Whether you are creating a missions video, personal testimonial or any other interview based video project, being able to conduct great interviews is critical for creating a compelling story that keeps the viewer engaged. A compelling story and an engaged viewer increases the chance that the call to action will be heeded. This is great for any sort of building campaign video, testimonial, documentary or other fundraising video.

Here are 10 tips to conduct a stellar interview with even the most camera shy subject.

1) Do Your Homework

Before you can sit down and interview your subject, you must identify the end goal of the video. Here is where you need to ask yourself some hard questions: What do I want the viewer to know? What do I want the viewer to feel? What do I want the viewer to do? If you can clearly and concisely answer these three questions, the answers will guide you on how to prepare for your interview.

2) Conduct A Pre-Interview

It is always a fantastic idea to do a pre-interview. Whether in person or over the phone, this pre-interview will give you the overall story the interviewee has to tell. This is where you can listen to all the details and decide later what you feel is important to the overall objective of your video. This builds rapport between you and the interviewee and helps them feel like they will know at least one person when they arrive on set. From the notes you take during this interview, you will be able to better craft the questions you will ask on the day of filming. There are two additional benefits of doing a pre-interview. First, time is always limited on set. The last thing you want to be doing is figuring out the story in the moment. If you have paid freelancers or volunteers giving their valuable time, they won’t be too happy to wait around while you figure out what you are doing. Doing a pre-interview saves you valuable time (and possibly money) on set, giving you the ability to do more with the resources you have. The second benefit is that doing a pre-interview will cut down on the amount of footage you capture. By zeroing in on only the most pertinent information, the interview becomes more concise. Your editor will love you for this. Less time spent in the editing room sifting through unnecessary takes and questions. Be the hero, do a pre-interview.


Download my Church Video Coach Interview Packet:

  1. Wardrobe Selection Guide for on camera interviews
  2. Pre-Interview Email Template
  3. Consent & Release Form to stay legal

3) Explain The Process Beforehand

I love the show Downton Abbey, but I couldn’t imagine living in Edwardian England. What if I was invited to dinner at Lord Grantham’s home? What would I wear? How should I talk? How should I eat? It would all be so foreign to me I might just curl into a fetal position under the table. That would make for some great gossip! This is exactly how a non-video person could feel walking onto the set for their interview. If they have no camera experience, then the whole situation will feel foreign and nerve racking to them. They want to do a great job for you. They want to do a great job for the cause, but in that moment they feel like the weakest link. The best thing we can do as the interviewer is explain the process to the interviewee beforehand. We should let them know how many people might be there, what they will be doing, what the equipment setup will be like, and especially let them know where we (the interviewer) will be during the process. By now, you are their lifeline and they will cling to you like a sad, wet puppy. One thing I always talk about is how I would prefer them to answer the questions. I always like the question to be worked into the answer. For example: If I ask, “How is the weather today?” I do not want the answer, “Sunny.” I want them to put the question and answer together like this, “The weather is sunny today.” That way, I can edit out the questions without the need for any text or graphic indicating what question was just asked. There is no need for context, the interviewee provides the context. This makes for great, flowing stories through interviews. I would not want to dump this expectation on the subject moments before the camera rolls. Prepare them beforehand.

4) Create A Welcoming Environment

In our last tip, I laid out that when arriving on set, our subject is basically walking onto another planet, right? So we must do everything we can to make them feel welcome and comfortable. That way they can loosen up and cough up some juicy soundbites. This would include making sure they have water or a snack, introducing them to the crew, giving them an updated schedule, giving them a comfortable place to sit and wait, and any other way to let them know they are not just a means to an end but they are important and welcome. Another thing, I make sure to greet the interviewee when they arrive, that way they are not wandering around trying to figure out where to go.

5) Shield Your Subject

Depending on your crew and your set, there could be one or two people or maybe 10 to 20 people milling around and working. When it is time to interview and we get the subject in the chair, it is important to minimize the number of people talking directly to the subject. Imagine already being nervous and then the camera guy says, “Move to your right.” Then the lighting person says, “Move a hair to your left.” Then the audio guy says, “Can I put this mic up your shirt?” I tell my clients, when the subject is in the chair, I am the only one to give them direction. And even then, I would rather no one speak to them during that time if at all possible. It is my responsibility to get a great interview and I will shield my subject from being bombarded by questions and commands. Help the subject clear their mind by being their lifeline and helping them tune out all other voices.

6) Talk About The Weather

When it is time to roll camera it can be tempting to yell, “Rolling,” and then turn to your subject and say, “So, when did your mother die?” Yikes. Too abrupt. One thing I found that works well is to already have a signal worked out with the camera person so he knows when he should start rolling. Make sure the red tally light on the front of the camera that signals when the camera is recording is turned off or cover it with a piece of tape. There should never be a major announcement of when the camera is rolling. However, it does not need to be a state secret either. To begin the interview, just start talking about the weather, a light hearted current event, or something to get the subject going. Then signal the camera person to begin recording. Since you are already very prepared, you will have an appropriate segue into your first question and neither the subject nor your crew will even catch it. Natural. On a side note, the same thing goes for when the shoot it over. Sometimes the best bits are when the subject feels they are done. You can see them relax and sometimes they will add a little more. Watch for this. Don’t cut the camera too soon. Especially if they start a sentence with the word, “honestly.”

7) Mirror Their Posture

A typical technique in counseling that helps a counselee feel comfortable is for the counselor to mirror their body posture. This can be helpful in interviewing as well. If the subject has hands folded in front, try to do the same thing. If legs crossed, then your legs should be crossed. There is an art of subtlety required as to not look like an awkward drama class warm up exercise, but this will subconsciously help the subject feel like you are listening to them and will help them open up more.

8) Don’t Be Afraid

Now that you are in the interview, boldness is the key. Do not hold back. Ask those hard questions. Do not be afraid. You may feel like you do not want to “cross the line,” you maybe want to stay far away from the line. But the line is where the story is, where emotion is, where raw humanity lives. What is the point of all this prep and filming and interviewing if you do not get great material from your subject?

9) Silence Is Golden

Another thing not to be afraid of is silence. This is very hard, but sometimes the best responses are the second response to the question. So, you ask a question and then the subject answers. Instead of asking another question, just nod and stay silent. It is going to feel AWKWARD. I mean, really awkward. But, just when you think you can’t handle it anymore, the interviewee starts talking. Why? Because they cannot handle the silence either. They feel like they must break the silence, so they search for more to talk about and that is often where interview gold is found. The first response is the prepared one, the safe one. The second response is the unpracticed response, the one they didn’t craft while looking in the mirror. The one that they feel comes out wrong but actually comes out the most naturally. I’ll say it again, interview gold is found in the silence.

10) Affirm, Affirm, Affirm!

I’ll keep this simple, affirmation is the grease that keeps the wheels moving in this process. With every response, the subject will want to know if it was good or not. Find ways to encourage and embolden the subject by complimenting them, telling them how brave they are, telling them how great they are doing, how well their responses are going to work in the video. If they know they are making a difference and doing well, they will keep going deeper. In this case, silence is not gold, it is disapproval. Be generous yet genuine and you will have a great interview.

A well prepared subject leads to a great interview and a compelling video. Increase your response and engagement with your interview-style videos by nailing the interviews.

How do you prepare to interview someone on camera?