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The Human Interview



Posted by Michael Coen

There’s something about interviewing another person that is an experience in itself. Sure, the interviewee is in the hot seat - they have to deliver. But it’s up to you, the interviewer, to draw it out of them. More than simply asking questions, interviewing is a craft that can improve not only the stories you’re trying to tell, but the connections you make with other human beings.  

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How people will react to being in that chair can be rather unpredictable. Think about it - unless they’re an actor or a professional personality, when else are they mic’d up, blasted by lights with multiple cameras angled at them, usually with a crew of people watching? This vulnerability elicits behavior of all sorts. Here are some tips that I have acquired over time to evoke quality responses, deepen my connection with my subjects and win the interview experience.


1. Prioritizing the subject. 

Make sure your interviewee is seen as a human, not just a means to an end. It’s easy to get caught up in the day, adhering to a production schedule, interfacing with the client, leading a crew and managing equipment, especially on smaller shoots where you’re wearing many hats. Remember that above all else, the person in front of the camera is priority #1. Give them a sense for how these things usually go, give them a chance to ask questions they have, be confident so they know they’re in good hands. Remember, this is most likely a very abnormal day for them. The more you can gain their trust up front, the more comfortable they will feel and the better the interview will be. 

2. Becoming vulnerable.

As you’re getting to know the interviewee, offer something personal about yourself. If it’s embarrassing and makes them laugh, all the better. Anything to humanize yourself and become vulnerable with them will let the subject know that you’re in it together.

3. Avoiding the freeze.

Everyone will have different capabilities of delivering a solid answer, much of which can depend on how the question is asked. Asking too lofty of a question or putting too much pressure on getting a perfect soundbite can really throw off your interviewee. They become painfully aware of themselves and it results in a really choppy interview. As a rule of thumb, keep your questions simple, yet thoughtful. If I really want to push for something specific, I’ll save those questions for the end, after they have offered their more natural answers. Then you’ll have a foundation of quality soundbites that will have built their confidence in front of the camera, before leading into more challenging content. 

4. Leading or following.

After you’re exposed to many interview situations, you’ll begin to realize that no two interviews are alike. A good interviewer will know when to lead and when to follow. For example, you may have someone who is timid or doesn’t quite ‘get it.’ It’s up to you to equip them with everything they need to deliver quality soundbites. This could mean talking a little more and giving examples of how they might answer your question. In another situation, you may be interviewing a pro. They seem to have a never ending open spigot of juicy soundbites. It’s then your job to get out of their way and at the very most, simply stoking their fire and slightly guiding the conversation. Match their energy and don’t try to script them into a corner. Remaining flexible and being adaptive to the answers you are or aren’t getting is key. 

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These are just a few pointers that I’ve learned along the way. Most importantly, have fun with it! The best interviews happen when both the interviewee and interviewer are in the moment, relaxed, and enjoying the process.

Michael Coen