In the spirit of Halloween, here is a look behind the veil of the dark arts that reveal human emotions and unlock the vault of patient trust.
A few weeks ago, deep within the bowels of Castle Franklin Street, a brave account manager tiptoed down the dark, creaky staircase of The Writers Crypt with a humble request.
“Pardon me, but our clients are wondering…how do you capture real emotion on camera?”
We scowled at each other over the bubbling beakers of prose and dusty, sacred tomes of storytelling.
A young scribe lifted the hood of her cloak and replied:
“Who is this voice in the dark who always speaks of marketing automation, KPI’s, ROI and dashboards? Now you ask of the human emotion?”
Igor and the rest of us cackled with approval.
But the voice didn’t flee our snark. It answered at first sheepishly but then grew in confidence. “Please. Our clients have bills to pay and it is a technical world. But we know humanity is important. Just share with us how you do it so we can reveal the people behind the spreadsheets.”
From hunchbacked robes leaning over ancient scripts once revered as the written word but now demoted to “copy,” we collectively grunted the slightest nod of respect. I pulled our most worn book of spells labeled “Human Nature” from the crypt’s highest shelf.
Whether it is a simple physician bio on the web or a patient talking about your health system on a TV spot, we should always be looking to capture the humanity of our subjects.
Because when it’s real, people open themselves up to trust. And trust is the currency of healthcare that equates to real dollars…real ROI.
These moments are not easy to acquire. You are asking someone to reveal their deepest emotions with a lens in their face, a hot light over their head and a sound guy fidgeting over their shoulder. There’s no shame in turning to these dark arts.
Be a stalker
Facebook, LinkedIn, Healthgrades, that picture of them running cross country track in the high school yearbook and even asking a colleague about them in the cafeteria is all fair game for learning more about your subject. Chances are you won’t use any of it on camera but these little brush strokes start to paint a picture of who they are. This allows you to talk about mutual interests and build rapport with them. Rapport knocks down emotional blockers.
Your on-camera questions should be your third date
I harass our clients to get me a phone interview before I get someone on camera. While I bring my online (stalker) research with me to break the ice and establish some mutual interests, I’m mostly probing for the subjects that make their voice crack or when I can hear them leaning forward with excitement. These are the angles I note and that I will develop when the lights go on.
When I am onsite for filming, I’m talking to them in the hallway before the shoot or while our stylist is picking at their hair. I’m there to let them know what is going to happen but I’m mostly gauging their mood and comfort level. By the time the cameras are rolling, it’s at least our third conversation. I’m less of a stranger. They know we’re in this together.
Put the onus on you
Most non-professional on-camera talent is afraid they “won’t be good.” Let them know from the very first meeting that the quality of the production is up to you and not them, because that’s the truth. Their only job is to be themselves. Position yourself in the line-of-site of the camera and constantly remind them to look at you. It’s just a conversation with some extra stuff in the room. It won’t solve all the problems of nervousness but it’s a start. Remind them of the greater purpose. We’re here to get people help. That’s all. We’re not selling shoddy used cars or running for office. Just be you.
The best interview guides are trashed in two minutes
Confession time for our clients who are reading this: by the time I send you my interview guide, I no longer need it and it is really just for you. Yes, making an interview guide is important to ensure you are hitting the most crucial angles. But your interviews should be so focused that you can easily remember the one or two most important angles. You should be looking at all of the different approaches to get at those angles and working your source emotionally.
Done right, your subject will open so many unexpected doors into their hearts and minds that you are soon venturing (thankfully) off of the clinical script. Not only should you not be afraid to ditch the script, you should almost be eagerly looking for the moment you can. A prepared script rustling in your lap is actually intimidating to a subject and reminds them this is a commercial rather than a revealing and intimate discussion between new friends.
If you want them to reveal their vulnerability, you have to show them yours first
My colleagues at Franklin Street have often commented that they learned the most about me watching me interview people. That’s no accident. When someone talks about loss, I share my own losses. When a patient talked about addiction, I confided that my father died from alcoholism. It’s only fair. Someone has to open the gates for reality to flow. Show them your humanity and you’ll get some in return.
Plant humble seeds early, harvest mighty fruit later
In between takes my cinematographer once asked: “Why are you asking about her time in China? This is about cancer. We’ won’t use any of this.”
20 minutes later, I asked our physician this: “Let’s go back to that little girl in China that was told she’d never be a doctor. Now you’re helping people beat cancer. What would you say to that little girl today?”
Her eyes welled and I finally got her to reveal what was driving her when she was in the room with a patient. Probe early and note what might be fruitful later when they are more comfortable and in the moment. You’ll be surprised what it could reveal.
If you don’t care, then don’t ask
While you are reading them, your subject is reading you. Reserve your most incisive questions for the topics you care most about. Of course these topics have to be on-strategy but they will be able to read your passion and they will feed off of it. My kryptonite is any story from their youth because I believe our childhood is who we really are before the world starts to edit us. That’s when I’m leaning in and they can feel it. It’s no coincidence that I garner good information from these stories.
Respect the power you are unleashing
When you make someone see something in themselves that they didn’t fully realize, their body will react chemically. Think about the last time someone asked you a very personal question. How did you feel physically? It’s intense, isn’t it? I’ve taken it too far and hit a little too much from left field. It took our stylist 20 minutes to repair a usually very stoic physician from the tears they shed. We’re not looking to embarrass our colleagues and few people want a balling physician by their side as a patient. So be mindful of when “keeping it real goes too far.”
One final note: I believe you should be physically tired when you are done with an interview. If you are not, you may ask yourself if you were truly engaged with your subject. A good interview is not only an exchange of words. It is an exchange of energy. I know they are tired and I should be too, otherwise I haven’t given them enough of myself in return for what they have given me. That’s the price you pay for practicing the dark arts—but brighter happier patients makes it all worthwhile.
On paper, my interview with Dr. Anthy Demestihas was supposed to be about being a breast surgeon and the capabilities of her health system, St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, CT. But because I applied most of the spells above, about halfway through the interview she revealed something totally off script and deeply personal—as if we were the only two people in the room. The result of this exchange formed one of our TV spots and the entire community reacted to it. People were moved. Ultimately, isn’t that what we are here to do?