During this time of coronavirus, in-studio television or online interviews have become a thing of the past.
When was the last time you saw a spokesperson interviewed inside a studio? We are now seeing experts and others being interviewed from their own homes, whether it’s in the kitchen, basement, living room, and sometimes out on the patio. This presents authors and other spokespeople with some unique challenges.
I’ve commented before on how refreshing it is to see the pros scramble to look professional when the cameras are on at home. Let’s see how the rest of us can be more professional as well.
If you would like to know how to prepare for an interview from your living room or spare bedroom, then read on because that is what this week’s post is all about.
1. Prevent interruptions
You need to choose a room where you won’t be interrupted by family members, including toddlers and pets. Be sure your family realizes what you are up to so that they know not to disturb you. Put a sign on the door: “Keep out please. Interview in progress.”
How many interviews have you seen recently where you seem to be looking at someone’s chin, nostril hair, or up at the ceiling? All of this can be prevented by making sure the setup you have works. The way to do that is to follow these suggestions and then test it to see what it looks like to the viewer.
Laptops must be elevated so that they are level with your face. This will prevent the ‘looking up at someone’s chin’ scenario. You can use books or boxes to raise it up, making sure they’re stable. Then go to Zoom, get on camera and record yourself. Watch it to see what the set up looks like and then, if necessary, make adjustments. The time of the interview is not the time to do this.
The background of choice at the moment seems to be a bookcase with a range of academic titles on display. I’ve used that standard bookshelf myself in the past, which makes sense since I am a book strategist, but then realized it can be distracting when I found myself checking out the reading material on the shelves during other people’s webinars. You want people to pay attention to you, not what’s behind you. And that goes for artwork as well.
My best advice is to look at other interviews and see what backgrounds appeal to you. This is where you can learn a great deal from news anchors who are doing the news from home. They are the pros, so what is their background like? Make it simple and easy.
4. Dress for the occasion
Sheltering at home can mean living in sweats and jammies, and for the most part that’s fine. However, you still need to look the part in your interviews and that may mean dressing up a bit. Don’t wear anything that could distract the audience from what you want to say, and no dangling jewelry that would hit the microphone and make a lot of noise.
5. Be prepared
Again, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by the more relaxed environment of your home. You still need to prepare properly. Often people will tell you to just “be yourself,” and that’s fine in many contexts, but not when doing interviews. You need to “be your very best self” when the stakes are high. Be prepared.
You might be tempted to have some notes or a crib sheet nearby. But unless it’s a podcast or an audio-only interview avoid doing this, as you are likely to keep looking at them, which means you will lose eye contact. And secondly, you could sound scripted or over-rehearsed, which is not good.
Once you are connected, assume that you are on the air or you are being recorded. You don’t want to be caught on camera doing something embarrassing which may completely detract from what you have to say. Keep in mind that the interview hasn’t ended until you hear someone say that you are ‘clear’ or the connection ends. Remain seated and looking at the camera even if you think the interview is over. If it’s appropriate to be smiling, then be smiling.
7. Eye contact
You’ve heard me harp on this one before, and I’m going to do it again. The temptation during an interview carried out online with video technology is to look at the person on your screen, or to look at yourself, which is worse. But that looks like you are avoiding eye-contact on television.
Make eye-contact with your webcam and look right down the barrel of the lens to create the impression of eye-contact. In fact, I like to tell people to look at your webcam, but actually look through it — just like you’re looking deep into someone’s eyes. You need to use your visualization skills and imagine that you’re speaking directly to your perfect target reader and they are right inside that webcam.
It feels unnatural to do this until you train yourself to do it automatically, so it is important to practice.
There is a good chance that you may experience a slight delay with the technology in your online interviews. This can lead to some awkward exchanges where the journalist and interviewee keep speaking over each other.
To avoid this scenario during your online interviews, pause briefly before you start speaking. The added benefit of this is that it gives you a moment to plan your response and can make it seem that you are carefully considering your answer.
9. Body language
Webcams place restrictions on what you can do with your facial expressions and body language. Make sure you have good posture and avoid slouching. Remember the “Butt in the Back of the Chair” which means your behind and back are flat against the back of the chair and both feet flat are on the floor.
This good posture will help to give the impression that you are delighted to be on the show and that you have something important to say. Also, try to avoid the tell-tale signs of nerves, such as fidgeting with your hair or glasses.
10. Practice. And practice some more
Make sure you practice your interviews before you go on the air. Doing mock interviews, recording them, and watching them to really learn how you come across and what adjustments you might need to make, is one of the best teachers.
Ask a colleague or family member to carry out a mock interview with realistic questions, using the video technology you will use for the interview. Make sure they are prepared to give strong and honest feedback.
You want someone who is both a cheerleader and a truth-teller. They will cheer you on and support you, but if you don’t have your interview skills down yet, they will offer truthful and constructive feedback too. Sometimes friends and family mean well, but they don’t want to hurt your feelings and will say you’re great no matter what. That advice really isn’t going to help you at crunch time, so choose a mock-interview buddy wisely.
In these times of crisis, audiences are looking for spokespeople who show empathy and appear to be caring. They also want them to be open, honest and credible. It can be difficult for experts and authors to show all of these characteristics. Some experts, for example, may struggle to show empathy. Try to get as many of these factors across as possible – it will help ensure the audience pays attention to what you have to say.
12. Stay in your own lane
It has never been more important to stick to what you know in an interview. Don’t get drawn into speculating and predicting or commenting on areas beyond your expertise. Remember, you don’t have to answer every question; Stick to what you do know and you’ll be fine.
Remember, it is ok to say that you don’t know the answer to a particular question, but go on to tell the audience what you do know.
I am sure there will be a day when in-studio television and online interviews become common occurrences again. But for now, during this time of coronavirus, we will keep seeing many interviews from experts and authors from various platforms such as Zoom and Skype. Hope to see you on screen soon!
To your success!
P.S. If you need a little more help preparing for interviews, consider a media training session with me, where you will get instant evaluation, advice and tips that will make you shine during your interviews. Shoot me an email to discuss, or fill out a form here.