When you report for audio or video, you’ll save a lot of time by making a crucial decision at the outset: will the piece run as a series of questions and answers, or as a report with clips of the interviewee inserted throughout? Once decided, different strategies apply.
Audio and video Q&As are unlike anything done in print, and take practice to do well. For best results:
- Choose your interviewee carefully. Interviewees with media experience are more likely to respond concisely, avoid jargon, and know what to do if they slip up or don’t understand a question.
- Consider a pre-interview. Pre-interviews will save you a lot of time in editing and production, and will make your interviewee more comfortable. However, you’ll lose some of the interviewee’s energy and expressiveness — his or her authenticity — because he or she will know what to expect during the actual interview.
- Organize your questions, especially with scientists. Like a story, a Q&A should have a structure, and that structure depends on the order of your questions. Start with questions about the context of the subject of the interview, move to specifics introduced by your interviewee’s responses, delve into any specifics avoided by your interviewee (here, your preparation is key), and conclude with questions that put those specifics back into context. Focused, organized questions typically keep scientists from delving too far into the depths of their knowledge, but you still may have to interrupt and move on to the next question.
- Question concisely, listen quietly. Your producer, audience, and interviewee will be distracted by rambling questions, unnaturally fast or slow speech, or “ums” and “uh-huhs.”
- Listen and respond, especially with scientists. In many ways, a Q&A is like a conversation, and should sound that way to your listeners, so follow up on or at least acknowledge interesting answers; otherwise, interviewees may repeat themselves, thinking you missed it the first time around.
- Keep an eye on the time. Whether the interview is live or recorded, keep within your allotted time. It makes editing easier, and your producer happy.
If the piece you’re doing will be your own report with inserted clips of interviewees:
- Wreck the standard Q&A structure, especially with scientists. Start the interview with specific questions about the new results, then move on to background and context. Demonstrating interest in and familiarity with the interviewee’s work will build trust, and likely make them sound more energetic and excited throughout the interview. As needed and throughout the interview, ask your interviewee to rephrase your questions as part of his or her answers so that they will express a complete thought. If an interviewee seems exasperated by a question, answered too awkwardly or too technically, come back to that question later in the interview and ask it again.
- Attend to intonation. If it doesn’t sound good, it isn’t a good clip (if a video clip doesn’t look good, you can use the audio with background footage, called “B-roll,” but there’s no such workaround for bad audio). Pay attention to the interviewee’s intonation, listening for distracting anomalies like upspeak (when a sentence sounds like a question), and re-ask questions if necessary.
- Consider collaboration, especially with scientists. Enlist your interviewee in the cause of clear communication. If interviewees use a lot of unnatural hand gestures or facial expressions in a video interview, for example, or use scientific jargon that won’t make sense to your audience, explain why their behavior won’t work for the format and gently coach them to change it.