Dynamite Interviews of Engaging Scientists

Interview of presenters
photo by brooke-cagle-1181683

Video interviews of our Café scientist-presenters can be a delightful addition to our resource collection and a nice enrichment of the café presentation. But, few teens have experience in conducting a good interview, so it is important to give them some guidance on best practices and have them do a mock interview before attempting to interview a presenter.


To start, knowing the purpose of the interview is key.  Our purpose is to convey that the presenter is an interesting person leading an interesting life in science.  What we do not want is for a teen to ask a series of scripted questions to which the presenter gives a perfunctory answer to each. Rather, the interview should be a conversation in which the teen learns the why and how the presenter followed their path into STEM.  It should explore what they are doing now and what they want to do in the future. It could include hypothetical questions such as, “if you were not a scientist, what would you want to be?” Or, what is the most challenging/ rewarding/ part of your work?  The interviewer also wants to convey the impression that teens are having a great time being part of the Cafe program.

To me, the important ingredients of a good interview are these:

Keep it informal and loose, not stiff and scripted. Convey that these are people who are interested in each other having a lively conversation.

Make it personal. Through the brief interview, the interviewer and interviewee are getting to know each other a bit. Make it two-way: maybe the presenter will spontaneously ask questions of the interviewer. (photo by amy-hirschi-1416708-unsplash)


Keep it flexible. The interviewer will want to have questions about the science and about the presenter ready, but should be prepared to pick up on something interesting the presenter says that might have a good story attached and follow it where it leads.

Keep it animated. Viewers of the video will get engaged to the extent that there is energy in the interview.


The basic elements of the interview are these.

1. Get two teen leaders to do the interview together. They will be less intimidated than they would be doing it individually, and they can play off each other.

2. Establish the context. The teen leaders should have in mind the audience for the video they are about to make. It could be anybody, including people who have never heard of a Teen Cafe. So it should start with something like:

TL #1: (while TL#2 holds the camera on him) I’m xxx from xx High School and with me is xx from xx High School (grabs the camera and trains it on TL #2), and we are here at the [name of node] in [town/site] talking with Dr. xxx, who tonight gave a dynamite presentations on [subject].”

(sets up the camera trained on Dr. xx) “Dr. xx, we enjoyed your presentation and appreciate your coming tonight.”

Maybe insert some little ice-breaker like “hope the snow didn’t slow you up too bad coming down here.”

3. Get in something about the science in the presentation, like:  “I don’t know about [TL # 2], but the part I found most interesting was….”

Be prepared with a follow-up question or two. TL #2 can come in with his/her favorite part.  This is designed to get the presenter to say something about the science and why he/she finds it interesting.

4. Transition to the presenter’s background. A good question is,  “So, was there some particular happening in your life that started you on a path to science?” All scientists have a story to tell! This will open many possibilities for follow-up questions.

Another could be,  “How did you get into the research you told us about tonight?”   Again, be prepared to jump on anything that sounds like a good story with a follow-up.

Another might be,  “What do you like to do when you are not doing science?”

5. The interview needs a closing. End with something unscripted and from-the heart, like “This has been fascinating. Thank you again for coming. Hope you come back again at some point.” [camera picks up hand-shaking across the table.]



Here is a link to my favorite interview. It is bit over the top to be sure, but does contain the ingredients above. The accompanying text is also worth a read.

Below are a few other approaches on conducting guest interviews that can help a teen develop their style.

Blog – Bringing out emotions in an interview.

Audio – How to Interview Guests on a Radio Show

Audio – How to Talk to People, According to Terry Gross

Blog – Bringing out emotions in an interview.

Video – How to shoot an interview with only one camera

Examples of video interviews:

Cafe Scientifique’s Video Interview of Dr. Andy Wolfsberg

Cafe Scientifique’s Video interview of Dr. Cheryl Kuske


Let’s hear from others who have experience with teens videotaping interviews with presenters.


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