Though most broadcast media have returned to their studios, many interviews will continue to take place on Zoom. The bar has been raised for showing up looking sharp and professional. Our friends at Room Rater have no plans to fold up their tent. They continue to heap praise on great video set-ups and skewer those who just do not get it.
How should you prepare for a press interview? Consider that even print and audio podcasts are done via video calls these days. The reason is that the visual aspect adds dimension and context to the conversation. This is your opportunity to use your ASSETs: appearance, staging, styling, energy, and tech savvy to show up as authoritative, credible, and impactful.
Put all your ASSETs to work.
Your appearance says a lot about you and your expertise. Is your appearance consistent with your message? Is your competence in full display without your saying one word? Good grooming, wardrobe, lighting, and position in the shot create the first impression that stays etched in people’s minds. The media amplifies that impression. Remember: you do not have a second chance to make that first impression.
Here is an example of a spokesperson blunder. Last fall, a health official in Oregon chose to announce the number of COVID deaths in the state while dressed as a clown. Your takeaway: be authentic and dress for the role you really play.
A representative of the Oregon public health authority gives a COVID update dressed as a clown.
Staging and styling.
Are you using a virtual background without a green screen? If you do, you risk showing up as an amoeba. Ditch the green screen and style your shot to enhance your brand and message points. Everything in your shot should speak to who you are, what you stand for, and what you are trying to convey. Visual language is far more powerful than audio alone. Do not give away the power of props, artifacts, posters, artwork, photos, and other cues to your boost your desired outcome for the interview. And ensure that there is nothing visible that could be cause for embarrassment.
Your vocal variety, intonation, body language, and facial gestures make your messages resonate. Your movements translate to an energetic delivery and more potent and quotable sound bites. Frame yourself at waist level so you can use your hands and arms comfortably on the screen.
Good video and audio quality are essential. Ensure that your camera is properly calibrated—exposure, focus, framing—and that your microphone picks up your vocal qualities. Know how to work the video platform, and do not forget to practice in advance so you don’t waste precious interview time with bad connections. Choose a quiet location. If you are home, alert your family members that you should not be disturbed.
Korean affairs expert Professor Robert Kelly was live with BBC News when his children walked in to play.
Apply the ground rules of great interviews.
Taking a page from the classic do’s and don’ts of professional media interviews, here are seven ways to use the video call format to your advantage when dealing with journalists.
- Wait for your turn to speak. Do not speak over the journalist or another interview guest.
- Give short, simple, and quotable answers that will not be edited out. Stop after you say something important to give the editor a place to cut and not trim your video mid-sentence.
- Be economical and get to the point. Avoid filler words and phrases: “Well…you know, I mean,” when delivering your answer. Use pauses instead.
- Set a goal and speak with intention. What do you want people to remember? Whether it is a TV interview, an industry panel discussion, or a podcast, your words and image can be clipped into bites that travel the world instantaneously, often detached from the original context. Be consistent and stay on message.
- Stay composed. Look at the webcam not at the person on the screen. Look straight at the lens when you are not speaking. Do not fidget or move in your chair. Remember that you are being recorded and any part of that recording can be used to your advantage or disadvantage.
- It is OK to react but do not look annoyed or flustered. Do not let them see you sweat. Smile often and naturally.
- Understand that everything you do or say is fair game, even comments said before the recording begins. Remember the basic rule: There is no such thing as “off the record.” And hot mics have caught utterances that have cost people their jobs.
Prepare and be proactive.
Research the media outlet and journalist when you are booked for an interview. Preparation will ensure a better outcome and position you as a desirable guest.
- Research and understand the format, the interviewer’s style, and the audience. Listen to their podcasts, watch their shows, read their by-lines, and anticipate their questions. Is the format confrontational or friendly? Who is the intended audience? What are they like?
- Prepare short, snackable, sticky sound bites that capture your point of view and state your message. Speak from your expertise and do not be led astray into topics with which you are not familiar.
- Expect tough questions. Plan your response or pivot to what you know and what you want to say.
- Create visual aids, video clips and images that can be used as B-roll to illustrate your point and spice up the interview.
- Set up your camera shot in advance so that you are properly framed and lit and have good sound. It is a plus to have some company branding behind or near you—but do not overdo it.
These are just a few of the pointers that will help you approach interviews with more confidence and impact. Working with the media successfully takes work and the guidance of an experienced coach. Zoom and advanced video conferencing technology can make you a media star overnight. But the consequences of a derailed interview can be far reaching, erode your credibility, and tarnish your career, business, and reputation.
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