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Qualitatively Speaking: Interviewing for the edit

Article ID:
March 2014, page 22
Michael Carlon

Article Abstract

Michael Carlon offers 10 tips to get the most from the videos of your qualitative interviews.

Editor's note: Michael Carlon is a qualitative partner in the New York office of research firm Hall and Partners.

Video clips and summary films are increasingly becoming key deliverables for qualitative research. While written reports are still popular, supplementing these findings with a video not only brings findings to life but the ease of sharing a video helps the results reach a wider audience who may not take the time to read a written report.

Today, just about every project I run has a video component as part of the deliverable. Over the years I have picked up 10 tips and tricks to successfully interview for the edit. I learned many of these by making mistakes along the way and my goal is for you to benefit from my experience to successfully build video into your core offerings.

1. When you are interviewing someone, patience is your friend, particularly when video is a deliverable. It is natural to become excited about what a participant is saying and add in a verbal comment (or some acknowledging sound) while a person is speaking. However, when you do that you may inadvertently interrupt someone’s quote. This is called stepping on a quote and it can be difficult to edit your interruptions out so that the participant’s sound bite is uninterrupted (and therefore more compelling). As you interview someone, be mindful of this and wait until they stop speaking before you ask a probing question or a follow-up. And, as hard as it may be, avoid the occasional “Mm-hmm” or the old “Okay, okay” while a person is speaking. Remember, they are the star, not you.

2. Along the same lines, don’t be afraid of silence. While it is natural to be uncomfortable with silence, brief silences can add a nice dramatic effect to a video. In addition, being patient with silence is one way to ensure a quote does not get stepped on.

3. If there are a few themes you need to capture on video, it is always a good idea to ask multiple questions that attempt to address the same theme. While this may feel repetitive, it will give the editor more options when putting together select clips for the final edit. If you are afraid that your interviewee may get frustrated answering similar questions, explain to them upfront that you will be asking similar questions during the interview because this helps you fully understand what they are saying. This will head off any frustration the participant may feel with repetition.

4. Try not to take notes on everything your interviewee is saying as, by doing so, you may miss an important sound bite. Instead, take notes on specific behaviors that they mention and create a checklist of each behavior. At an appropriate place during your interview, ask the participant to show you an example of this behavior. By capturing behavior on video, the editor can overlay that behavior as “b-roll” footage to bring the participant’s sound bite to life. See an example of this at

5. At the end of an in-home interview it is customary for moderators to open up the discussion so that any observers can ask some questions. We have found that asking the camera operator if he or she has any questions is not only polite but is also an effective way to make sure there are no sound bites that are missing. Oftentimes the camera operator is the one person who, in addition to the moderator, listens to and observes every single interview. They know what you are hunting for and, if given the chance, they can help you fill any holes in your story.

6. When doing in-home or on-location interviews, be sure to get some establishing shots to add some more flavor to your video. For example, these could include exterior shots of a participant’s house, the outside of a retail store, famous landmarks in the cities you are in, etc. Including these in your video will make it feel more personal and less clinical.

7. If your goal is to bring a segmentation study to life, interview three-to-five people per segment. While this may seem like overkill, you must take into consideration that although all participants may qualify for the study by passing a screener and/or an algorithm, the fact is, some participants are better than others. If you only have one or two participants to choose from who will represent a segment, your video may suffer. Additionally, if segments differ on key behaviors, be sure to capture examples of those behaviors on video so that they can be brought to life.

8. Budget for time-coded transcripts of each interview. The reason for this is threefold. First, knowing that you will be getting transcripts of each interview takes some pressure off of you as an interviewer because you can spend more time listening and less time writing. Second, you likely have a report to deliver at the end of the project and transcripts will help tremendously in that regard. Third, it is much easier to identify sound bites on paper than it is to watch tens of hours of video footage to identify select quotes. Embedded time codes will help the editor find your clips efficiently and, after all, time is money.

9. Insist on a video script before the first cut is put together. Revisions take time and it is easy for costs to spiral up during the editing process. To control for this, brief the editor on the key findings you want highlighted in the video and share with him or her any topline or final reports that you have shared with your client. Insisting that the editor prepare a video script based on this report is one way to ensure the edit is as efficient as possible. Agreeing to each section and the order of each section on paper prior to building video sequences is a good way to make the edit as efficient as it can be.

10. Work with an editor who knows the marketing research business. Putting together a research video is different than editing a commercial, a movie or a TV show. Working with an editor who not only understands marketing but the intricacies of the marketing research business will save you time and aggravation on the back end.

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