The single biggest key to capturing an engaging and honest interview is creating a feeling of comfort and safety for the person being interviewed.
I've been interviewing 30 people for the past two weeks for a large film, so the art of interviewing is very much on my mind now.
In this post, I'd like to share with you one secret I've learned from filming hundreds of interviews over the past 23 years.
Understanding and implementing this simple technique will help you capture ideas, feelings and dreams from your interviewees; or, as I like to call them, your "heroes."
Feeling Nervous? Probably!
Imagine yourself arriving on a film set for an interview. Chances are you might be filled with a bit of anxiety and perhaps even some nervousness. That's pretty normal. But hopefully you wouldn't be as nervous as this person was...
A long time ago, I had someone totally freeze-up at the start of the interview. I'm talking the "deer-in-the-headlights-I-ain't-saying-anything" kind of freeze-up!
Experience has taught me that most people need about fifteen minutes to warm up to the camera and then the interview is really off and running. By then, nerves have settled and the stories are flowing. The hero is now comfortable sharing their journey and story with us.
But this interview stopped the clock. Boom! Uh-oh. What am I going to do to make this person feel comfortable? What do I say? To make matters worse, I had other interviews lined up for the day. This one moment was about to throw off the entire production schedule...not a good place to be in.
"I Know You're Nervous. It's OK"
So we stopped filming. I leaned my chair forward so no one else could hear me and I whispered this to my "hero" interviewee:
"I know you're nervous. I understand how you feel. But you know what? You are totally free to say whatever you like. There's no need to edit yourself and second guess what to say. You know why? Because not only am I the director here on the set, but I'm also the guy in the edit room two weeks from now taking your words and telling your story the way you want it told. Your words are safe with me. I'm here for you."
"Really? I can say what I want?" was the response. "Yes, you can."
In that moment, I gave this person permission to speak freely. It worked beautifully and we moved on to capture some really great feelings and ideas.
On Being a "Story Steward"
Before I record any conversation, I tell the "hero" to speak openly from their heart. I tell them not to edit their thoughts and second-guess what "corporate" wants them to say.
But here's what I learned a long time ago: the hero doesn't know who is the steward for their story. They don't know who is crafting their story once they leave the set. They have a certain level of apprehension while speaking in an interview. They're thinking, "Who's seeing this after I leave? Who's editing my words and ideas? Who's taking care of me when I'm not here anymore?"
The "Green Light" Effect: Create a Feeling of Safety and Comfort for Your
Telling your "hero" ahead of time that their words and ideas are carefully entrusted to the film director or "story steward" gives that person a "green light" to say what's on their mind. This secret solves the fear that a hero sometimes faces before the interview starts. The door is now open to a real heartfelt conversation.
The hero knows who is responsible for telling their story they way they want it told. They also know it's not some disembodied corporate person they have to please...they feel safe and comfortable.
And feeling safe and comfortable on camera, like feeling safe and comfortable at your own dining room table with your family, is how the heart loves to tell a story.