At Manley Films & Media, we don’t throw the word “perfect” around lightly. Especially when it comes to creating one of the most powerful video types around – one that demands authenticity of story, strong interviewing and editing skills, and a commitment to honesty. The client testimonial is the mothership of business videos. Get this one wrong, and you could sink the entire fleet.

 

The testimonial video hands the microphone to someone outside of an organization. This someone is trusted to deliver a powerful message, one that the business approves yet must also appear to regard objectively. The delivery of a customer testimony should demonstrate they are an insider who can aptly relay a positive experience with the business, while remaining very much a member of the customer universe.

Authenticity is critical to storytelling of any kind. It’s the underlying tone of the entire piece – conveyed not only with precise language but with facial expressions, gestures, pauses, deep breathing, and other subtle cues that tell a viewer, “This is a real human being retelling a real experience that impacted them.” As the most complex part of a testimonial, authenticity demands careful interviewing of a subject about their experience to elicit a retelling of the client experience in language that potential clients will find meaningful. We love the way this student expresses, in his own words, how it felt to realize he was “throwing his life away” and what happened when he made a change. The story he tells is his own and speaks to his own personal values, but it is a story that would not have been possible without the schooling he received at UEI College:

Expert interviewing is an undersold skill in video production. The best interviews are conducted by directors, like our own Jim Manley who has a journalism background, 28 Emmy Awards and 2 New York Film Festival medals. Jim and the entire Manley team understand how to elicit small, poignant details from oftentimes reluctant interviewees. We frequently interview people who want to tell their stories because they have a genuine appreciation for the business that helped them. However, on set, with lights and cameras, makeup and witnesses, it can be an overwhelming and unnerving experience that makes it difficult to find the right words. That’s where the director really shines by creating a rapport from the moment the interviewee arrives on set, chatting them up in an informal way, and easing them into the interview. The best interviews are all about the banter, not rehearsed lines or scripts, but casual conversation that slowly unveils the real story with emotion and clarity. Here are a few examples:

Like interviewing, the editing of a testimonial is the part that our clients won’t see except in the final result, where it will be readily apparent if handled hastily or without regard for authenticity. The footage may be a goldmine of positivity, but poorly edited footage can underwhelm a viewer and devalue the interviewee’s enthusiasm. In the hands of a skilled editor, like our DP Rich Beissel, even the toughest interviews with the most reluctant of interviewees can be edited to relay a truly valuable story. Rich also knows when to cut to b-roll that helps build the story, such as shots of the interviewee and the business owner working together, or footage of the business performing their work. A less than perfect interview, with the right editing, can deliver authenticity that tells the viewer “No matter how much I am struggling to say these words, I truly believe it’s important that I say them.”

You can’t make a client testimonial without addressing the topic of honesty. Clearly, we don’t go seeking unhappy clients to interview. Every business is going to have its raving fans and its harsh critics. We look for those who have had a positive experience with the business to the extent that they feel compelled to share it with others. Getting to the real truth, the gold nugget of an individual’s experience, is the capstone moment in the interview. The reason that it works best to have a skilled interviewer conducting is that they know how to probe for these nuggets, a statement that will surprise, delight and validate. Honesty in testimonials happens when the interviewer removes his own pre-conceived ideas, asks non-leading questions, and opens the door for the most reluctant of subjects to feel comfortable revealing personal details in their own words. It’s the moment that gives the story life and while it can be hard to get there, once the word are spoken, everyone on set recognizes it.

The best interviews are all about the banter, not rehearsed lines or scripts, but casual conversation that slowly unveils the real story with emotion and clarity.

So what happens when the person delivering the testimonial is a seasoned public speaker who is perfectly at ease on camera? I wish I could tell you it’s the easiest interview ever, but it’s not always so. The “celebrity” endorsement can be at risk for a lack of authenticity just as an unknown person can. Who do you trust more: a famous spokesperson who has a reputation to uphold, or an unknown, humble human who had to muster the courage to speak? Both can be credible; it all depends on the delivery.

There is no doubt that a well-known and respected individual can add credibility, but a seasoned production team knows the difference between working with a person of popularity and the lesser known individual. In both scenarios, we work to put the person at ease – in the case of a celebrity, assuring them that we respect their position in the world and are responsible to help them uphold their reputation. For the unknown person, it’s assuring them that we respect their position in the world, and that we won’t exploit them for personal gain. In all cases, we push for that authenticating moment of connection that humanizes the person — famous or not — like this mother who was given back her vision at Southwestern Eye Center:

We’re all merely human beings at the core. We all tell our stories in our own words, and hope people listen and understand. As storytellers, we have an obligation to probe for truth. The perfect testimonial is one that presents a human face and affirms a core belief of business: that the loyalty of a customer is the best testament of all. The perfect testimonial leaves no doubt that a business has the spirit and soul of the people it serves. Long live the testimonial and the brave people who make it possible, and may it never lose its revered place in the world of business.

View our favorite testimonial of all time: