Social distancing, quarantining and an increase in working from home have moved many face-to-face meetings and conferences to video chat platforms.
The 24-hour news channels have also increased the number of interviews they are doing through Skype, FaceTime and other services. Below are my tips on how to ace these interviews; most of which also apply to online meetings and conferences.
1. Make sure your home network can handle a video call.
The last thing you want during a TV interview is for your picture to lag, scramble or freeze. If you’ve had problems with other video calls, see if you can up your network speed.
Also, ask others in your home not to stream any movies while you’re on your call. (Promise them that it will be a short interview!) Turn off any notifications for both your computer and your phone — it may be best to keep your phone in another room just in case.
2. Check out your background.
Treat your home office like a TV studio. What is behind you? Does it distract in any way? Are you too close to the wall so it looks you’re posing for your mugshot? Is there anything controversial there? The safest bets are to appear in front of a bookcase (with books!), or a wall with paintings or prints on it.
3. Set the camera at the right height.
In the early days of Skype interviews, many interviewees would simply put their laptops on their desks and look down at them. This led to thousands of “up nostril” shots that were so distracting, it was hard to pay attention to the interview. Conversely, many people conducting interviews from their desktops were forced to strain upward to look at the camera.
If you’re using a laptop, then prop it high enough so you are looking right at it. For a desktop, raise yourself in your chair to get the same effect.
4. Have your notes on your screen.
Remote interviews are the only video interviews where you can have notes — because the interviewees or audience won’t see them. I recommend having a word processing file with your key points and the answers to your toughest questions on your screen.
Make sure that the font is big enough for you to read it, but not so big that you have to scroll during the interview. (You should not touch your mouse or keyboard during an interview unless it’s absolutely necessary.)
5. Look at the camera, not yourself.
It’s hard not to check your hair, makeup or posture when there’s a live picture of you staring back from your computer. Resist the urge. If you can, then move the shot of you directly under your camera. Or place your notes there so you can read them and still make good eye contact.
6. Check your sound and lighting.
I love bad movies. One of the clearest indications that you are watching a bad movie is the sound and lighting — if you can’t see or hear what’s going on, then you can be pretty sure the script and acting aren’t going to be Oscar-worthy either.
Similarly, in an interview, poor sound and lighting can create a negative impression with your audience. You don’t need a professional light and mic kit, just make sure that you have good light (preferably natural) coming from in front of you, and that the subject or audience can hear you.
Unless it’s absolutely necessary, do not use earbuds, headphones or a visible mic. Also, check that your glasses are not reflecting your computer screen or whatever is on your desk (which you should clean off, just in case).
7. Treat the home interview like it’s an in-studio interview.
All of the rules and tips still apply. Dress like you would for a studio interview — the same goes for makeup. Gesture. Use the reporter’s name. Make good eye contact. (See above.) Have good posture. Make your key points. Handle your negative questions directly.
8. Test your equipment and practice before the interview.
Videochat with someone whose opinion you trust, and who will give it to you straight, before conducting any interview. Record the chat, then play it back and critique yourself. It’s better to discover that you can see that messy pile of papers in the shot when you’re talking with a relative or friend than when you are on with CNN.
Ken Scudder has provided media training, presentation training, crisis communications training and consulting, as well as writing and editing, to business leaders, celebrities and politicians for more than 20 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or kenscudder.com.
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