If you were asked to use three words to describe a formula for conducting a successful interview, which ones would you pick? For me, it’s Truth, Trust and Time. They are all in play before, during and after an interview.
Everyone wants to be respected in a relationship. And that’s what we are doing every time we interview someone. We are building a relationship and the goal is to share what needs to be revealed.
It’s more than learning just the facts and it’s totally subjective. Truth is gained from having genuine curiosity about the subject or story you have chosen. It’s hidden in the details of what people really want to tell you. Learn to recognize it. Ask the hard question, but do it with respect. It’s what your audience really wants to know. A person’s truth, and they’re all unique, is what’s behind their actions and behavior.
It’s something that, of course, needs to be earned. If you’re lucky, you may have days or even weeks to get know your subject. But sometimes it’s less than an hour. So find something in common. Offer details of your own life when relevant. Even resort to small talk, do whatever is needed and break any ice that’s preventing you from connecting with subject.
If you have the luxury, meet your subject for the first time without your camera. We are immune to the idea of cameras being a threat, but for some it’s an intrusion. And any kind of threat, and it could be as simple as being present and photographing a delicate moment (before trust is gained), is a guaranteed way to lose your interview. Spend time to engage your subject. Be honest, be open and you’ll find the time that’s needed is reduced.
In the end, this is not about the interview process or a method to make your subject comfortable on camera. It’s about remembering that your subject is just like you and deserves a certain kind of honesty that’s reserved for intimate occasions, which is really what interviews are.