The preinterview – a key step in preparing for a video biography interview.

One of the keys to a successful video biography interview lies in preparation – doing your homework, if you will. And one of the best ways to ready yourself, and your storyteller, for that all-important on-camera interview is to start your prep work with a preinterview. What’s a preinterview? As the name implies, it’s the interview before the interview. In other words, an interview you conduct with your storyteller before the actual shoot-day.

A preinterview takes the form of a casual conversation between you and the storyteller. It’s a opportunity for the two of you to meet and to build a rapport that will help your storyteller feel comfortable on camera. Very importantly, the preinterview gives you the chance to hear your storyteller’s life stories and to use the information you learn to construct questions that will elicit those stories on camera.

A preinterview is also a great time to explore – if an interesting memory surfaces during your conversation, feel free to ask about it and see where it takes your storyteller. You could dig up some very interesting remembrances that will surprise and delight your storytellers and their families.

In addition to helping you prepare questions, you’ll walk into the videotaping session knowing your storyteller’s background. If the storyteller gives you an incomplete answer while the camera is rolling, you’ll know it – and you’ll be able to ask a follow-up question to help fill in the rest of the picture.

The process is simple. Just schedule a time that’s convenient for your and your storyteller (you may or may not need multiple sessions). Come prepared with a pen and lots of paper for note-taking. If you don’t want to rely entirely on written notes, a small audio recorder is a great backup that will help you review the session at a later date. Then, start asking questions – and don’t forget to take notes!

In addition to helping you collect the background information you need to conduct a successful interview, a preinterview often helps “jump start” a storyteller’s thought processes. He or she will often remember additional stories in the time between the preinterview and the taping.

So do your homework and conduct a preinterview as you prepare for your next video biography interview. You’ll be glad you did.

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