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How to shoot a video testimonial

August 1st, 2006

A friend wrote me saying that he is at his wits end about video testimonials.

On the one hand, his customers are ecstatic with the training he provides them (he’s a top horseback riding instructor), but on the other hand, they freeze up when he tries to capture their excitement on camera.

Getting good video testimonials is one of those things that should be filed under the category of "Looks easy until you try it."

Here are the challenges you face when you try to get video testimonials and how to overcome them…

1. Most people of a certain age freeze up around video cameras

This doesn’t seem to be a problem for the younger generation. They seem to be born with media training. But for the average adult, the idea of being filmed while talking is highly intimidating. It’s not that different from how lots of people feel about talking in front of groups. They’re deathly afraid of looking or sounding stupid.

2. Many people lack  confidence in their communications skills

When they’re having a casual conversation, everything’s fine. They’re articulate, intelligent and interesting. Turn the camera on and tell them you want them to say something and all of a sudden, they start THINKING not only about what they’re saying, but how they’re saying it and they start tripping over their own feet.

3. Different businesses attract different types of customers

I teach entrepreneurially-oriented business people. They not only understand the value of testimonials, but also are often experienced and confident communicators who’ve done public speaking and even appeared on video.

Your customer may not understand how important testimonials are to you.  They may also have no idea of how to speak "for the record."

So what do you do?

Step 1. Be realistic

I get pretty good testimonials, but I shoot ten or more for every one that I use – and the ones I use I often edit extensively.  Not to change the content of what’s being said, but to get rid of "ums" and "ahs," long pauses, weird gestures, off-the-topic tangents and other stuff that is fine in real life, but looks like hell on video.

Step 2. Set it up right

If you stick a camera in someone’s face and ask them to tell you what they think about your product, you’re in for trouble.

You need to set up the situation correction, physically and verbally.


You need a cameraman for two very important reasons.

First, so you don’t have to hassle or think about the technical aspects of the shooting and second, so the customer can focus on YOU and not on the lens bearing down on them.

Even when you set things up right physically, customers are still going to be somewhat conscious of the camera, but "tag teaming" – you interviewing and a cameraman doing the shooting – is an enormous help.


Never ask a customer to make a statement. They’re not trained politicians walking around with ready-made sound bites.

Instead, talk with him or her. Look at them. Have them look at you. Have a normal conversation between two normal people.  Ideally, the camera will disappear from both of your consciousnesses. That’s the ideal that you always want to work towards.

This means you need to have a series of questions ready-to-go that are framed in such a way that they stimulate natural, full sentence answers.

Here’s an example of a question you DON’T want to ask…

"Did you like the product?"

Why is this bad? Because it leads to a "yes" or "no" answer. There’s not much you can do with a video of someone saying "Yes" or "Uh huh."

So ask open-ended questions that let people riff on about their experience with your product or service.

And by the way, that’s what it’s all about THEIR EXPERIENCE. It’s not about your product. If you focus the conversation on the product, they’re going to get tongue-tied or worse yet, they’re going to try to be a salesman for you and they’re likely to say a lot of stuff that sounds put on.

So ask open-ended questions about them, their experience, what they think etc.

Here’s what I say when I interview people for testimonials.

First, I thank them and tell them this helps me explain my work and what I do to people who have never seen it first hand.

Second, I chat with them a little about anything briefly so that we’re actually talking to each other, not stage-acting.

Third, I ask them to look at me and ignore the camera. "We’re going to pretend that he’s not even there. Just look at me and we’re going to have a normal conversation."

Then I ask my questions:

Here are ones I use:

"Can you tell me who you are, where you’re from and what you do?"

That’s an easy one for them to answer, isn’t it? Also, it can be a very useful thing to include in the edited testimonial

"How did the System compare to what you expected or to other Internet marketing programs you’ve tried?"

I ask this question with a lot of confidence because I know the System Seminar blows away all the other live trainings on the subject of Internet marketing. My customers know it too and they’re ready to testify about how different we are and how much we’ve helped them.

I might also ask: "How would you describe the training to someone who couldn’t attend the event?"

Then I ask: "If you had a good friend who was thinking about taking the training, but wasn’t sure it was the best option for him, what would you tell him?"

Notice that I never ask a customer to sell for me. I just imagine a scenario with them where they are talking with a friend about what they experienced.

As you can see, there is a TON of psychology behind setting up the situation and guiding the customer with smart open-ended questions. I’m always working on my questions, trying to make them better.  You’ll know a question is good when it consistently stimulates good material that you can use.

