How to Plan an Engaging Virtual Interview
Virtual events and interviews are here to stay. And if you’re tapped to conduct an interview remotely, you’ve got a big task ahead of you. Prepping to host a virtual webinar or remote interview has some similarities with doing it live, but also some major challenges and differences. I’ll share a few common obstacles and how to solve them in this article.
- Curation is Key. One of the keys to a successful remote interview or panel is being sure you have the right person for that conversation. Just because someone is a subject matter expert, for example, does not make them a great interview subject, particularly in the virtual environment. Whenever possible, I pre-interview people—a “screen test” of sorts—via Zoom so that I can see if they will work well in a virtual environment. Some questions I want to answer during this brief 20-minute video call are:
- Is this person lively and engaging?
- Do they have good examples and stories to tell?
- Does their topic fit into a larger story arc for the panel or event?
- Will they need a lot of cueing for answers?
- Do they tend to go on too long in their answers? (Cutting off someone in a virtual interview is much more difficult than in a live event—you’ll have to literally interrupt them, which is not ideal, as opposed to using body language in a face-to-face setting).
- What Will the Audience See and Hear? Thinking through in advance what the audience will see and hear is critical to making any successful video content, but especially for virtual or livestreamed events. When your audience isn’t captive, they can easily switch the “channel” and consume some other content if yours isn’t compelling. So how can you convey the story and keep them engaged?
- Does the interviewee have good lighting, audio and camera setup? If you are not shipping a camera-in-a-box setup or having a local camera operator film the interview, you may need to rely on Skype or Zoom. Someone who looks like they are in the witness protection program will need your help to get their lighting better positioned for their face. I’m a fan of the Aperture M9 LED, the Fox Fury Rugo, and the Lume Cube Mini as affordable options that you can ship to an interview subject. I’m not a fan of ring lights, by the way, as they do make the “devil eye” look for most people, and don’t work well at all for those with glasses. For audio, I love my Saramonic lavalier. I have the Blink 500 because I can also pair it with my phone for social media recordings (if buying this system, be sure you get the correct version–there are ones for Android or iPhone). The MPOW headset is a decent low-cost choice, if you don’t mind a headset in your shot. Or the Rode smart lav if you prefer a lavalier. Remember that computers and drives have loud fans, so be sure your subject is as far away from them as is practical when you are ready to record.
- Does your “talent” have some visuals to share? What format are they in? If a Powerpoint, can you view slides in advance and make suggestions for what will be most engaging? (Often I suggest some top selects, and we can provide the entire deck as a downloadable resource for registered participants afterwards.)
- If this is a video interview rather than a panel discussion, will we have access to photos or video clips to intercut into the interview at a later date? Sometimes I will even have the interview talent record a side-angle shot of themselves with their phone for some of our questions and send that to me, so I have an angle to intercut with the primary shot. (Teach your interviewee to use WeTransfer.com or Hightail.com to share large files so they don’t eat up your Dropbox or Box drive space.)
- Be Prepared. As an interviewer, the pressure is always on us to be more prepared than the interviewee(s). Most importantly, we need to set the subject at ease, and ensure that they feel they are coming across well. Here are some ways to be sure you are prepared.
- Create a flow or outline for the conversation—one that will make sense for the audience and your event theme. Be sure to share it in advance with all panelists, including which questions or themes you are likely to ask which people (which is based on your pre-interview and research homework).
- Have at the ready a primary set of questions that follow your flow, but also a secondary set of questions ready to go in case the audience isn’t highly interactive.
- Teach less experienced interviewees how to speak directly to their camera, rather than to their screen. This will make an enormous difference in how the audience responds to them. And as interviewer, remember to do the same. I put a sticky note with a smiley face just below my web camera lens as a reminder. (For more tips, here’s a LinkedIn post I wrote about looking better on your next virtual call.)
- In a webinar format, be sure you take advantage of the “green room” feature and give panelists a custom link so that they can enter the webinar early, get a chance to chat with each other and with you. You can take this time to review the format and agreed-upon flow or outline, test microphones, adjust lighting, and be sure everyone’s internet connection is stable (turning off notifications—here’s how on a Mac and here’s how for Windows 10, disengaging Dropbox syncing, and disconnecting any VPN). And don’t forget to take a group screenshot for PR purposes!
Moderating virtual panels and conducting interviews in virtual settings can be challenging. But with these strategies, you can make the experience fun, engaging and rewarding for you, your interviewees and your audience. In a future article, I’ll get into the tech side of remote video recording. I’ll also be doing a post on how to get the audience engaged in a virtual panel discussion, so stay tuned!
Amy DeLouise is a digital media expert and producer/curator/moderator for virtual events.
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