sure you got it right.
Like everyone else said maintain eye contact with the subject and they'll usually forget about the camera.

Last edited by Jim Schuchmann; January 29th, 2010 at 09:20 AM. Reason: typo
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Old January 29th, 2010, 09:25 AM   #6
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Great advice so far. I love to pretend we will run through as a 'rehearsal' but roll the camera anyway. The subject is usually much more relaxed when they think the camera is off. Turn off the record tally light in your camera menu.

Get them laughing and relaxed before doing anything official. Roll camera through this as well. Gives you some great cutaways you can use over audio (shot of him laughing while we hear him introduce himself, for example).
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Old January 29th, 2010, 10:48 AM   #7
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If you have a blimp with fur, add some eyes and a red tongue to the end that faces the talent. As soon as they see it they'll crack up with laughter.

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Old January 29th, 2010, 11:02 AM   #8
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All very good advice here so far and I now see that I'm using a lot of the tricks you guys are (damn, I thought I was being clever!). Like Aaron, one thing I find works well with the corporate stuff I do is, at the end, tell them you're about to turn the camera off, make a body move towards doing that and smile and say, "anything else you want to say before we're done?". Usually, not always, they then deliver the best line of the interview! Then keep rolling, the eye contact/smiles etc. and after you've got that, again ask them "and anything else?". Sometimes the gems just keep coming! Sometimes they just dry up/detect you're milking it! I prefer this approach to tricking them that the camera is (now) off. Note: Again as pointed out, the tally light on the front should ALWAYS be disabled, to help them relax throughout the interview.

As mentioned above, it's usually pretty important that you don't ask any key questions at the beginning of the interview when they are nervous, or if something important came out early on (sometimes it just does) and they were a looking bit nervous just ask them about it again in an almost off-hand/as part of the banter you're having with them type way to go over it again near the end. Sometimes it comes out better, or bits of it are better.

Almost universally, the first 5-10 minutes of any interview I do is never ever usable, or, if I'm the one in front of the camera, the first hour or two! ;-)

Most of all, try and have fun with them, smile twice as much as you usually do and it'll work so much better for everyone.
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Old January 29th, 2010, 12:12 PM   #9
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I tend to adapt my interview style to the subject matter or the experience level of the interviewee. In most cases, my interviews are with individuals who have no on-camera experience at all, and would tend to feel very intimidated in front of a large camera, microphones and lights. (and sometimes additional crew.)

It always helps for me to be as familiar as possible with the subject matter as well, so that I know how to ask the right questions - ie: industry-specific terminology that they might be used to - so that they are not suddenly burdened with how best to "translate" the verbiage they are used to using for the benefit of me, the interviewer. If the subject matter is too complex and the terminology can be lost on a target audience, I adapt my interview style to help bridge the gap of information conveyance by asking the right questions in the right way, and asking for clarification when I feel it will be needed and will carry over well in the final video.

If the interviewee is otherwise inexperienced with on-camera interviews, I will sometimes start out with informal idle chatter (with the camera rolling) so it just becomes a simple conversation about "how was your day?"..... or anything else you might otherwise use to start up a simple informal conversation with a nearly complete stranger, so that they feel comfortable with simple, surface level conversation. Then, as smoothly as possible, I transition the conversation into the subject matter for the interview. I find that if done well, they convey a more comfortable presence on camera, are usually more animated and engaged, and offer responses that feel less canned.

I also give them a little forewarning about how I may respond to what they share. If the intent of the production is to only use what they say, but have the actual interviewer and questions omitted from the final video, I will ask questions that invite more than "yes" or "no" responses, but phrase them in a way that invites them to phrase the context of the question in their responses. Additionally, I will not speak over them while they are speaking, and will try to not to vocally interject while they are speaking, which puts the impetus on me to give them verbal cues and responses with my body language, to help them feel engaged while speaking (and not feel like they are speaking to the blank stares to a room full of 5th graders), and helps me keep clean audio for the editing phase.

In the end, I end up with a lot of "wasted" tape, cutting out the idle stuff, but the final results are typically really good interview footage, and I have gotten high marks from my interviewees for providing a very positive interview experience.

In my case, it helps that I conducted a lot of student and family counseling in my previous career.


In a few cases, I have also printed on an easel pad a large print very basic outline for the flow of the interview content. Not the actual questions verbatim, but the core flow of content we will cover, no more than 3 to 5 bullet points. That way, with a quick glance they can gauge where we are in the interview and have an idea of how long they might "feel" like they are in the hot seat.

-Jon
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Old January 29th, 2010, 07:24 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Vito DeFilippo View Post
The subject is usually much more relaxed when they think the camera is off. Turn off the record tally light in your camera menu.
I've been cause out doing this a few times by some interviewees... I pressed record on the camera, sat down and they gives me this.

Interviewee: Are you sure the camera's on?
Me: Yeah, why do you say that?
Interviewee: Because the red light's not on...
Me: ...

I had to explain it that the light can be turned off... and needless to say, I don't think they all trusted me in my "off the record" banter after my set questions. :P
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Old January 29th, 2010, 08:31 PM   #11
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That's too funny. I've been asked that same question. People seem not to believe that you can turn the darn light off!
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Old January 29th, 2010, 08:34 PM   #12
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Depending on the type of interview, it can help put someone at ease if they are seated to sit down yourself as well. There is something about being stood over that is disconcerting to some people. An effective way to do this is to sit behind your camera with your face exposed to the interviewee. They can maintain eye contact with you which helps them speak more naturally while at the same time appear to be looking into the camera. It can look a bit strange for someone who is being interviewed to be looking off camera. This technique avoids that. If you are more to the side and simply tell them to look at the camera, it can make their manner of speaking more awkward.

The same positioning technique can be used if the interview is standing. The only difference is that you stand as well but still position yourself behind your camera. Of course this method is only useful when only the interviewee is on camera.
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Old January 29th, 2010, 10:48 PM   #13
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Nothing a little bit of gaff tape can't fix.

"Yeah, it's behind the bit of black tape."

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Old January 31st, 2010, 06:54 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andrew Smith View Post
"Yeah, it's behind the bit of black tape."
Then I'm sure they'll ask why there's a bit of black tape on the camera... :)
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Old January 31st, 2010, 12:22 PM   #15
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This is precisely the moment when you do the Jedi mind trick on them.

"There is no black tape. There is only the interviewer. I will relax and be at peace."

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