Bottom line: Interviewing people on camera is an art. That’s why some people get paid big bucks to do it.

But it’s a learnable skill. Study what I’ve written above and work at it. You’ll definitely see major improvements.

And remember, even when you get good, you’ll be throwing out at least 90% of the material you shoot and the 10% you keep you’ll need to edit like crazy.

Is it worth the effort?

Well, all I can say is the only way anyone will ever get me to give up my video testimonials is to pry them from my dead fingers – and even then, I’m not sure I’d let go of them.

If you’ve got great videos testimonials and your competitors don’t, you’ve got a major leg up in your marketplace.

Ken McCarthy

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  1. August 1st, 2006 at 01:52 | #1

    Very Helpful thanks Ken once again.

  2. Jerry Dyas
    August 1st, 2006 at 09:53 | #2

    Good stuff. I was at a Trade Show last month in Chicago. I brought my camera and got some video testimonials. I did as you suggest. I got them talking first. In fact on one I said let’s practice- and I asked questions. They were comfortable because the camera was not on- or so they thought. In fact I did have it on. I did this because people tend to freeze up when they think they are on camera.

  3. Peter Mackie
    August 1st, 2006 at 10:24 | #3

    Testimonials are imperative. You MUST have third party corraboration. All I would add to the above – having performed hundreds of interviews – are the following:
    Tell them to answer in complete sentences, because your voice will never be heard. Lock eyes with the subject (tell them before filming to try and avoid letting their eyes drift). If they drift away, don’t hesitate to call them back. If they’re in the middle of a great sound byte, point at your own eyes, they’ll get it. Finally, you can’t speak while they’re speaking, but you can articulate facial gestures that let them know how interesting, funny or compelling what they’re saying sounds. This will further draw them in, make them forget about the camera, and will – sometimes – produce gems. Lastly, tears are the international gold standard (see Babrbara Walters). If a subject gets emotional, do NOT interrupt, sort through it later. The 90/10 split might be generous. So get clever with your editing.
    Thanks, Ken
    Peter Mackie

  4. August 1st, 2006 at 12:03 | #4

    Thanks for the great info.
    Any suggesstions on obtaining video testimonials long distance?
    Our customers are spread across the US. It is not the type of product that would yield iteself to a national or regional event like a seminar.
    I thought of one of a couple of possible ideas.
    1. Fly a camera man out to willing customers locations. This would get expensive but certainly would be worth it.
    2. Find a way to get customers to mail us video tapes that we can then edit and process. Possibly run some sort of contest. Ask customers to answer a series of questions on tape. Not ideal but a possible method to obtain the testimonials we are looking to obtain.
    If you have any suggesstions I would love to hear them.

  5. August 1st, 2006 at 12:42 | #5

    At the last NRA show (National Restaurant Assoc.) I set up my video camera in our booth and talked to owner/operators about our donutmachines and how happy they were with our money making machines. Unbeknowns to them I operated the video camera with my remote control so they were totally unaware that they were being recorded.
    Also recorded people’s comments when tasting our mini donuts the same way.
    Then I told them they were recorded and had them sign our standard release form. There no refusals.
    In this way we got some great testimonials which we are now editing for Quicktime movies on our site.

  6. Ken McCarthy
    August 2nd, 2006 at 16:31 | #6

    Great comments and great question from Scott.
    As you can see, getting testimonials at a distance is not easy.
    Three suggestions:
    1. To get people to send you video, the best thing way to go is with a contest. Best customer story wins the prize.
    Here’s what it takes to get people to take action on this. The prize must be VERY compelling. One guy I know made his prize a $10,000 consulting and training package.
    2. Another way to do it is hire cameramen locally and save yourself the extensive travel costs involved with jetting someone around the country. It’s going to be a big research project, but there are companies that might be able to help. (Google and see what you come up with.)
    Keep in mind, you need more than just a guy who can turn a camera on and off and focus a lens. You’ll need people who can put your customers at ease and get them talking.
    3. A cheaper, simpler option: Go to a city where a lot of your customers are and get what you can get from that one location.
    A more expensive variation: Go to a resort area and pay your customers expenses to join you there. Everyone loves a free vacation.
    Or combine idea #1 with idea #2. Announce a customer story contest and winners get a free trip to Orlando or Vegas where you’ll be with cameras. (Better make sure the winners are tele-genenic.)

  7. October 12th, 2006 at 01:39 | #7

    Just adding a clickable URL to the previous August 1st post about testimonials.
    Thanks very much.

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