In our discussions with people undergoing our Media Interview Skills Training, we often find that people who have experienced on-camera interviews invariably are unhappy with the results. They feel that the reporter focused on the wrong thing, that they looked nervous or uncertain, that they stumbled over their words or just generally made a mess of things.
The good news is that all of those observations can help pinpoint specific areas for improvement. It just takes some effort and concentration to make a difference.
- Make and hold eye contact. Focus on the the person asking the questions and not on the camera. The more your eyes move around, the more uncomfortable your audience will become. The underlying message is that you are either trying to hide something or you are unsure of yourself. A powerful, steady gaze speaks volumes about your trustworthiness.
- Ensure that however you look is aligned with how you want to be perceived. If your message is sober and serious, dress in a dark suit. If you want to be seen as hard working, roll your sleeves up. If your message is fun and informal, you can probably leave the suit at home and wear a golf shirt.
- When sitting during an interview, sit up and lean forward slightly when you talk to open up your diaphragm, increase your air supply, prevent you from slumping and make you look engaged in the discussion. Do not relax or let your back touch the back of your chair. You need to be "on" at all times.
- You have just a few seconds to sell your story. Studies have found that the average TV soundbite is around seven seconds long. Practice with a stopwatch in front of your bathroom mirror. By practicing out loud you can get rid of audible pauses such as "um, "like" and "you know."
- Brainstorm likely questions as well as worst-case-scenario questions. If you spend some quality time really thinking about it, you should be able to anticipate 85 percent of the questions. It''s tougher -- though not impossible -- to come up with the crazy questions that come out of left field, but it''s worth spending time thinking about them and practicing ways to respond.
- Define your key messages and be ready to deliver those messages regardless of the questions you''re asked. Acknowledge any questions you''re asked, but always bridge back to your key messages during an interview. Also, reiterate those messages if you''re asked to provide a sound check or give a closing thought.
- Turn off cellphones and Blackberries, spit out the gum, remove coins from pockets, don''t hold a pen and ask the technician to turn off the TV set by the camera so you''re not tempted to see how you look during the interview. Also, avoid chairs that swivel and rock. They are too tempting, especially when you get nervous.
- Spend time beforehand identifying specific examples that help make your message personal. You can help journalists tell their story by using examples, anecdotes and graphics. Telling stories also helps break your conversation into soundbites.
- Recognize that anything can happen in TV news, so be prepared and try to accommodate any unexpected changes. Don''t be phased if an in-studio interview changes to a satellite hookup or an interview that was supposed to be taped suddenly is carried live. Flexibility is a must.
- Be an active participant. Television observes everything, especially posture, energy and facial expression. Watch the delivery of TV news anchors and you''ll see how much they accentuate what they say with unspoken cues. If possible, take a brisk walk before going on camera to get your blood flowing and wake yourself up.
Photo by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung.