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My 22 Best On-Camera Interviewing Tips Ever


Have you ever spent a lot of time preparing for an interview only to walk away less than thrilled with what you captured?

Don't let it happen again.

Since I've been blessed to interview hundreds of heroes over 23 years, I shared my one big secret to capturing a great interview.

So now, here are my best 22 interviewing tips to help you make every interview your best story possible.

1. Create a comfortable place for the interview; have water ready for your hero and be reassuring.
2. Ask open-ended questions to get the person talking in depth. Avoid asking questions that create a “yes” or “no” answer.
3. Be a “story steward.” If you will be editing your hero’s story, tell them that. They will feel more comfortable knowing that and open themselves up to you. If you are not editing their words, tell them who is so they understand the process.
4. If your hero freezes up, remind them you are their “story steward.” It is you who will be taking care of their words and story.
5. Do not interrupt! Nod your head in acknowledgement while they answer.
6. Ditch your list of questions when your hero says something surprising. Ask new questions based on what was said, not necessarily what is next on your list.
7. Keep you questions short: ten words or less!
8. Ask: “What’s at stake?” This is an excellent question to end your program. It could be interpreted any number of ways, so let your hero choose how to answer.
9. Ask: “What does the future hold for you/your company?”
10. Ask: “How did you get into this business?
11. Ask: “What do you think your story tells our audience?”
12. Ask: “What’s the most amazing part of your life?”
13. Listen 100%. Stop playing your tapes. Listen to theirs.
14. Ask the first few questions again at the end of the interview. Everybody’s warmed up by then and you’ll likely get better, as well as, different answers.
15. Try not to give the questions ahead of time to your hero. Most likely, they will wind up memorizing answers and come off stiff during the actual interview.
16. Ask “throw away” questions when first starting. This gets everybody warmed up. Try, “What are your hobbies?” “What books are you reading?” and the like.
17. Imagine hearing the type of answers you want. This helps you focus precisely on the question you need to ask to create the answers you want.
18. Be completely open to “infinite possibilities.” Anything can, and will, happen!
19. Repeat questions, if necessary, to capture the answer you really need. Do not be afraid to say, “I liked that answer a lot. Can you give me a shorter version of it?”
20. At the end of the interview, ask “Is there anything we missed?” Invite your hero to say whatever else might be on their mind.
21. Allow the crew to ask questions, if it’s appropriate. You can count on being surprised!
22. Share gratitude to your hero for the unique opportunity of capturing their remarkable story to help change the world.

Got a tip? Share it here.


P.S. This post was inspired by Brian Clark over at Copyblogger. Brian challenged his readers to take one of his Cosmo headlines and apply it to our blog. Check out the comment section for other amazing posts.

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Reader Comments (33)

Great list Tom. I think you missed one easy one:
The power of a simple smile.

Smiles connect people to your heart, so take the time to share a smile, and you'll put your hero at ease.

Or you'll scare them. Either way, it's a win :)
December 7, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterPhil Gerbyshak
Hi Phil,

You're absolutely right! Feeling up and smiling yourself is a visual clue to your hero that you are comfortable being with them, in turn, making them a bit at ease as well.

December 7, 2007 | Registered CommenterThomas Clifford
Wow! Great list Tom! I might have to stash this away for future projects. :)

Always a pleasure reading your thoughts and advice! Keep it up!
December 7, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterChris Punke
Hi Chris!

Many thanks for your note...feel free to grab the list and use what you can :-)

Be well and thanks for being a fan!

December 7, 2007 | Registered CommenterThomas Clifford
I've cut and pasted this list to a cheat sheet so I can review it before every podcast interview I do from now on. Great suggestions. Thanks for sharing.
December 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterClayton

Thanks for stopping by and glad you found the list useful!

December 17, 2007 | Registered CommenterThomas Clifford
Hi Tom,

I love your tips! I think you might be a good future guest for the ARRiiVE: Innovations In Business radio show I host at http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/37798.

Are you open to reposting this particular article at my ARRiiVE blog? I think it is a useful topic. I would credit back to your site, of course.

Thanks for providing such terrific information in your blog for people producing video for corporations!

Scott Andrews, CEO
ARRiiVE Business Solutions
January 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterScott Andrews
Another tip would be to roll always. Never, say "are your ready?" that tends to freak people out. Have the tape or recorder rolling and naturally slide into the interview. Many times interviews will stop me half way into a great interview and ask when the interview will start. I tell them we have been in the interview the whole time and usually they show a feeling of relief that it has been so "easy."
February 3, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdanchannel
Hi Dan,

So true...and a great point. Thanks for sharing :-)

February 3, 2008 | Registered CommenterThomas Clifford
Try to not start a question with a verb. Usually these questions (as stated above) lead to a yes/no answer.
February 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPierre
Very true! Thanks, Pierre!

February 3, 2008 | Registered CommenterThomas Clifford
These are great tips for both on- and off-camera. I've been a newspaper reporter/editor for close to 30 years, now a journalism professor. I'll share these with my students.

Here's one more: Silence.

Silence in a conversation makes folks nervous.

If the interviewer learns to be silent rather than immediately asking another question -- it's harder than it sounds -- interviewees often will be compelled to fill the void without thinking about what they're saying.

The result can be revealing in ways answers to questions won't.

Neil Reisner/Florida International University
February 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNeil Reisner
Hi Neil,

Indeed...I've seen it happen many times, myself. Just wait a few beats before you ask your next question. Chances are, more ideas get expressed.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing.

February 3, 2008 | Registered CommenterThomas Clifford
I disagree with #12 and this would be my tip...
Stay away from extremes questions. People in interviews ask me all the time what my worst show was like or whatever. These are the types of questions that slow me down because I have to dial in to that specific memory. And, I have to think through all the bad shows, and narrow them down to the worst. Also, I have to determine what "worst" means.

A more welcome question is always "Have you ever had a show where the audience got out of hand?" or "Have you performed in any scary situations?"

So stay away from words like "worst", "best", "favorite", etc.

You will freeze up your interviewee... which leads me to another tip. It's kinda a black belt interview skill. If you ask a question that doesn't spark something immediately, give some background information. Just talking nonsense after asking a question gives the ee some time to think.

eg: "What are your plans for retirement?" (they're thinking) "Some people move to Florida, some people travel, others just get sick. What do you think you'd like to do when you retire?"
February 3, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterscot
Thanks, Scot...great tip!

February 3, 2008 | Registered CommenterThomas Clifford
Thanks for the tips.

There's something I always do, which works most of the times - a rather silly charakter question. Ask the interviewee something fantastic. For example a photographer: Which scene in human history would like to shoot?

I think that these questions set a playfull mood, that help the person to relax, if he or she is a bit stiff. Also they can use their own imagination and don't haver to stick to the scipt, that (most likely) some PR-droid has written for them. And the answers are pretty funny most of the time.

@danchannel: True! A friendly chat which is recorded is the best interview.
February 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBela
That's an interesting idea, Bela. I'll add that to my bag of tricks :-)

Take care,
February 3, 2008 | Registered CommenterThomas Clifford
and whatever you do...don't ask the biggest predictable question of all:
"Did you ever think/imagine that XXXX would be this popular/successful etc?"
February 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMartin
Off topic but still important. Sit or stand really close to the camera, so you don't end up with your hero in profile. A good rule is that you want to see both ears in the camera.
February 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDavid
I would like to add that your interviewee should look towards the camera but not directly at the lens.

And bounce light from a reflector can help or a diffuser can add the composition and not leave you with a flat looking video.
February 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHD-Productions.biz
Hey Tom,

Thanks so much for the great advice! I am scheduled to interview a famous director for an upcoming webcast/podcast within the next 2 weeks and now feel less nervous having read your timely advice. I will be sure to incorporate your advice into the interview. This was very helpful! Thanks a bunch!

Debra Dixon
Light of Gold PR and Marketing LLC
February 4, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterlightofgoldpr
A pre-interview is always a nice thing to do. I find that it is a perfect time to talk about the purpose of the interview and where it will be airing. It also puts them at ease and gives them an opportunity to ask you questions.

February 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie Lucier

Glad these tips were helpful :-) Best of luck with your interview!!!

Let us know how it goes.

Take care,
February 4, 2008 | Registered CommenterThomas Clifford
Right...chatting ahead of time is great, if you have the time.

Take care,
February 4, 2008 | Registered CommenterThomas Clifford
I've never done an on-camera interview, but the question that usually gets me good answers during phone interviews is "What do you think you learned from [fill in the blank]?"

This automatically makes them feel smart and gives the audience insight into their thought process. As mentioned, you've got to really listen before you can effectively fill in that blank.
February 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBob Filipczak
great list but i differ on one point. if you ask a question and the interviewee goes off-track - and does this consistently - i think it's fine to interrupt.you're trying to encourage and support them to be able to express themselves to the maximum and you won't do them much justice if you have to edit them to pieces. they'll sound as cobbled together as they are rambling.

oh, and another point. and forgive me but i have been making broadcast documentaries for almost twenty years....the question can be as long as you want. often a long question enables engagement and conversation, rather than point and shoot someone against a wall.

great blog by the way! :)
February 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Barrie
Your tips will definitely help me in my interviews!

One thing I've learned is that, especially in phone interviews when you might catch someone off guard, it's good to mention how long the interview might last right away. I've found that even if someone's in a hurry to get off the phone, simply saying "do you mind chatting with me for just a few minutes?" often leads to a much longer interview than the interviewee initially expected, resulting in more content for you to work with.

host and producer
February 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTristan
Hey Tom,

Hope you are well! Just to let you know, my interviews and Webcast turned out well! Still have a lot to learn, but it's great and fun.
Very excited to be able to host my own Webcast/Podcast and offer the service to others. It's posted here at http://www.lightofgoldpr.com/webcast.html, just click the link if you'd like to check it out! There's a new interview/webcast every week.

Thanks again for the great advice! Take care!

Debra Dixon
Light of Gold PR and Marketing LLC
e-mail: lightofgoldpr@gmail.com
March 17, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterlightofgoldpr
Forgive me, this is coming almost a year after the most recent comment was posted. But I just found you and your site tonight. I would add that in 30+ years of writing and directing videos that often required interviews, one technique I have found to be very useful is to "push back" a little. I don't mean "get in their faces." I just mean, express a slight skepticism: "Come on, is cruising really all that great of a way to vacation?" This gets to the deeper convictions and, if they're real advocates (or know their area of expertise), the passion comes out.
February 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDave Pool
Hi Dave,

Great point. I calling it "playing the devil's advocate."

I'd ask something like: "So, I really don't see the big deal here with this new product. I mean, there's a lot of widgets like this in the marketplace."

Bingo....that gets anyone talking!

Thanks for stopping by!
February 24, 2009 | Registered CommenterThomas Clifford
It's often difficult to get kids warmup up for the camera. What I did once was switch the roles. First let the kid interview you and let him ask some questions about your job, car, dog, hobbies, whatever and then switch back. It's like a fair deal and also very funny :) Might work on certain nervous adults too..
March 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermaastrix
That's an awesome idea and thanks for sharing your tip!

March 5, 2009 | Registered CommenterThomas Clifford
One thing I try to do with amateurs is avoid the word "interview." That word alone can make some people act less naturally. However, calling the interview a "chat" or a "conversation" can sometimes relax them, because they've had many conversations in their lives, but few (if any) interviews.
May 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDylan

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