Being on camera today means so much more than how an executive or spokesperson appears on television. In addition to TV there’s a wide variety of live streaming platforms, TikTok, Snapchat, IGTV...the list goes on.
Because screens are literally everywhere, brands need to learn to embrace the limelight. Whether it be a spokesperson or an influencer, those in positions of power need to be ready to connect with the public. Sometimes live, sometimes scripted, sometimes recorded—basic rules of camera presence continue to highlight the importance of readiness.
PRNEWS asked veteran communicators how they prep their subjects for screen time.
Research Your Interviewer
Doing the pre-work will benefit the interviewee in the long-run.
“Interviewees should be aware of logistical information such as the video hosting platform through which they’ll connect, the date, time and length of interview,” says Eric Yaverbaum, CEO of Ericho Communications. “Additionally, they should be fully informed on the topic of the interview, the scope of the interviews focus, and have an idea of the usual interview style of the interviewer. It’s a great idea to watch or listen to other interviews from the program you’ll be on so you get a sense of the tone and style (e.g., is it more conversational? Formal? Is the interviewer congenial or more combative?).
Meredith Worsham, SVP of communications at Dotdash, publisher of popular sites such as Brides, Verywell and Investopedia, agrees.
“Before going on camera (and this is also true for all types of interviews), make sure you do your homework on the reporter and the outlet,” she says. “Know the reporter’s background, including the type of stories they typically cover, and read (or watch) their news archive. That’s really important to help you prepare and anticipate the types of questions they might ask.”
Prepare for the Unexpected
The majority of interview subjects cannot read minds (unless the client is a psychic, perhaps). While many outlets will agree to provide questions beforehand, there is no telling where a conversation may go. Bridging phrases can help with a sticky situation.
“I suggest learning how to redirect the conversation where you want it to go,” Yaverbaum says. “You can’t control it, but if a question is asked that isn’t really on subject, use bridges – phrases like, “Well, the real issue here is…” or “The facts are…” or “What I can tell you is…” – to get the conversation back on track and drive your messaging. I always tell my clients to be prepared for tough questions and know exactly how you’ll bridge them back to key messages. And if you truly don’t know the answer to something, your best option can sometimes be to say just that (e.g., “I don’t know about that specific figure, but I can tell you this…”).
Practice Clear and Concise Messaging
It’s a lot easier to remember a distinct number of specific messages than a variety of stats and viewpoints. Also, it’s a lot easier to understand someone when they refrain from rambling.
“Write out questions of your own and how you’d answer those questions,” Worsham says. “From there, pick out the three most important messages that you want the interviewer to take away. Three is a good number because it’s easiest to remember for you, the interviewer and the audience. If you’re doing a live Zoom TV interview, keep responses to around 30 seconds and expand if you need to. Also, talk slowly."
Kevin Almeida, Creative Digital Agency's managing director, points out that an interview can be looked at much like a theatrical production.
“Interviews are non-fiction, but the same principles apply to how you would direct actors. There needs to be a consistent, shared vision that everyone understands,” he says. Almeida also says interviewees should consider the target audience (who you are hoping to engage), the objectives of the project (the motivation), and the theme of the project.
“Motivation is the thing that gives shape and purpose to what a person says. Is your goal to inspire stakeholders? To change public opinion? To generate hype for an upcoming event? Chances are, your interviewee will change their manner of speaking, body language, etc. depending on what they perceive to be the purpose of the interview.”
Curing Stage Fright
While most interviews have been conducted at home, through a live streaming platform in 2020, they can still be intimidating. Practicing will lead to a greater trust in your delivery.
“Practice, practice, practice,” Yaverbaum says. “Practice on camera to get used to seeing yourself on screen. Experiment with lighting and your appearance to find a look, background, and lighting that works for you. I also highly recommend turning your camera preview off during the actual interview so you’re not stuck staring at yourself. Focus on the interviewer instead and trust in your prepwork.”
For TV interviews, much of the work is handled by the production team. However, now that many people are recording through their homes, the production work lies in their own hands. That can include everything from lighting and sound to background and personal dress.
“You absolutely must be well-lit,” Yaverbaum says. “I cannot stress that enough. Natural lighting is ideal, but if you’re using artificial light, you want to make sure it’s soft light (try using a diffuser); you don’t want to be lit harshly. I recommend trying different light setups to see what works best for you and your space. Generally though, having a light source at a 45 degree angle is going to be most flattering. Just be sure you’re lit at least just as well as your background (otherwise, you’ll look like a silhouette). Ring lights and other lighting setups popular with vloggers and Youtubers are an affordable solution.”
Bill Hofheimer, senior director of communications at ESPN, believes in the importance of taking a look at your background, particularly with a Zoom-style interview.
"The background doesn’t need to be fancy," Hofheimer says. "An office bookshelf or a wall with a few framed pictures/prints are nice options – the backdrop can be interesting but should not distract...Two ESPN bookshelves that are particular favorites are Adam Schefter’s — which has books, football helmets and personal photos — and Sarah Spain’s rainbow-aligned shelf, which visually jumps off the screen in a very appealing way."
Almeida also points out the importance of facial focus.
“Remember, people don't just communicate in terms of WHAT they're saying. HOW they say it can be significantly more important,” Almeida says. “Know where the camera is — don’t look at your monitor, look at the lens! For a formal interview, the interviewer should be responsible for coaching subjects on an appropriate eye line.”
And Worsham reminds us of what may be a simple, but forgotten, accessory.
“Make sure you keep eye contact with the interviewer, don’t swivel around in your chair, avoid slouching and most of all, don’t forget to smile.”
Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal.