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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 particular product. They give a good answer, but it’s flat. They use the right words — but they lack the emotion required to make the testimonial truly authentic and impactful.

To raise the response to the next level, follow up with something like, “Great answer. Now I want you to make me feel your happiness and enthusiasm about the product. Think about what excites you and share that excitement with me.”

If done right, the difference will be astounding. The results will be believable because the response emanates from a real emotion. The words won’t be generated in response to a question. They will come from the testimonial’s own emotional memory.

Even asking a question like, “Does that make you happy?” will not produce the same results as saying, “Share, with the people who will watch this, how happy you are about the product.”

Never say things like, “Be happier,” or “Give it more energy,” or anything else people think a director is supposed to say.

Everyone can express a feeling. So, if you say, “Share your enthusiasm with the people watching this,” a person naturally lets out what they have inside. That’s where the energy comes from — not from trying to be energetic. See the difference?

You’re not asking a testimonial to share what they think. You’re asking them to share how they feel. That’s the secret to unlocking great testimonials with method acting.

Training to work with the principles of method acting is a long and in-depth process. It’s one of those things you just have to keep on doing until finally it clicks. This article is an oversimplification. But once you have a working knowledge of how it can influence a testimonial, it’s transformative.

Average becomes really good. Good becomes great. And inauthentic becomes organically real. Most importantly, your infomercial becomes more effective.

That’s how the principles behind method acting offer a very powerful tool for creating highly effective direct response television. If done right, it’s as close to magic as you’ll ever experience on a shoot.


Anthony Ciavatta is creative director at Creative Filmworks Inc. He can be reached at 949-833-2799 or via email at anthony@creativefilmworks.com.