MDJ 014 Getting great interviews

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Since many of you will be visiting family, I thought I’d talk about interviewing, so that some of you can practice on your family members. Consider this your winter break homework.

This is an especially great exercise to do with older family members who may have great stories locked away that you never knew. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to preserve memories of loved ones. You can totally just use your phone if you don’t have a camera, and just have fun with this.

SO here are things to think about with interviews…

Sound- be aware of your environment. Listen for heaters turning on and off or refrigerators. If you’re near a busy street, try to move to a room furthest away from the street. It’s best to always listen through headphones, because it’s easy to realize what is being picked up by the microphone.

Lighting- I like to have a light to the front, and slightly to the side, that way it lights up their eyes so you can see a little light reflecting from them- that’s called eyeshine and without it eyes can look dull and flat. It’s also nice to have a light above and behind the person to shine on their shoulders and hair. It adds depth to the shot. 

Composition- if you just have 1 camera I would frame the shot from just above the hips to just above the top of the head. Following the rule of thirds, their eyes should be off to one side of the frame, looking toward the other side of the frame.

Example interview from Girl Aspiring episode #2

Also, if you can, make sure the subject is not backed up to a wall. Having depth behind the subject will make for a more interesting shot, especially if it is at an angle to the wall or facing the corner. Ideally the background is interesting, but not cluttered. If all you have is a plain wall, try shining a small light on it to give it a splash of brightness.

Once your shot is ready, and your subject is comfortably seated, it’s good to have a little conversation with them to help them relax. Being in front of the camera is super scary for most people, so I like to let them know that they’re going to be looking at me (not the camera) and we’re just going to be having a conversation. They can pause and think, just like they would normally. 

I also let them know that I will not be responding to them verbally while they talk- for the love of god, do not make noises while your interviewee is talking. We’re used to saying “uh-huh, ok, hmmm” while people are talking, but you don’t want that recorded in your audio. Just nod your head and react with your eyes, ok? Also, DO NOT start talking as soon as they finish a thought. There are 2 reasons this is important. 1) it’s going to be difficult to edit if you start talking right after the person finishes and 2) they may have some great facial expressions or interesting insights that come to them if you just give them time to sit in the moment. 

This is really important, and I’ve seen veteran interviewers fail at this, so make sure you consistently practice this.

Now, you may have prepared questions ahead of time, which is a really good idea, especially if there is some specific information you want to get because it is REALLY easy to forget things while your interviewing. So write down the important questions, and make sure you review them throughout the interview. HOWEVER, do not just focus on the questions, and jump to the next question as soon as the person finishes their answer. REALLY LISTEN to what the person is saying, Look for cues to deeper stories and insights. People love to bury the lede, so your job as an interviewer is to dig. them. up. And you can only do that if you’re listening closely.

Interviews can take a long time, so be aware of how both you and your interviewee are feeling. You may need some water, a snack, or even just a pee break. So check in every once in a while.

Finally, interviewing can be an intense experience requiring some extra emotional care afterwards, both for your interviewee and yourself. If some gnarly stuff has been brought up, thank your interviewee for being so vulnerable with you, and ask if they have some support if they need it. Then make sure you yourself take some time if you need it. As a highly empathic person, when someone tells me a story I really experience their emotions, and if I’m not careful I will carry that with me. So I’ll take some time to release that energy from my body. It can be a simple as breathing deeply in a quiet space and imaging the experience flowing out of me, or if its really intense I may need to cry for a little while. Just don’t ignore what you might be feeling because- and I’m about to go bio-nerd on you here- your feelings represent the hormones that are flowing through your body at any moment, and hormones are powerful chemicals that can adversely affect your physiology if not managed. Short-term unmanaged hormones can lead to illness or reduced productivity, long-term unmanaged hormones can lead to some significant diseases. So it behooves you to be aware of your emotions, and practice self-care accordingly.

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