Not Just Another Talking HeadMay 24, 2011
“Excuse me, do you have a moment to tell us your thoughts on….?”
At some point, walking down a busy city street, we’ve all looked up at the sound of a question like this one, to see a camera pointed in our direction and a reporter with a microphone at the ready. Sometimes, we even stop to give our two cents on whatever the hot button issue of the day is before walking off and texting friends and family to keep an eye out for our cameo on the six-’o-clock news.
Whether we’ve spilled a wealth of information on the topic at hand to the nodding reporter, or shrugged our shoulders and moved along, what many of us may not realize is that the quality of the soundbyte hanging in the balance has everything to do with how the question is framed.
This is the fine art of the interview and it is an essential skill for anyone who uses video as a medium of communication, whether you have a background in journalism or are working as a behind-the-scenes researcher for a documentary film. Video is a medium that can provide us with visual story-telling at its best and knowing how to draw out the curves and lines of that narrative in well-constructed, insightful interviews can be the hook that holds your audience.
Here are some basic tips for building your interviewing skills and getting the most out of an interview subject:
- Do your research and know your topic. This allows you to frame questions that are going to be the most insightful and of interest to your viewers. They will also lead to the most detailed, meaningful answers from the person you are interviewing.
- Always ask open-ended questions. Why, how, what? This is probably the single most important piece of advice for reporters/videographers and starting out, it’s often the most overlooked. There’s nothing more detrimental to the quality of the story you are trying to tell than shutting down an interview by asking close-ended ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ questions. There’s also nothing more rewarding than opening that vein into the heart of a story through a strong line of questioning. Here’s a great example from the Poynter Institute on the power of open-ended questions.
-Avoid leading and opinionated questions. As human beings our beliefs and opinions make up the framework of how we view the world and interact with others. As a reporter/videographer being able to set aside our own pretexts can be challenging but necessary to getting to the truth of a story and telling it the way it should be told. As interviewers we should never use a line of questioning to mold a story to coincide with our own assumptions and beliefs. Impartiality is key.
-Sometimes silence really is golden. Because really, what’s a story without someone there to listen to it? Again, the Poynter Institute sums it up best. Next time you’re conducting an interview and the person you’re speaking with finishes talking, don’t say anything….and see what happens. Nine times out of ten, as the silence spins out, your subject will start speaking again. And it’s usually in those moments where the gems lie.
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