Ingredients for a Great Interview

A good interview holds relevance for the viewer, feels conversational, and contains a mix of interesting information. For example, it might include:

• Details about your interview subject’s background, such as their birthplace, childhood, education or career highlights or their spiritual journey.

• Anecdotes and incidents involving the subject – especially those that share a moment of love or are humorous.

• Quotes from the interview subject (relevant to this story) or by others in relation to them.

• Your observations (throughout the interview) as the interviewer.

• Any published news related to the subject either in print or online.

Begin with breaking the ice

Break the interview up into 5-6 key sections and place ‘breaking the ice’ at the top of your list. Ideally this is the first thing you do – even before the interview starts. Look at the primary purpose of this time as finding some common ground to begin your working relationship.

If you have the advantage of filming the interview subject at their house, even if you are filming them via the Internet, then you also have an opportunity to learn a little more about who they are and what their world is like through information gleaned from their surroundings.

For example, you might notice a book, piece of art or a poster nearby, and start a connection by saying something like:

• “I see you’ve got that book on your table – is it any good? I heard it’s really interesting.”

• “I love that picture in the background – who is it by?”

• “I can see you’re an AFL fan – I love my footy too. Did you see the game last weekend?”

Spending a little time connecting over a shared interest will make them feel you’re interested in them as a person – not just as the source of a great story.

Build the relationship before you begin the interview. Flattery, empathy and curiosity go a long way to build a good working relationship. The key is to be authentic, genuinely interested and to look for something you can chat about.

The set-up

The next phase is to orient the meeting towards the actual interview.

Always start by thanking them for their time (people love to be thanked) then give them a broad overview of what they can expect. Things to cover include:

• Who you are and why you’re interviewing them.

• What the process will be and where the story will appear.

• What they are empowered or encouraged to do/say/ask throughout the process.

Because it’s before any official ‘interview’ has begun, this is the time to put in place how you might deal with technical issues that arise during the interview (such as a major change in light or sound, background noise or, if filming via the Internet, a momentary loss of video connection).

This is also the time to address the technical issues of what sits within the camera’s frame. Take a good look at the picture and make suggestions to improve the image. You might need to ask them to adjust their position, the light that’s in the room or, if filming via the Internet, ask them to adjust their computer camera so it’s at a good angle.

Also check: Is there anything distracting in the background? Do they look their best? Do they need to straighten their collar or smooth down a bit of hair that’s sticking up? Let them know now and they’ll love you later for it!

If you want the story to stand alone (meaning the audience won’t get to see or hear you throughout the interview), you might need to teach your subject how to embed the questions within their answer. The purpose of this is to make editing really easy. If they don’t embed the question, the audience will not be able to follow the story, because there’s no context for them.

To do this, the simplest approach is to ask your subject to simply repeat the question before they answer, or rephrase it as part of their answer. For example, you might ask, “How long have you worked as a teacher?” They could respond with one of the following:

“How long have I been a teacher? About 12 years.”

“I’ve been a teacher for about 12 years.”

It’s best to have this conversation just before you start your line of questioning so it’s fresh in their mind. It might take them a couple of attempts before they do this automatically, so be prepared to remind them to include the question in their answer.

Kickstart the recording

It’s time to press record and officially start the interview. Much like your ‘break the ice’ pre-interview chat, this section is about getting information that sets the scene by giving context to the subject’s world. It’s also about warming up your subject and building some on-camera rapport.

When people are being recorded, they often become self-conscious and need a little time to get comfortable and refocus on the conversation (rather than the camera). The simplest way to do this is by asking a series of ‘getting to know you’ type questions. Because they are easy questions to answer, they work well to kickstart the conversation.

Having said that, you still need to ask questions that give your audience information about the subject’s background as it relates to the story.

You might ask questions to encourage them to share details about where they were born, where they grew up, what their upbringing or education was like, as well as what their current occupation involves and how they came to know Jesus.

Most people really enjoy sharing information about their spiritual journey. It’s something that you’ll have in common with your subject and your audience will want to hear about. I like to leave this question as last in my ‘getting to know you’ section, because it relaxes them the most and makes a natural segue into the next series of questions.

As a side note – although you want the feel of the interview to be very conversational, you need to be careful not to talk over the top of the interviewee, or interrupt an answer. Even a reassuring ‘uh huh’ or ‘yes, I agree’ can make the editing process difficult and render some really good content unworkable. The key is to keep that personal connection alive through the use of body language. Smiling, nodding, looking curious and even a silent laugh all work to let your interviewee know you’re listening and that you find their story interesting.

Move into specifics

Now your subject is feeling relaxed and it’s time to shift towards the heart of your story. This is when you begin to dig and get to a central crisis or pivotal moment of change that makes the story interesting.

You will have planned ahead of time for the type of details you want to hear, and the likely answers they might give you, so now you’re looking for ways to get them to share all those interesting story points, especially the ones that have an element of drama attached.

Begin by setting the tone and mentioning the type of scenario you’re interested in. Then, ask them to share a story that comes to mind. Take note of the images, emotions and sensations that stand out as they speak – and make note of anything that’s unclear or could be unpacked further. Use ‘explainer’ or leading questions to get more details, such as:

• What do you mean by that?

