How to get powerful off-camera interviews for your online video

There is lots of information here on HTWB about how to get good interviews for testimonials and other specific sales activities, whether on video, audio or in print. However using an interview approach for any type of documentary or business video is a very useful and credible way to tell a story – whether sales orientated or not.

How to get powerful interviews for your online video

What you need is a simple way of interviewing people that is comfortable for you (as the amateur interviewer) and them (as the twitchy interviewee.) Image with many thanks to Hosting Canada.

So here are some tips on how to get the results you need, whatever the purpose…

Make the online video interview process as simple as possible

It’s usual for interviewees to be nervous when there’s a spooky lens pointing at them.

And now that more and more people are making videos themselves, it’s not only the interviewee who is nervous; sometimes it’s the interviewer, as well. Plus the camera operator, especially when s/he is also the interviewer and the “camera” is a smartphone.

So the last thing you need is to try setting up interviews that worsen the problem. What you need, is a simple way of interviewing people that is comfortable for you (as the amateur interviewer) and them (as the twitchy interviewee.)

The answer? It’s called “off-camera interviews.”

The name is a bit misleading and I apologize. It’s very well known on the professional side of TV and video and I, as a pro video/TV interviewer for some years, carried out over 1,000 such interviews during my love affair with business vid/TV a while back which delightfully is being rekindled now via the Blabs and Google Hangouts of this world. Anyway, I digress.

You are familiar with the “off-camera interview” technique although you may not realize it, because this is one of the most commonly used techniques in news reporting and documentary broadcast TV.

Simply put, it means an interviewer stands next to the camera (operated by someone else); the interviewee stands a metre or so in front of them. The interviewer and the interviewee have a conversation while the camera eavesdrops. The interviewee does not  look at the camera lens – this makes him/her look shifty.

Benefits of the “off-camera interview” technique
**Interviewee soon forgets the camera is there and just talks normally to the interviewer
**Interviewer uses appropriate questions (see below) but relates normally and conversationally to the interviewee
**Ergo, interview becomes much more natural, relaxed and realistic

That’s it? What about online video technicalities?

There aren’t many. The only one that at all costs you must remember is this…

When you, as the interviewer, ask a question … ask it and then shut up.

The simple reason for this is that because although you are ostensibly having a normal conversation with your interviewee, the camera and its microphone are nowhere nearly as sophisticated as the human ear.

Consequently if you make the noises we commonly do when listening to someone – e.g. “yes,” “really?” “wow!” etc. – that will clutter the interviewee’s response with auditory crap which you can’t edit out afterwards. And that’s especially critical if you’re going out live on a Blab chat or other live streaming video channel.

What do you do to show you are listening and interested?

Use your face and head. Nod. Smile. Look intrigued. Widen your eyes.

Don’t overdo it, otherwise your interviewee will think you’re displaying the early symptoms of a neurological disease. Just do enough to keep the conversation flowing.

Other ways in which you can encourage the interviewee (and yourself) include having a good chat about the whole thing before you start, and walking him/her through what’s going to happen so they don’t trip over any surprises.

I always make fun of the camera operator and extract sympathy from my (off-camera) interviewee by saying we will totally ignore this small person with a camera in their face … poor chap/chapess who never gets any credit. It gives us a laugh and loosens tension. It also costs me expensive cocktails in the bar later when the camera operator extracts revenge.

And what questions should you ask for your online video?

More to the point, what questions should you not  ask?

Answer: any question that can be answered with a “yes” or a “no.”

Why? Because on a video the response can come across as stilted – and at worst it gives the interviewee a cue to stop. Not what you need.

Basically then, all your questions should begin with the good old journalist’s list of the following:


This funnels the interviewee into answers that are statements, which ideally is what you need, because your questions get cut out of the video. (Sorry.)

Also remember to ask one question at a time. And if you think that sounds like what a mere amateur would do, listen to some of the more up-themselves TV interviewers. They do it all the time, intimidating their interviewees and confusing their audiences.

Further reading on getting good online video interviews:

What can you blog about? Interviews
How to get good text based interviews for your blog or website
Tutorial: how to interview like a pro journalist, part one
Tutorial: how to interview like a pro journalist, part two
Business video: 20 flexible question prompts to make you a star

Some examples of questions that can evoke good responses

  • What was it that piqued your interest in XXX in the first place?
  • How did you first become aware of XXX and its importance to you?
  • Why do you feel so strongly about XXX?
  • Why is it so important is it to you that XXX goes ahead / does not go ahead?
  • How do you think XXX will affect YYY in the future?
  • Where do you feel XXX should be aiming for in the future?
  • Who do you think needs to take some serious action about XXX now?

And then some closers…

  • Overall, just how important do you feel it is for XXX to be YYY?
  • Of all the issues surrounding XXX, which do you feel are the most crucial?
  • In summary, then, what do you think is the only realistic way forward for XXX?
  • We’ve talked about many benefits XXX can provide. But which would you say is the  most important?
  • What message would you share with the people who really care about XXX?

Good luck with your next online video!

And let us know how you get on with it.