The Hall of Shame of corporate video is filled with bad interviews. A staple of corporate video is what we call the mini-doc, a short form documentary created out of interviews with key people. These videos rely on real people to tell the story without added voiceover or scripting.
We love a good mini-doc. We’re insanely proud of some mini-docs in our portfolio. The documentary medium can be incredibly powerful — it’s an Oscar category for a reason. However, the key word there is “good.”
The poor, overused mini-doc is hard to get right. A bad mini-doc is one of the worst sins of corporate video. When you imagine a bad corporate video, you probably are picturing an executive looking like a deer in the headlights in front of a camera talking about synergy paired with b-roll of people sitting around a conference table. Yuck.
We’d like to save the mini-doc from its own popularity. A well-produced mini-doc can exude authenticity in a way that a scripted piece cannot. The raw emotion from a good interview is a powerful thing. So how do you get to the holy grail of a good interview? The tips below will help guide you on your journey.
Tip #1 – Do not script the interview.
If you stop reading this article after one tip, make it this one. Do not script the interview. Just don’t. Whoever is being interviewed, whether it’s one of your employees or a client or an end user, is not a professional actor. They will not be able to deliver scripted remarks in an authentic manner.
If you’ve asked them to memorize a statement, it will sound rehearsed and, well, memorized. A viewer will generally be able to tell when a statement is recited.
Some clients will request a teleprompter to avoid the memorization issue. Reading off a teleprompter is itself a learned skill, and your people are probably not broadcast journalists.
Your subject will sound like he or she is reading, and if the text on the teleprompter is too small, you will be able to see their eyes darting across the words. Nothing screams “inauthentic” like visibly reading a statement.
Tip #2 – Don’t hand over the questions in advance.
Over-preparing an interview subject leads to accidental memorization. The interviewee will want to say what they think you want to hear.
They will practice their answers with their spouse or in the bathroom mirror, and suddenly your unscripted interview has become scripted by the subject.
Even when our clients know not to hand over the questions, a common related sin we see is “prepping” the interviewee immediately before the interview.
While the video crew is setting up, the interviewee, especially if we’re in their office, may be standing off to the side waiting for the interview to start. They’re often nervous. To calm them down, the client, producer, or director may start to tell them what to expect and preview some of the questions.
This is a terrible idea.
When you start to talk to an interviewee about the topic before the cameras start rolling, the person wastes their authentic, conversational answers on the producer.
When they get in front of the camera, suddenly they are trying to remember what they just said instead of simply answering the question in the moment.
Even though it’s only been a few minutes, they inadvertently spent the time practicing their answers. The plan to make the person more comfortable has backfired, and now they sound rehearsed.
To help someone be more comfortable, instead consider having the person sit in their interview spot was the crew does their final touches. It allows them to get used to the camera and lights before the interview starts.
Tip #3 – Don’t rush the interview.
Sitting down for an interview is nerve-wracking. There are bright lights, a boom microphone over your head, and a camera or two in your face. A team of strangers is buzzing around futzing with silk diffusers and clipping another mic to your shirt. A makeup artist is simultaneously fixing your hair. None of it feels authentic when you get started, because it’s absolutely not.
That said, an interview subject who is an expert on their topic will often find comfort in talking about what they’re good at. It takes some time to get used to the set, but once they do it can become a conversation with the director or interviewer.
Assume that people will start out nervous. Even if an interviewee is one of several people being featured in a 2 minute spot and you figure you’ll only use 45 seconds of them speaking, schedule 30 minutes for their interview.
You may not need it all, but that gives people enough time to get comfortable in front of the camera and start just talking.
Rushing a subject will make them more nervous.
Tip #4 – Don’t make people repeat what they just said.
As video creators, we want to get the best sound bites out of our interview subjects. Sometimes someone says something amazing, but they stumble over a few words.
Or they start the sentence in a roundabout way, or they use a term the communications team won’t be allowed to use in a final video.
Making a person restate what they just said is a problem for two reasons: it sounds inauthentic and it brings them out of the flow of the conversation (how often do your friends ask you to restate an anecdote “just like that!” but without saying a brand name?).
Are you sensing a theme here? The heart of any successful mini-doc, be it for marketing or entertainment use, is authenticity. The power comes from the person in the thick of the story telling it in their own words.
Without that authenticity, you might as well script the video and hire an actor to read it.
Trust your subject to tell their own story. You are making this video because the person did something noteworthy that you want to share with the public. Let them speak freely, and trust the video team to curate the story and make the subject look good.