• What were you thinking/feeling at the time?

• Can you unpack what you meant by XXX for me?

• Could you give me a specific example of XXX?

• Why do you think that occurred?

Sometimes it’s best if you summarise or paraphrase what they said to make it more succinct. By summarising and then asking them to comment, or even asking them to give you their version of your summary, you can lead them towards what you really want to hear. I like to summarise their point, then ask them if that’s a fair interpretation. Often, they will pick up on my train of thought and in their own words repeat it back to me. Another tip is to summarise and then ask them to give you a short recap for technical reasons. I often ask them to summarise for editing purposes, so I can get a clean soundbite. That way they don’t feel like I’m correcting them (because it’s about a technical need) and what they give me will be more direct, but still in their own words.

Find the ‘meat’ of the story

This is when you circle back to things that might be unresolved, or where you really get into those difficult, sensitive, tough-to-ask questions. By now you both have a bit of flow and should have established a comfortable give-and-take with one another, which means they’ll be much better positioned to handle emotional or sensitive topics.

You might want to start by priming them for the question with an establishing statement, and then use a leading, open-ended question. For example:

“I know mental health is often a difficult thing to talk about, especially because it carries such a stigma to it, but can you take us back to that time when you had, what you said was a ‘breakdown’, and walk us through what was happening for you?”

Your goal is to ask questions that really get to the emotional core of the experience, because as human beings that’s what we connect most to. But be very mindful to show empathy and care.

As they speak about the event, you might need to coach your subject for certain information to make sure the audience can understand. I often look for information that produces a strong image or reveals physical sensations or emotions. That’s because most people think in images, and images arouse emotions or recall sensations.

Try to find out details of the event, such as what the situation was, who was there, what was going on at the time that led to this incident, what the sounds, sights or sensations were that the subject experienced, and what they were thinking or feeling at the time.

Another way to collect this information is to fill in the blanks by suggesting how they might have felt or what they could have been thinking. This is best done in the form of a statement followed by a question. Because you’re placing yourself in their shoes, empathising with them, they’ll feel cared for and often will respond with a less-guarded response. For example:

“You must have been overwhelmed at the time – what were you thinking at this point?”

You might also want to use the advantage of retrospect and ask them to talk about what they learned as a result of that experience, or what they would say to someone in a similar situation.

Don’t be afraid of awkward silence. Depending on your interviewee, they sometimes need the time to process and think. Don’t interrupt the process because you’re uncomfortable. If it’s an emotional topic, without being manipulative, let the emotion come across so the viewer can feel that they’re in the moment with you.

The turning point

While it’s important that the audience gets to ‘see’, ‘hear’ and ‘feel’ the dramatic elements of the story, we also need to make sure they see the turning point as a result of your ministry’s involvement.

Even if the situation is ongoing (for example, they are still dealing with grief or loss), for the sake of the interview, it’s your job to make sure that the story has a resolution. In your case, it will be the Kingdom impact, or the support your ministry provides.

Ultimately, the main goal of the interview is to show how your ministry played an important part in meeting a need.

If the subject has a really dramatic story (perhaps they were facing a serious illness and your ministry helped them be courageous and trust God during their darkest hour), then the message you want the audience to receive is that your ministry is there in a time of crisis.

You might get this result by asking them what happened that changed the situation, or how the support of your ministry helped them, and what it meant to have that support during their time of need. And if you still don’t feel that this has been well articulated, you can always suggest it as an outcome, and ask if they would agree.

Wrap it up in a neat bow

The interview is almost over and you want to wrap everything up with some final thoughts and a few promotional call-outs.

You can ask them to give you three good reasons why someone might want to invest in the ministry, or ask them to use your ministry’s tagline as they encourage others to support your ministry.

Another option is to ask them to use the tagline and thank supporters for the Kingdom impact they are enabling through your ministry.

It’s also a good idea to ask them for any final thoughts, or if there was something they wanted to add (that you haven’t asked). Sometimes they come up with the best soundbite when given this opportunity.

When it’s all complete and dusted, make sure you thank them again. Find something that you can compliment them on or affirm them with. (“You were great. I think we got some really good quotes there. I think your story is really going to help others in similar situations.”)

Let them know when or where you are going to use this material, and when you expect it will go public. Don’t forget to make sure you get all your release forms signed and thank them once again for a great interview.

Do your best to leave the interview on a high note. If it’s been a difficult topic, work to bring the subject back from the darkness. A few good ways to do this is to reconnect with things around them like the weather, what’s happening on the weekend or go back to one of those ‘break the ice’ topics you chatted about earlier. Remember that you have a duty of care to them that goes beyond the interview, which is especially important if you’re working with vulnerable people (such as people with mental health issues or children). 

One last suggestion before you switch off the camera – it’s a good idea to keep the camera rolling even after your last official question. You’ll often find that, because the pressure of the interview is now over, they will be very open and relaxed and that’s when they say one or two things that are even better than when you were ‘on air’. If you keep the camera rolling you won’t lose those more conversational snippets that might make your interview spectacular.

More Insights from Dunham+Company: “How to Lead a (Productive) Meeting, Part One”

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