Dynamite Interviews of Engaging Scientists

Video Interviews With Your Presenter

Teen leaders, you can conduct delightful interviews with your café presenters if you are prepared to ask great questions and make it a real conversation.

Done well, videotaped interviews of our café scientist-presenters can form a delightful addition to our resource collection and a nice enrichment of the presentation. Not done well, they are arguably less than worthless.

A disastrous interview is one in which the interviewer asks a series of scripted questions; the presenter gives a perfunctory answer to each. This will not be interesting; neither will it accomplish the purpose of the interview.

What is the purpose of the interview? Most of all, it is to convey the unique and interesting things about the presenter and that she or he is  leading an interesting life in science. But it is also to convey how teens are having a great time being part of the café program.

Follow some of the guidance below and then practice by doing a mock interview with your fellow teen leaders before attempting to interview a presenter. You will be rewarded with dynamite interviews with actual presenters.

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

Keep it informal and loose, not stiff and scripted. Convey that you and the presenter are interested in  having a lively conversation.

two men sitting for an interview

Ask great questions. These are questions that make the presenter think and then come back with rich answers that build on what he or she presented during the café or that reveal the real person behind the science. Such answers may open the door for you to ask more great questions.

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.

Keep it flexible. The interviewer will want to have ready great questions about the science and about the presenter, 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.

Here are some suggestions about how a hypothetical interview might go:

  1. While not necessary, you might try having two of you teen leaders to do the interview together. This may be less intimidating than if you do it individually, and you can play off each other.
  2. Establish the context. Teen leaders should have in mind the audience for the video they are about to make. It will be people who did not attend the café. It will include people who have never heard of a Teen Café. So it could start with something like:

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

“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.”

  1. 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.

  1. Transition to the presenter’s background. A good question might be,  “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?”

  1. 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.”

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

Here are a few other approaches on conducting guest interviews that can help a teen leader develop his or her style:

Audio – How to Interview Guests on a Radio Show.

Video – Bringing out emotions in an interview.

And here are some other examples of possible interview questions:

What are the big unanswered questions in your field?

Why is your work important? How is it relevant to day-to-day life?

What absolutely fascinates you about the topic you presented tonight?

What message do you feel is most important to communicate to the public?

The xxx technique you described seems pretty central to your research. Can you tell us a bit more about how that works?

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

How to shoot an interview with only one camera.


Cafe Scientifique’s Video Interview of Dr. Andy Wolfsberg

Cafe Scientifique’s Video interview of Dr. Cheryl Kuske