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Why Sending Questions Before an On-Camera Interview Will Ruin Your Video

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In a previous article, I provided some advice and tips about avoiding classic on-camera interview mistakes. One of them had to do with prepping an interview subject.

Some content marketers feel compelled to send questions to an interview subject beforehand, especially when that person is asking for them. They think it's the right thing to do.

But as much as you want to do it, let me reassure you that you should never send questions before conducting an on-camera interview.

The rationale boils down to three basic principles:

  1. An on-camera interview is not just about the words a person says, but how they say them. (Click to tweet.)
  2. If you send questions before an on-camera interview, you will miss the opportunity to capture a genuine emotional response. (Click to tweet.)
  3. Triggering emotion is what gets people to share content online. (Click to tweet.)

Once you send the questions, you've just ruined that opportunity for an on-camera emotional response. It's gone. You're never going to get it back.


Nobody thinks sending the questions beforehand will hurt. The person sending the questions thinks it's the best way to "prepare," but it can truly ruin the video.

The person sending the questions is not the person producing the video. As a producer, it's frustrating to look at footage of an interview of completely rehearsed and passionless answers. The transcript of the video may have all the right words, but when presented in video sans emotion, the interview can fall flat.

When interview subjects prepare too much, they simply don't have the opportunity to give emotional responses.

Watch this episode of Content Marketing Tips, and you'll see an example of an interview that has such intense emotional responses that the words barely matter. How each person responds says everything. I have no doubt that the producer never would have gotten those visceral responses if the questions were sent out in advance.

If you like this video and want to see more, subscribe to Content Marketing Tips on YouTube.


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David Spark is the founder of the B2B tech content marketing firm Spark Media Solutions. For content marketing tips, subscribe to his YouTube channel and listen to his podcast, Tear Down Show.

Twitter: @dspark

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  • by Marcia Yudkin Thu Sep 21, 2017 via web

    Hi David,

    Thanks for sharing your opinion. However, I found this unconvincing, for several reasons.

    1)It depends on your audience whether or not they find emotion key to persuasion. For some audiences, particularly introverts, emotion without content - as in the examples in your video here - is largely or completely uninteresting, uninformative and unpersuasive.

    2)You're assuming that emotion is the key to "virality" and that everyone wants their videos to go viral. Some videos need to be informative rather than emotional, or both informative and emotional, and the test of their success is not how many millions of people watched and shared but rather whether the intended audience was engaged enough to take a next step, such as requesting a demo, opting in or making a purchase.

    3)I've conducted thousands of interviews for print articles in the last 30 years and have found that even if people get questions ahead of time, you can easily trigger interesting revelations, useful insights and surprising experiences shared by asking follow-up questions to the responses given to those ahead-of-time questions. The questions become the spine of a conversation in which your respondent may feel more at ease and more spontaneous because they prepared to a certain extent.

    4)Preparation enables interviewees to provide specific anecdotes, facts, figures and examples that often can flesh out the interview much better than sheer emotion. Many people cannot think up good supporting reasons for their point of view or remember key incidents on the spot.

  • by David Spark Fri Sep 22, 2017 via web

    Marcia:

    Thanks for watching, reading, and responding.

    I hear you on all your responses, but the key that differentiates our viewpoints is you're saying that you've conducted 1000s of interviews for PRINT. I have conducted interviews for print and video and they are two completely different animals. I wrote another article on Forbes where I showed another example of a generic event marketing video in comparison to the one I used in my video.
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidspark/2017/08/24/why-you-should-never-send-questions-before-conducting-an-on-camera-interview/

    I argue the one that is focused on emotions leaves behind so much intrigue and mystery that the viewer is more compelled to go. The other one you've seen a million times before. It describes every single event ever and obviously people were told what the question was before the cameras were turned on.

    It's extremely difficult to capture a moment of compelling emotion on video. Information is easy to get. Heck, I can look it up and hire a voice over talent to read it for me. I've conducted thousands of interviews on camera and there's no doubt that those moments of emotion that I try so hard to catch is what sells the video. The reason I wrote this article is I have so many clients who believe it's the right thing to do to send the questions beforehand. I beg them not to, but they often do it anyway because they think it will make the video better. In general, most people know the overall topic of a video and can handle a response. I've never had a situation where I'm interviewing an expert and they're devoid of any information. But I've had plenty of situations where people are overly prepared and they come off as emotionless and unconvincing even though they know the material.

    For more, check out any of the "man on the street" style videos I've produced. I've produced about 150 and I never tell anyone what the question is. That's why I always get really fun and startling answers.
    http://www.sparkmediasolutions.com/man-on-the-street-videos/

  • by Mark Wed Oct 4, 2017 via web

    Finding emotion isn't really linked to when you give your talent the questions David. I'd say it's the energy from the interviewer or director of the production that makes a difference. Many times talents are not prepared and then they give long-winded answers and don't come to the point during a shoot and later it's difficult to edit. In this case, the interviewer or director can still try and steer where the conversation is going but it's rude to interrupt the speaker and it appears to be very pushy or propaganda driven too.

    Usually, we share a couple of questions with the talent, give them an idea of the duration in terms of words, seconds, sentences for the length of their answers and give them examples of stories from other industries to help them get an idea of what they'd really want to say.

    When it's about passion. People are truly passionate about what they do. It's about asking the right questions. Not about when you ask them. Typically, talents would have told that story to many people before and go through a journey of refining these stories.

    Sorry to disrespectfully disagree but it's not a very bright idea to surprise a talent at an interview.

  • by David Spark Wed Oct 4, 2017 via web

    Mark:

    We obviously have two very different production styles. You say it's "not a bright idea" to withhold questions. Most journalists who do on-camera interviews would agree with me. Go ahead and ask around. When I was working in television that's where I learned this philosophy of interviewing and production.

    Yes, with preparation you will get the correct information. But you will not SEE visible reactions. Sure, my interviewees will know the general subject, but they won't know the questions. And when I do "man on the street" videos they won't know even the subject. Regardless, I don't ask questions for which I don't think my subject can answer. Trying to trick them is not the goal. The goal is to see how they respond to the question. If they know the questions already what's the point of putting them on video? Let's just write out a transcript and be done with it. I also don't want to make my subjects look bad. And I know if they're too prepared, they'll look stiff, and they'll look bad.

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