Talking Heads add credibility and authenticity to your Business Video
Talking Head Video is a common term used to describe a head-and-shoulders shot of a person talking directly to the audience, by either looking right into the camera, or slightly off to one side, interview style. It’s a great way to inform and educate your audience, while providing an authentic face that the viewer can relate to.
In recent years talking-head videos have become very popular, not only in business videos, but extensively in Social Media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Unfortunately, most believe that all you need for an engaging video is a speaker and a camera. The result is often a self-indulgent, run-on video of nothing but moving lips and blinking eyes. Boring. And ineffective.
Our core team has over 40 years of experience producing top network productions and corporate video communications for some of the biggest global brands. We’ve featured top CEOs and everyday people in talking-head segments. From our perspective, here’s what it takes to produce professional, engaging, effective talking-head business videos.
You can’t tell a great story without great storytellers
What’s more important, the story or the storyteller? In our opinion, it’s the storyteller. Even a somewhat boring story can be brought to life by an engaging, authentic, passionate storyteller. The reverse doesn’t hold.
Today’s viewers crave authenticity, for even the biggest brands. And you cannot create authenticity by relying on narrators to carry your message. You need real people, executives, machinists, miners, consultants, and service representatives to represent your brand.
I know what you’re thinking. The people in your organization aren’t captivating storytellers. But here’s the secret: the right interview setting, process, and questions can turn everyday employees into compelling storytellers.
How to turn your team into great storytellers
#1: Don’t micromanage the Script
Great soundbites and stories are uncovered during the interview process, rarely during scriptwriting. That’s why we prefer the unscripted interview process. We know in advance the general direction of the conversation, and the overall message we need, but we are “fishing” for the most interesting anecdotes and individual perspectives that the interviewee can provide. That results in credible, authentic, passionate soundbites.
The alternative is to use a scripted process. The interviewee knows in advance the exact soundbites needed. Unfortunately, most interviewees get nervous and “seize up” in the process. Even big-brand CEOs can get self-conscious and flustered when the words don’t come together as planned. The result is often stilted soundbites, and a body language that is anything but comfortable.
If a scripted interview is the only option (for example, you only have access to the interviewee for a very short time, or when you need an exact soundbite), then the use of a teleprompter is a good option (see below). However, unless well directed, using a teleprompter process can result in a less authentic-looking video interview.
#2: Create the right setting
The setting has to make the interviewee look and sound great. Otherwise you’ll have trouble getting that individual (or other individuals in that organization) back into the interview chair. Every employee, especially executives, wants to look stellar in front of their peers, customers, and family.
Remove distractions and interference. The room location needs to be quiet (no AC or background noise, for example), and without disruption from fellow employees. Overhead lighting and window lighting need to be controllable. Frame the scene carefully to avoid visual distraction around the interviewee. Tune the three-point interview lighting, stage the props, test the sound. At OPV we like to set up 45 minutes prior to the interviewee arriving, so that everything is ready to go as soon as the interviewee is ready. Fidgeting with the set-up during the interview will unsettle the interviewee.
If all you can find is a quiet room, but not a location that is visually appealing, consider using a “Green-Screen” backdrop. This allows you to close-crop around the interviewee in post-production, and replace the background with something both relevant and attractive.
There are two approaches to positioning the subject relative to the main camera. Looking “down the lens” is a more intimate, personal, and direct method of delivering the message. This means the interviewer has to be positioned quite close to the camera, but across the lens’ axis from the subject. The effect is that the interviewee is speaking directly to the audience. The other option, looking “off-camera”, the subject literally looks off-camera to the interviewer, who is positioned about 15% or more off the camera lens axis. This gives the impression that the subject is speaking to the interviewer, not the audience, and so this approach is often less intimate and compelling.
#3: Put the Interviewee at ease
You can imagine the fear in most interviewees prior to the interview. “What if I seize-up? What if I look and sound unprofessional? What will this do to my career?”.
First, have a brief conversation with the interviewee the same day she or he has been selected for the interview. Review the process, and the general topics. Explain how you plan to make it easy and fun. And guarantee that you will not publish the video without first allowing them to review and approve the selected footage.
On the day of the interview, it is the interviewer’s job to greet the interviewee. Small talk. Ask them personal questions to get them talking, and at ease. Review the process. Inject some light humour. Get them comfortable by assuring them that you will allow as many retakes as required to get it right. Make it clear that your #1 objective is to make them look and sound great.
#4: Have an experienced Interviewer
As in television, the interviewer has to know the right questions to ask. In the right order. And the interviewer has to know how to quickly “pivot” when a dead-end is reached, and another door opens in the conversation. The interviewer must be totally familiar with the organization and the subject matter to be effective in this role.
Keep in mind that it often takes a 30-minute interview to capture sufficient footage for one minute of high-impact video. A good interviewer will make that entire 30 minute interview process flow effortlessly.
#5: Have an editor that can weave a great storyline
It’s at the editing stage that the “magic” really happens. Once you have hundreds of potential sound-bites, it is now up to the editor and the director to weave together a powerful, fluid storyline. If you start out with too detailed a script, you might miss out on an even more compelling, parallel storyline.
From our experience, both the editor and director need to be intimately familiar with the subject matter to produce a powerful storyline that resonates with your audience.
#6: Capture sufficient B-roll to tell the story visually
B-roll is contextual video that supports the story visually. It delivers “eye-candy”, and makes the video more interesting to watch. The most common B-roll is of the interviewee “in action” in her or his work routine. Here’s best practice: Select B-roll that tells the story visually, even if the audio is turned off.
B-roll also allows the editor to cover the jump cuts that result when weaving a concise storyline from many individual clips. In our experience, it is not uncommon that 45 seconds of final footage is made up of 5-8 individual clips.
The tools to make your team look and sound great
For a professional interview, you’ll need at a minimum: 4K Camera with a fast (small f-stop) lens for low light sensitivity, three-point lighting kit, and a pro lavalier microphone (audio is 50% of the video).
Some video productions call for a second camera, at a slightly different angle from the first, to avoid annoying “jump cuts”, or to allow for one camera to deliver more intimate close-up.
Finally, don’t forget a simple makeup kit, to help mask unwanted skin reflections or “nervous sheen” on the subject.
Even though we prefer unscripted interviews, at On Point we always bring along a teleprompter should the interview turn scripted. Teleprompters allow the subject to read from a mirrored glass directly in front of the camera. The downside to this approach is that unless the interviewee is a seasoned professional, it may come across as stilted or fake as the subject will essentially be reading their script.
And watch it all come together
Take a look at StackTeck’s 2019 Corporate Video below. Most of the talking-head segments are based on unscripted interviews, which created the storyline for the original 2018 version of the video. For this updated 2019 version, we needed to add some scripted interviews (using a teleprompter).
Can you tell which interviews are scripted?
The Bottom Line
When word gets around how much fun it was to be interviewed, how efficiently the process was managed, and how professional the results are, people throughout the organization will volunteer to be part of the next video project. Keep in mind that motivated, relaxed interviewees deliver better on-camera interviews. It’s a virtuous cycle.
If you’re looking to add the power of interviews to your corporate and product videos, contact us at On Point Video.