How comfortable are you with silence? I’ll admit it, NOT filling the uncomfortable silence… is NOT easy. For most of us, it’s just how we’re wired. The conversation stops and we feel an overwhelming and immediate need to fill that void with a comment or a question. Especially, when the topic of the interview is a difficult one.
So why wait? Isn’t it best to continue the momentum of the interview (a technique that can make the interview subject less aware of the cameras, and the lights, and themselves)? Usually, yes. However, there are times when the real story… the truth…is only visible in the moment after an interview subject stops speaking. And, so you choose your moment, and you wait. This is not a passive endeavor. In the stillness, you must create a safe space. A non-verbal haven of sorts… and then you wait for it.
Cay Molinar discusses her cancer treatment.
Excerpt from the documentary film Awaken the Dragon.
I recently broke a bad habit. I’ve known for many years that it was bad for me but I just kept going back. I just couldn’t stop watching Today. Not to date myself… but back in the day… you could easily catch an interview with a world leader. Today, the focus is on reality television stars, supermodels and their divorce drama or the latest YouTube sensation. Riveting. However, for me the tipping point was the recurring practice of an interview technique that essentially ignores the interviewee.
A completely hypothetical but altogether possible interview…
Matt: How long have you been wrestling alligators in a tutu?
Interviewee: Ever since I was a kid growing up in the swamps of southern Louisiana.
Matt: So, where did you grow up?
In this moment our friend, the tutu wearing alligator wrestler, trips over his confusion and then settles into the realization that the person interviewing him wasn’t listening…translation…he doesn’t care. And just like that it’s over. No connection… no content.
An interview is basically a conversation with an agenda. You should know your subject matter and all the ground you have to cover, but how you cover that territory should be a very fluid process. It all starts with the simple act of listening. Just listen… and then ask questions based on what you hear. You can eventually get to the next “official” question on your list. But in the meantime, you may stumble across something wonderful, meaningful, relevant…and it is there, in the unexpected, that the magic moments live.
It sounds easy enough. Set up a camera, a mic, and ask someone a bunch of questions. Anyone can do it, right? Assuming you’ve got a handle on the technical side, then… sure anyone can do it. The question is… how well? An editor will be taking bits and pieces from the interview to build a meaningful story. The quality of those bits and pieces, and thus the quality of the video, is greatly dependent on the skill of the person conducting the interview. Granted, some of these skills are inherent but many are learned. In the next few posts I’ll review some basic tips that can help anyone improve their interview techniques.
It all starts with making your subject comfortable and finding some small way to connect.
Most people are not at home in front of a camera. The lights, microphone, camera and crew can be intimidating. But, before you can help your subject relax… you have to make sure you are relaxed. Here is where we can all learn a little something from the Dog Whisperer, Ceasar Milan. Project calm assertive energy and it will put your interviewee (and any dogs in the area) at ease. So smile… make a small joke. Chill.
Now that you’ve broken the tension it’s time to connect. Casual conversation, unrelated to the interview topic, can help you and your interviewee prepare for the moment the camera rolls. Do you have anything in common? Take in your environment… an item in a home or even a t-shirt they are wearing. “Did you do the bridge run? I did it three years ago and it was a madhouse.” Keep it light…. keep it easy… keep it real..connect.