There was a time not so long ago when remote video interviews with people sitting in their own homes were a relatively rare occurrence in mainstream media.
They’ve been common on social media for a long time but interviews conducted on a person’s phone, tablet or laptop were generally only used by broadcasters as a last resort, when a guest was being interviewed from somewhere a camera crew couldn’t get to or there was no chance of getting them in a studio.
Fast forward a few weeks and we are now well used to seeing journalists, politicians, business leaders and celebrities sharing their analysis from their kitchens, living rooms and makeshift home offices because of the coronavirus lockdown.
Giving a confident interview in the media can be hard enough at the best of times but doing so remotely creates different challenges. So here are a few things to consider if you want to come across well from the comfort of your own home.
You’ve probably found yourself watching the news and looking past the reporter or expert, examining what’s on the mantlepiece behind them, questioning their taste in art or wallpaper, or wondering how they can afford a pad with such a nice big garden. I’ve seen lots of posts about people prepping shelves of carefully arranged “clever people” books to be in the background of their interview or making sure they’re set up to be interviewed in their “good room”. The best option is just to keep it simple. If you want to be listened to, choose a relatively plain backdrop in a bright or well-lit room. Anything that is distracting can take away from what you’re saying.
Sound & Vision
You’ll have noticed some reporters and commentators talking via the mic on their smart phone headphones, blue tooth earbuds or using a headset. That is to cut down the echo in a room and the feedback that sometimes come from having a mic and speaker right next to one another on a laptop. If you don’t have headphones and are using a device’s own mic try at least to ensure you’re in a small room with some soft furnishings to dampen echo and background noise.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that even in relatively new laptops, webcam resolution can be much lower than the 4K or HD quality video captured by the front facing camera on most smart phones.
You’ll have a good idea by now how good your internet connection is but if you’re due to be interviewed, do a test run call with a friend or colleague beforehand to make sure everything is running ok. Producers will tell you what system they want you to use and test for sound, but Skype and Facetime are common because of the quality (audio and video) and ease of recording. Chances are you are already using Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other software so just make sure you have the right app downloaded.
In The Frame
In every work or family video chat there’s that one person who will only have the top half of their face on screen, like they are looking over a wall. But it’s not that hard to frame yourself in a head and shoulders shot. Sit comfortably at your desk and move the device to a height that suits you, rather than moving to where it is. Maybe use 4 or 5 big textbooks to raise the height of the camera so it’s at eye level. Hunching over a screen may put you too close to the camera and give you a double chin in the process!
One of the most famous video link interviews was Professor Robert Kelly being interrupted by his kids and it goes without saying you should tell family members when you’re going live. Close the door and put a sign on it to remind kids, partners or absent-minded parents. This won’t work for pets of course, so ensure they are in another room to keep any barking out of earshot.
Is There A Dress Code?
Let’s face it, nobody expects you to be in a suit and tie unless you’re the Prime Minister, but it’s probably best to be at least smart casual to give a good representation of yourself. If you’re going on to talk about Covid-19 or the economy, will people take you seriously in a hoodie or tracksuit? At the same time, make sure you’re comfortable so that once the interview starts you’re not even giving a second thought to what you’re wearing.
You’ve probably seen the story about the boss who turned herself into a potato for a Microsoft Teams call with her colleagues and couldn’t turn it off. She had inadvertently turned on filters from the Snap Camera app, which allows you to add funny lenses on video calls. We’re all trying to entertain ourselves while in lockdown, so you may well have downloaded this kind of fun app, but just make sure they’re switched off in settings so you don’t accidentally end up as a potato for your segment on the national news.
Speak Clearly (And Normally)
This is still an interview, so you need to speak clearly and succinctly and sound enthused about or interested in your topic. But there’s no need to shout. I’ve noticed some people raising the decibel level over video calls like they’re reporting from a far flung war zone. Try also to look at the image of the person interviewing you, not the little window of yourself (this can be hard to resist) as this will help you take visual clues from the interviewer when they want to come in with a question. Keeping a few prompts and key messages on a piece of paper out of shot is a good idea, but don’t try to read your answers, it’s far better to sound natural and conversational.
There are lots of variables you won’t be able to control, but as with any interview, don’t worry if you’ve made a mistake. This is new territory for everyone, including the broadcasters! Good luck.
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