Winning the Interview Game (Part I)

In this two-part piece we’ll be taking a producer’s perspective to examine the video interview process. Part I focuses on preparing for interviews and building relationships with your subject.

Interviews are a common way to get clips for sound bites, cut aways, or even large sections of content if you’re working on a documentary or educational piece. In Part I of this piece we’ll explore building relationships, preparing for video interviews, and tips on how to get your talent primed before they walk on set. Part II will cover the thrills of production day.

If you’re super lucky, your “talent” (the person in front of the camera) is well-versed with working in front of a camera, physically comfortable, and content ready. You’ll get in, get your shots, get your content, everything will look and sound amazing, and you’ll even wrap five minutes early! Giddy-up!

Man Driving Car, Giving a Thumbs Up

#happyhourtime #countmein #earlywrap #flyingpigs #producerlife


For me, this has rarely been the case. I’ve most-often worked with “non-talent” subject matter experts (SMEs). “Non-talent” might sound harsh, but it isn’t. Non-talents are just like you and me: smart, capable, passionate, articulate, lovers of chocolate and cashmere sweaters. However, put a camera in front of their face and strange things can happen.

Person With Horrified Expression


Never fear, they just need a little extra effort and coaching. Good thing you’re on point.

All About That Prep

Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a great working relationship with your talent and be able to pre-produce your video effort?  You could have pockets of their time to finesse talking points. You could co-create a clear content path or storyline and you both would be super prepared for game day. Together, you’d make video magic.

Robot Unicorn Flying on a Rainbow


The reality of the situation might be that your talent doesn’t have the time or the desire to devote effort to you and your project. They may have even been voluntold to work with you. Understanding their mindset will help you navigate the beginnings of your relationship and give insight on how to best approach the situation.

Whatever your situation, any prep work done in pre-production will pay off tenfold.

Make sure your talent is aware of the project, your role, their role and how they fit into the larger vision of the project. They need to know what the goal of the project is, who the audience is, and what the end product will be/how it will be used. This seems silly right? How could they not know this information when they’re on your list of VIP stakeholders? You’d be surprised. Don’t assume they’ve been given correct information from someone who isn’t you.


If You Build it, They will Come

Building a relationship with your talent may not be possible for a variety of reasons, but do yourself a favor and devote effort to trying.

  • Tell your talent why you are excited to create this video with them, and be real about it. Do some recon on their work and/or experience and make comments like, “I really liked the YouTube video you did on Topic Y. It really demonstrates the importance of Z.” Tell them all the ways they are awesome and how important it is to share their story/content (yes, we’re adding a sprinkle of flattery here). Build a relationship of trust and excitement surrounding your project, even if you’re being a pusher (in a non-annoying way, of course).

  • Insert your voice and face early and often. When appropriate, use the phone rather than writing long emails. Leave voicemail messages. Load your headshot into your email profile. Send your LinkedIn profile or other links to work samples.

  • Encourage video chats. This gets them comfortable with you and video. It also gives you insight to potential on-camera issues.


Get the Content

It goes without saying that you need to spend time researching the topic and cultivating talking points that are relevant to your audience and project. It’s even better if you can share your ideas with your talent.

  • Ask your talent to create and send you an outline of what they want to talk about and any supporting materials/information. This gets them thinking about content and helps you better formulate your questions.

  • Cultivate your list of questions and send it to them for review and feedback. If you have time for manipulation, add in some notes about how you think they might answer, talking points you would like for them to hit, or high level questions you have about content. In most cases they will be eager to correct your many mistakes and assumptions. This is great because now they’re engaged! Try to schedule a phone call or video chat to talk about this. It opens up communications and helps build your relationship.


Set Expectations

Be clear about the expectation for the desired performance outcome. For example, direct talent to use short complete sentences, simple language, explain industry terms, create smart sound bites - whatever is most appropriate for your project. There is no need to memorize a script or prescribe a rigid Q&A set up (unless that is appropriate). Your job as the interviewer will be to guide them down a pathway where you can extrapolate the needed content and reach video glory.

Adventurer Retrieving Treasure

And don’t forget to make your talent aware of your Fair Use Policy. This typically isn’t an issue for interviews, but you never know. I’ve had instances where talent wanted to read a poem or quote. Know your copyright laws.


Practice Makes Perfect

As much as you hate to admit it, your mom was right. Practicing is super important especially for non-talent, although most won’t do it. Try to educate your talent on the benefits of practicing and introduce techniques they can try. Like these:

  • Stand in front of a mirror and practice talking points out loud. That’s important–the “out loud” part. This helps identify long sentences or hard-to-say words.

  • There is no need for memorization; this is an exercise in getting comfortable with your vulnerability, face, body, voice, and content all at the same time. Rinse and Repeat.

  • Even better, get their partner / friends / family to act as a live audience.

  • Even better, record their practice on a phone and watch back. This is a really powerful tool for performance. Make sure they share that file with you for feedback!


Interested in upping your practice game? Conduct a video chat practice interview. This is a game changer for you both. They get the benefit of becoming more camera and content ready. You get the added benefits of evaluating their performance and identifying any potential production day issues. Additionally, this is a great bonding moment in your relationship.

Look for these types of performance issues:

  • Overall level of nervousness: sweating, stuttering, lack of eye contact, disjointed thinking, fast breathing or holding breath
  • Pace of speech: too fast, too slow
  • Nervous noise: i.e.: um, so, like, smacking lips, dry mouth
  • Body language: swaying, stiff arms, overzealous hand gestures, face rubbing
  • Notes on physical features: hair, makeup, wardrobe


Leave the video chat giving lots of positive feedback and recognize this is a difficult exercise! Give constructive performance notes but pick the biggest issues and don’t overdo it. End the session on a positive confident note and encourage them to keep practicing at home. Reinforce the positive, not the negative. For example; “I liked when you were talking about X. You really settled into your body, stopped swaying, and made good eye contact. Keep doing that.” versus “I noticed you looked nervous and were swaying a lot. Stop doing that.” Most issues are just nerves and play out in the “10-Minute Rule” which we’ll learn more about in Part II. Gauge your talent’s coachability and gear your feedback to their specific needs.


Never Give Up

Find that relationship sweet spot between producer and stalker. When all else fails, gently remind your talent that unlike birthday sheet cake in the break room, this video will last forever. Let’s make it the best it can be.

Man Eating Cake in Breakroom