How to earn trust and build rapport quickly as a videographer
By Liz Murphy
IMPACT Creative Director Alex Winter and I have many things in common.
For instance, we both love a good dance party and adore a bold plaid shirt.
Man, we look good. 😎
Most of all, however — despite being storytelling leaders of two wildly different mediums at IMPACT (him in video and myself in the written word) — we both credit our success to our possession of the exact same skill:
The ability to establish trust with subject matter experts and other collaborators.
Without that skill, we would not be able to do our jobs. Period.
That's why, whether you're thinking about hiring a content manager for your company or hiring a videographer, you should always look for someone who can do the same; someone who is friendly and can understand intuitively how people around them think and operate to help get answers.
However, I realized something over drinks with Alex last week — aside from the fact that we are work-obsessed goobers who must, at all times, gab about what we do, because we love it so much.
After listening to him really dive deep into what he does, I uncovered the fact that videographers must be able to establish trust instantly (in almost all cases) with the people they work with.
Whereas content nerds like myself usually can do that over time, piece by piece.
So, what do first-time videographers — or videographers looking to spruce up their skills — need to know about establishing trust immediately with subjects so the videos they produce are amazing right out of the gate?
That's exactly what this interview with Alex will answer.
OK, let's just rip this band-aid off. How do you establish trust immediately with on-camera talent, so you're not stuck spending your time trying to produce a video while also walking uphill trying to earn trust at the same time?
Alex: Trust is crucial. And, I think for people that haven't met you as their videographer — or when you're just walking into a situation cold turkey — you have to be confident.
However, there's definitely a difference between cocky and confident, so you have to find that balance.
When you strike the right balance, people start to feel like they know that you know what you're doing. They can sense that you've done this before and that you're ready to tackle whatever project is front of you, head on.
On the flip side of that, you still need to be humble.
And you need to be able to smile, and be as genuine as you can so that you start to build rapport with the talent you're working with.
You should be exuding that positive energy, showing whomever it is you're working with, "We want you to be smiling. I'm here to help you."
It's a very nurturing moment, and it's a make-or-break moment.
So, that first impression moment is a big one when you're meeting on-camera talent or other folks for the first time, as a videographer?
Alex: One hundred percent. First impressions are key. So, when you're walking in and you're meeting somebody for the first time, you really got to come correct and show them that confidence and show them that positive energy.
That way, they feel like they don't have to be anything else other than themselves.
They can be a little bit more relaxed than they might otherwise be in a professional situation, because they instinctively see that you're going to take care of them and the project itself with ease.
But the only way you can do that is if you know your gear inside and out. You can't keep people in the right zone or right place mentally if you don't know what you're doing or don't have enough experience under your belt with your equipment.
So, you need to practice knowing and handling your gear inside and out, backward and forward of having everything set up beforehand.
Your pre-production work has to be spot on so, when you get there, you don't need to think about who needs what, how things are going to get done, and so on.
You don't want to be fumbling around with set-up when you should be focusing on building that trust and confidence with the people you're working with.
That's the most critical element of making people feel comfortable that I think so many fresh videographers overlook. It's all in the prep work. It's all in knowing your equipment.
Let's circle back to something you just said that I want to explore further; that a videographer needs to "come correct" and present that positive energy in order to make people kind of breathe that sigh of relief with their body like, "Oh, OK, I can relax around this person."
What are some of those well-meaning rookie mistakes videographers make in order to do that, which will actually backfire and do the exact opposite?
Alex: It's all about self-awareness. And, if you're younger, it's really important to think about body language and to really be present in the moment when you're having these interactions.
You communicate a lot about yourself just through body language alone, as well as how you're behaving.
Personally, I'm hyper aware of those things and I think that contributes to how I position questions, how I say things, etc. But I can also be a bit of a chameleon, adjusting my tone and affects to a given situation.
Mirroring, when still rooted in the authenticity of who you really are, can be a great way to make someone uncomfortable feel very comfortable.
Like, still be yourself — you should never present a fake version of yourself — but you can throttle your energy to rise and fall with those around you.
My dad was in sales for a long time, and he used to always say, "You're selling yourself all the time. You're not selling a product. You're not selling anything. You're selling yourself, and people have to trust you and like you, otherwise you're never going to sell anything."
The same thing applies to being a videographer or a producer.
You're selling yourself and you can do that well. But you you can also talk yourself out of a deal — or, in this case, a healthy video shoot with good outcomes and happy talent — because you're talking too much or you're saying the wrong thing.
So, part of it is having the awareness to just shut up and listen and let the other person talk and really give them a chance to have the floor.
To tell you how they're feeling and what's going on with them, too, so that it's not just a one-way street with you constantly talking at them and potentially overwhelming them.
You can definitely talk someone into being nervous or scared. Or your energy is so high and you're so in their face that you make them anxious; they don't know why you're so amped up.
Again, it's about finding a balance and really reading people, reading body language, and reading the situation.
I get that, but being a chameleon and the mirroring... that kind of behavior can sometimes erode trust, because people might be able to sense you're not being real. So, doesn't that go against what you're trying to do with trust-building?
Alex: Oh, you're absolutely right. And, when I was younger, I had situations where I overcompensated, trying to make someone comfortable, but it had the inverse effect.
That's why, I know I already said it, but self-awareness is key.
You have to know where your zone is, know where your boundaries are without overstepping, and so on.
To mitigate problems like these though, I like to always try and meet beforehand with people — if I haven't met them already — before going into a shoot. I really don't like going in cold, where I'm essentially pulling someone in to do a video without having spoken to them before.
It's funny though. Whenever I do those calls, people are surprised that I don't have some checklist or script I'm running through with them. They're surprised at how relaxed it is.
What are those first conversations like? What are you really trying accomplish?
Alex: It's more of a conversation where I'm just like, "Hey, I'm Alex and I know nothing about you. So where'd you go to school and where'd you grow up? And let's talk about your family and your life."
I try to establish a bit of a rapport that's genuine and I actually care. I want to know those things because it's going to help me position the questions that I really need to ask them in the interview later on.
But if having that conversation in advance isn't possible though? What if you have to go in blind?
Alex: I try to find some type of common ground, whatever that is. If they're wearing a jersey and I can make a sports comment or if they're wearing cool sneakers and they're Jordans — and I'm into Jordan's, that's a way to connect.
What that common ground is, it'll be different for everyone, but I try to find something or some way to connect with somebody on a baseline level first to establish that sort of like, "Oh, okay, this guy's cool."
That way we're vibing a little bit before I get into work mode like, "OK, here's a microphone in your face, now talk to me. And let's get lights, camera, action going."
What's the biggest lesson you learned the hard way in your younger days about building trust as a videographer?
Alex: Ha, I love this story. It was 2009. It was right after the bottom completely fell out and we were in a recession. I was working for a production company in Boston, and they were doing a documentary on economic crisis.
Through this shoot, I met John Tisch, one of the owners of the New York Giants of the NFL.
He came on set the first day we're in Boston. We were filming at Panera Bread because Panera Bread at the time was one of the only companies that didn't have a dip from the recession.
So, the first day on set in Boston, I'm like a little production assistant guy and the sound engineers were having issues and were asking me to help them out and put a microphone on John Tisch.
So, I walked right up to him. I was wearing a Patriots jersey, and he was a really nice guy. I shook his hand and introduced myself, trying to find that balance of like just meeting this guy and building a rapport.
But I'm putting the microphone on him and it's pretty awkward because when you put a microphone on someone, you got to get up in there and have them adjust their clothing.
So it's like, "I'm just meeting you and now take your shirt off and let me get the microphone on."
As I'm doing this, he says, "Oh, are you a Patriots fan?"
And I just kind of gave him this look like, "Are you joking dude? Like, do you know where you are? You're in Boston."
So I said, "Like yeah, of course I'm a Patriots fan."
Then he asked, "What do you think about the Giants?"
Now, keep in mind, I didn't know he was the owner, or one of the owners of the Giants.
So my smart mouth was like, "Well, the Giants suck. Dude, I hate the Giants. They're the worst team ever."
He laughed, but it was kind of like a dark laugh.
Afterward, I walked away and my producer came right up to me and was like, "You basically just told the owner of the Giants that his team's the worst team in the NFL."
He was so mad at me. I thought I was going to get fired.
I got lucky though. At the end of the day, John came up to me after everything was done and he was super cool about it and it worked out. It ended up becoming our banter for like the two weeks that we filmed. He was giving me crap about football and I was giving it back to him.
But he could have easily told me to get off the set, you know, "I never want to see this kid again."
I completely misread the situation.
So, that's the lesson I want people to understand here. Know who you're talking to. Always be self-aware. And, you know, don't tell the owner of the Giants his team sucks to his face.
You've shared a ton of great stuff in this interview, Alex. But if videographers only walk away remembering one thing from this article, what should it be and why?
As a videographer, your number one focus is to know your gear and how you run a production inside out and backward. Because, when you get onto a location, your focus and your attention needs to 100% be on making this person that you're interviewing feel comfortable.
If you're not focused on that and you're tinkering around with cameras and dealing with all sorts of other stuff and trying to do it simultaneously, it's not going to work out for you.
So, I think the number one takeaway is no matter how you do it, whatever your situational awareness level is, however you handle yourself, your number one goal should be focused on your subject and making them feel as comfortable and as confident as possible.
Wondering where to begin?