Recently I arranged for some of the key researchers at the UNC School of Social Work to attend an on-camera media training at the TV news studio on campus. As part of that, we discussed some best practices when being interviewed by a TV reporter. Then the participants had the opportunity to practice being interviewed in the studio with the camera running. They were later provided with a copy of their interview so they could observe how they appear on camera.
Here are some of the helpful tips the media trainer suggested:
- Try to find out what you can about the interview ahead of time so you can prepare message points.
- Anticipate questions in advance. Have answers in mind. But don’t sound too rehearsed.
- Avoid wearing white. Wear a solid color shirt. Nothing too busy. Good to wear a jacket. Think about it as a job interview. Most on-camera interviews are shown from the chest up.
- No distracting jewelry, etc. You want people to focus on your message.
- Eyes — no looking around. Focus on interviewer. “Lock in.” No over-blinking, be natural.
- Don’t look directly into the camera unless it’s a remote interview.
- It’s just a conversation, with a camera.
- Message gets lost if you’re doing something distracting. Keep hands natural and expressive.
- No rambling. Answer within 45 sec.
- It’s okay to ask to start over if it’s a taped interview.
- Have three key message points but don’t verbally number them.
- What would you tell your neighbor about your findings? Keep it simple and relatable.
- If reporter seems confused, try to reiterate any points you thought they might be unclear on (though don’t say they are confused).
- Don’t make the reporter feel like an idiot. You could say, “That is a common perception. But in reality…”
- Bring a cheat sheet of numbers, if needed.
- Let the reporter be the guide.
- Most chairs will be low back, and may be uncomfortable. Sit forward.
- If a recorded interview, repeat part of the question at the beginning of your answer.
- Follow up with an email to the reporter with additional details, if it might be helpful.
If you will be interviewed on camera, it’s important to prepare ahead of time. However, you don’t need a professional TV studio to do this. Anticipate several questions you might be asked, then practice with your computer’s built-in camera or any camcorder. Have a friend or colleague sit in as the interviewer, if you like. Review your performance, not just for what you said and how you said it, but also look for anything distracting in your appearance or mannerisms.
Just like giving a speech, the more you practice the more comfortable you will be when the spotlight is on.