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How to Make Testimonials More Authentic

By Anthony Ciavatta

One of most common areas of feedback from focus groups watching an infomercial often centers on their impression that the testimonials are not believable and authentic.

It’s not the fault of the testimonials. The problem comes from the fact that they were asked the wrong questions in the wrong way. What are the two most effective ways to conduct a successful testimonial interview?

If time permits, a good first step involves splitting the interview into two parts. Shoot a sit-down interview that focuses on the emotion of using the product. Then shoot an interview that focuses on the product features and benefits while the testimonial uses the product. This won’t work for all products or services. But when it does, it’s a powerful tool.

The second and more important step happens when you’re conducting the sit-down interview. Get the basic questions out of the way first. Then, once your testimonial feels more comfortable, start asking questions that evoke an emotion. The best way to make that happen is with a technique not ordinarily associated with direct response television — method acting. Yes — think James Dean or Marlon Brando — method acting.

The principles of method acting can produce amazing results while interviewing testimonials. They can work equally as well, if not even better, while directing on-camera or voiceover talent.

One of the biggest mistakes a director can make is to tell a testimonial to be any particular way: be more energetic, be happier, be more excited. That kind of direction guarantees a fake, stilted performance or response because the testimonial is forced to be something they’re not. Fake begets fake. (As a reference, acting isn’t faking. Acting is reacting authentically.)

To make a response more authentic, the well-trained director will say things like, “Make your fellow actor feel your pain.” Or he or she may say, “Share the joy you feel.”

Asking someone to share an emotion opens the response to limitless authentic, believable possibilities. That’s because they can recall an emotion they’ve experienced (it’s called sense memory). It’s the difference between trying to “be” something, versus sharing an authentic emotion.

Try it yourself. Close your eyes and imagine you’re biting into a juicy lemon. Did your mouth just water? That’s sense memory, a foundation of method acting. It’s what you want to inspire your testimonials to use during their interview.

When you’re not biting into lemons, the difference may be subtle. But it’s enough of a difference to transform your testimonials from fake and inauthentic to real and impactful.

As you may know, method acting grew famous from work during the 1950s at The Actor’s Studio in New York. Dean, Marilyn Monroe, and Paul Newman are among the most iconic method actors. If you understand how it works, you can instantly turn your testimonials into method actors.

The truly remarkable and powerful aspect of this process is that a testimonial doesn’t need to know anything about method acting for it to produce meaningful results. When done right, this directing method produces magical results.

Here is an example of how things may go with a testimonial. You ask them how and why they like a