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We hire actors from time to time. The good ones turn up on time, know their lines, and respond to artful direction. Does that sound like your typical executive before a corporate video shoot? Probably not….

“I’ve only got a minute”, “What are we doing again?” or the one guaranteed to make my scalp flinch “What do you want me to say?” are too often the first things we hear.

So how do you rescue an interview from the vagaries of human nature?

Don’t write scripts
If you’re writing a brief for someone else unless they have a few years of amdram notched up under their belt or blouse, please don’t write scripted answers and expect them to learn it all. They invariably won’t and when they try to, the excruciating moment when it all goes dead as they look to the heavens and try to recall the words kills their delivery. 2 to 3 bullet points maximum per subject area are all that’s needed for a good video answer. Follow this advice too if you are preparing yourself. It’s a good discipline to stick to bullets.

Worry about the answers not the questions
The best prep is to work up talking points to subject areas and leave which questions to ask to the video producer. This also brings in 3). If we know what’s important to the client we can keep asking variations of the question until we hear all the important points you want to get across. If we’re handed a list of questions to ask we’ve got no real idea if the answers are any good for your needs.

Share the speaker notes
We’re all on the same side. Specifically, you hire us to make your company look good. This isn’t Paxman vs Michael Howard. So… please share the speaker notes. If we know what’s important to you then we can make sure it gets asked and in extremis we can feed the line back to the interviewee as a suggestion for their answer.

Give everyone time
There’s a minimum of 5 minutes from an interviewee walking through the door to the camera being able to roll on the first answer. The shot needs personalising – camera heights adjusted, mic the interviewee up, lighting sorted, reflections from glasses etc. Then there is the interview and quite possibly time for re-doing a couple of the answers. When scheduling we always say an absolute minimum of 30 minutes between interviews and one an hour is better. It’s a good idea to plan to turn up 5 minutes before your allotted interview time just to take in the scene and help get in the zone.

No autocue
No, you can’t have one. There’s a reason Fiona Bruce earns wages big enough to buy a house each year. Autocue performance is a harder skill to master than you think (see actors above). In the case of highly, highly complianced addresses to camera we will relent and bring one but for everyone else, sorry but no. It absolutely kills the performance and makes you sound more wooden than a cabinet minister trying to defend the indefensible.

Run through if you have time
It never hurts to open your mouth and listen to yourself have a go at answering the questions. But the best practice is getting someone else to play the interviewer as that will crank up the pressure closer to exam conditions. A good interview is just a conversation, but it never hurts to run through what you want to say. Just don’t try and learn lines rote.

It isn’t over until…
…The b-roll is done. Your interview is in the can (the metaphorical film storage container rather than down the toilet, we hope) but you’re not finished yet. There’ll be visuals needing for the editing process. That could be something pre-planned later in the day, such as filming a meeting, or if we’re not due to meet again it’ll need to be something there and then. An ad hoc chat with a colleague, walking through the office or tapping away on your computer are all common b-roll shots. It doesn’t really matter what they are, as long as you are in them. Ideally the activity we film will be in some way related to what you’ve been talking about in your interview.

A few days beforehand
This is the time to prepare. We suggest writing down a couple of bullet points for each major topic in the interview. This isn’t script to memorise! Just key points you want to have ready in your head. This is also the time to gather any other collateral materials relate to the story at hand.

Morning of the filming
Think “job interview” smart. Clean, pressed shirt/blouse, tidy hair. Pale or solid colour shirts work best. Very vivid colours and fine patterns don’t look good on camera, so avoid herringbone type designs. The microphone will be clipped on a couple of inches below your neck, so avoid things which make noise at the neckline. Typical problems are big chunky necklaces and earrings or big scratchy sweaters.

Five minutes before
Give yourself time. Arrive 5 minutes early and just take in the scene. It’s far better to arrive a few minutes ahead and have a chance to prepare than arrive late and flustered. It can feel like you never catch up with yourself. Calmness is an appealing characteristic on camera and it’s hard to appear calm if you’re rushing.

One minute before
Really this is just to advise you that interviews never start exactly when you expect them to! Once you are seated (or standing) “in shot” there will be about five minutes of work to “fine tune” things before we start recording. Adjustments to the lights and camera position will be made and the microphone will be clipped on to you and we’ll ask you to say a few sentences so we can match the settings to how you speak – being asked what you had for breakfast is a common question used to get you talking.

The interview
It will probably take around 15-20 minutes to get through the interview. People often want to know how they should answer. Just be yourself and we will do the rest. As we aren’t “live” there is no time constraint or requirement for news-style 20 second soundbite answers. Just answer the questions as you would to a friend. If you find yourself giving an answer that you don’t like just stop and we’ll do it again. First and foremost this is a conversation between us so don’t worry about trying to play a part. Authenticity is the key to a good performance.

After the interview
The other thing we need after the formal interview are some shots of you at work. This can be at your desk or in a meeting with colleagues. It will be in a location away from where the interview took place and we won’t be asking you questions. It is purely so that we can observe with the camera and get more shots of you to use during the editing process.

Mahne Creative Media is an independent specialist media production agency operating. We pride ourselves on the quality of our storytelling. We unlock the heart of the story to connect and engage target audiences through video, podcasts and training. Mahne Creative Media is the content producer management consultancies turn to when they need to stand out from their competition.