Barbara Walters Interview Techniques for Corporate Video

While Barbara Walters interviewed dignitaries and movie stars, your corporate video interview subjects are celebrities to your video audience. One of the best techniques for producing videos is the interview. The viewer is in the room and seeing the interview subject up close. You audience becomes part of the conversation. They not only hear what is being said, they have a unique, close-up view of facial expressions and other nonverbal behaviors. Let’s examine some of Barbara Walters’ interview questions and techniques to see how you may apply them to corporate video interviews.


Walters said that her research is so extensive that she sometimes knows more about the interview subjects than they know about themselves. While corporate video interviews need not be confrontational, the conversation will have impact if the questions are based on research about the subject.

Read what has already been written about the interview subject. Go to their LinkedIn page, Google them, perhaps they have their own website or their organization’s website may have their bio. Search other social media such as YouTube and Facebook. Perhaps they have written journal articles or even wrote their own book. Colleagues may be available for a brief phone call or email to learn more about your interview subject.

Write the Right Questions

Walters says that she uses index cards with printed questions. You can organize your cards or notepad around subjects and themes. You are creating a story with your questions and the answers. Just as you want to capture the attention of your viewers in an article or a video script, consider starting the interview with a question or two that hooks your audience to want more.

Avoid “yes” or “no” questions; keep them open-ended. You can use a phrase such as “tell me about…” or “what do you think about….”  Have backup questions if the answer is not clear or becomes long-winded. If you are producing a short video, you may want to ask for a “sound bite” which is a brief, concise sentence. Do the video editor a favor by asking for an answer in a complete sentence. Your final video may not include your interview questions—only the answers.

You are creating a story with your questions and answers. Your audience gets a deeper understanding of the interview subjects if they answer your questions in the form of a narrative. You may get lucky, and they will continue with their stories without you having to ask all your questions. If they go off on a tangent, you can gently guide them back to the subject. If they go blank, first try to sit with the silence with the hope that their memory will jump in. Or go on to the next question. 

Conducting the Interview on Camera

 (From Stu Sweetow’s book, Corporate Video Production, Chapter 12, Interview Techniques)

If you have a chance to meet with the guest in advance, offer a little coaching (with his or her agreement) on how to answer questions in complete sentences. Explain that in postproduction your questions may be removed, and the guests’ answers need to stand alone. 

Before you both walk onto the set, try to loosen up your guest with some small talk. Make sure the crew has offered him or her a noncarbonated soft drink or a light snack. Confirm that the guest does not have a crooked tie or that their hair is out of place. Do what you can to help him or her feel comfortable.

Ask them to avoid technical terminology unless the viewers will understand it. Show your interest in the topic; smile, raise your eyebrows and nod your head. Sincere visual cues from you can set the tone for the guest to express his or her own enthusiasm.

At the start of the interview, you may have an opportunity to introduce the guest and the topic of discussion. Rehearse this prior to the scheduled time of the interview and before the guest arrives; you don’t want to draw attention away from your guest. Let the guest know in advance that you will start the interview by looking at the camera and introducing him or her. Explain time constraints, if any, and let the guest know if the interview will be divided into segments where he or she may take breaks.

“A skilled interviewer can ask questions in such a way as to draw out information from even the most reticent person. The well-prepared and personable interviewer can create a lively dialog, even from dry material.” – Professor John Craft, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.
For more information go to Corporate Video Production, Chapter 12, The Interview Format.

Your first question to your guest could be a simple one or about an element of the subject that the guest is passionate about. He or she will enjoy answering that question, and it could help establish rapport. Gradually introduce more difficult questions and eventually, if appropriate, controversial questions. Avoid any questions that are too long, too detailed, or are really two or more questions in one. Make sure your guest understands the question; if he or she appears confused, stop the camera and clarify the query. Offer to go to another question that he or she is more familiar with.

During the interview, try to maintain as much eye contact as comfortable. When your guest answers your question, rather than looking at your notes for the next question, look at and listen to your guest. Employ such active listening techniques as summarizing and restating key points, as well as giving nods and smiles. Your animated reactions to the guest’s comments help make the interview a dynamic dialog that further involves the audience.

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