5 Tips to Make Interview Talent Less Nervous
Comfortable talent is talent that makes for a great interview.
It’s an established fact that interviews can bring out big emotions on both sides of the camera – a pro tip is using pre-interviews to ease the nerves for everyone, and help make the primary interview go smoothly. Without the help of pre-interviews, when the big day rolls around, there’s a good chance that nerves can get the better of your subject – and understandably so! Here are a few tips for making your talent more comfortable and less nervous in front of the bright lights.
1. Chat Before the On-Camera Chat
This seems obvious, but small talk before the real talk can make a huge difference in the quality of the interview. Greet the talent at the door and do whatever it takes to make them feel welcome and relaxed. Idle chitchat can be soothing, but feel free to tread some ground that you laid during the pre-interview as a refresher.
A brief tour of the set and demonstration of what is happening can help as well. Sometimes, the bright lights and boom mics can be a shock to someone unaccustomed to them, so making the unknown known can ease the mind. Reassure them that even though it looks like a big production, it’s still just two people having a conversation. Empathize with their situation: A simple “I never get used to the lights, either,” can make them feel less alone in the spotlight. And in my case – that’s a very true statement.
Have snacks and beverages ready, and consider reaching out the night before to see what treats prefer, get their drink order, etc. If I walked up to an interview and you had a very cold Diet Coke ready and waiting — bonus if it’s with no judgment for my bubbly aspartame addiction— I’d be a very happy camper.
2. Make Sure Your Crew Is Complete
Obviously, you have to make do with what your budget allows, but the less you (the interviewer) have to do on set, the more you can concentrate on making your talent comfortable and knocking the interview out of the park. If you’re running around setting up lights, adjusting chair heights, etc., you’re adding stress that your talent will notice and feed off of.
Anxiety is contagious, so let your crew kick the set stress back and forth. Ideally, you’ll have at least three people on the crew: The producer or director (you, if we’re lucky!), a camera operator who can handle the camera, lights and other set issues, and a third hand to help with whatever needs helping. This is bare minimum. Early in my career I would take solo gigs, and I can say with extreme confidence that both the production value and the stories suffered.
3. Keep the Convo Rolling Without Obviously Rolling
The word “Action!” can jerk someone out of their comfort zone and instantly remind them that they’re supposed to be nervous. So…don’t say it. If possible, don’t let your talent know you’re rolling at all. If you can keep your idle chitchat rolling the whole time you’re getting the talent situated, you could be well into the interview before they even realize it.
But this means that you and your camera operator need to have a secret language. Devise a signal so the crew can roll video and check audio while your talent is distracted with whatever you’re doing or saying. Come up with a second signal so the crew can let you know that all systems are go. With practice, you should be able to roll right into your “real” questions without your subject even realizing they’re live. That’s the magic of cinema!
4. Looks Are Everything
With your crew handling the other stuff around the set, you can focus on the talent. This matters because your constant attention will put them at ease. Fuss over their looks; even if they look perfect (the lighting is dead-on and every hair is in place), find something to adjust so they know you’re looking out for them. This is a great habit for an interviewer because you’ll be extra ready when the talent actually does need adjustment.
Have a comb, some powder and a brush at the ready, showing them that you’re ready to jump in the second the sweat starts shining. Assure them that they can move naturally because your eagle eye is looking out for stray earrings or unruly cowlicks. All they have to do is be themselves and have a conversation.
Confident talent is good talent, and knowing one looks good makes one confident.
5. Nothing Is Set in Stone
Assure your talent that this is no longer a one-take world. If they flub an answer or stumble over a tongue thick with nerves, it ain’t no thing! We can redo it as long as time allows. Make it very clear that you’ll ask one question at a time and they don’t have to nail an answer the first time. If they know they don’t have to be perfect, they’re more likely to be perfect. Weird how that works!
Also, ease their mind by telling them that this interview will be transcribed as well as filmed. That way they know that every word of every take will be exactly as they said it.
On camera, comfort is king. If the talent is comfortable with you, with the set, and with the knowledge that your entire job is making them look and sound great, their nerves will fade and their confidence will soar — and you’ll be confident that you’ll have a great interview.