It’s always the first thing we get asked ahead of an interview, but we almost never give the interviewee the questions in advance.
Certainly in the corporate world, that does sound a bit counter-intuitive, after all we should want the interviewee to be relaxed, prepared and word perfect when they’re on camera.
However, after almost 20 years of doing this in news, features and for marketing, usually the opposite is the case.
And, here’s why…
Putting everyone at ease
From the moment the interviewee walks into the room, the interview has started. It’s not being recorded, but this is one of the most important parts of the day.
The interviewer will already be asking gentle questions, to put the interviewee’s mind into gear and testing what kind of answers they’re likely to give.
It should seem really informal and light, and that’s the plan, because this is a soft rehearsal and a chance to introduce the interviewee to the team, the lights and the cameras surrounding them.
So, once the cameras start rolling, it’ll be less of a shock to the system.
From the moment the interviewee walks into the room, the interview has started.
My mind went blank
The reason for all of this, is because interviews can be scary, cameras more so and they can really mess with your head.
How many times have you gone into a job interview or an exam and completely blanked? How many times have you seen MPs completely muck up an answer that they’d clearly pre-prepared?
This is why it’s best not to have the questions.
Some people have great memories and can recite the quote word-for-word, but they tend to do so almost robotically and that doesn’t come across very well.
Others will start well and then get lost and you’ll see in their eyes how they’re struggling to remember what they’re supposed to say next. Or they’ll stutter their way through out.
This looks even worse, because it suggests the interviewee doesn’t know their subject at all.
For us, as journalists, the questions really don’t matter. What matters is the answers.
So, really the pressure isn’t on the interviewee at all, they should know their subject matter inside out. The pressure is on the interviewer to ensure they get the correct answers.
That means listening and responding to the answers, or rephrasing a question in different ways, to ensure that we get best answer.
This is a key reason why we don’t (and usually can’t) hand over the questions in advance. We haven’t written them all, the journalist will arrive at the studio knowing what answers they need, but not necessarily having specific questions prepared.
So what advice can we give?
If you’re uncertain of anything, ask;
Chat to the production team, it’ll feel less daunting;
Know your subject;
Think of it as a conversation, not an interview;
Speak with passion;
Don’t act to the cameras;
If you can’t answer the question (and it’s a corporate video), tell the interviewer, don’t stumble through it;
Finally, the look…
Always double check with the producer or PR team about outfits, hair and makeup and if you’re worried, bring a second outfit, to make sure.
It’s not just the style of clothes, it’s also the colour scheme – so you’re portraying the correct image, but also standing out against the background.