Best Practices for On-Camera and Phone Interviews
Whether you’re an elected official, a Public Information Officer or a CEO, a one-on-one interview with a reporter is probably in your future. It’s almost a rite of passage to prepare talking points, eloquently answer tough questions, and hold eye contact with the person on the other end of the mic.
Speaking with reporters, bloggers and radio hosts can be a vital part of your organization’s media relations efforts. But it can also be nerve-wracking when all eyes are on you–after all, 93% of communication is nonverbal. With a little practice in the mirror and this handy list of best practices, you’ll be on your way to becoming an interview pro.
If you are speaking to reporter/media over the phone:
- Ask the reporter if you can receive the questions beforehand.
- Go to a quiet room in your home or office; be sure staff and/or family know you are on an interview and cannot be interrupted.
- Turn off other cell phones, devices and anything else that could create background noise.
- Have a glass of water nearby; there’s nothing worse than dry mouth during an interview.
- If possible, use a landline phone for best quality.
- Focus on the interview as a conversation with one person (the reporter).
- Practice your sound bites out loud before the interview. Consider writing down keywords/phrases, but avoid reading a word-for-word script as it may sound unnatural. Concentrate on 3 things you want to communicate.
- Take small pauses instead of saying “um” or “ah.” This requires practice! Try to keep your breath regular, take deep breaths when possible but be careful of how loudly you exhale.
- Even if you are not speaking face-to-face, smile! Positive energy will translate into your voice.
- Monitor the energy of your voice–no one likes to hear a monotone interview. Your tone should reinforce the idea that you are excited, passionate, concerned, engaged – back up what you are saying with how you are saying it.
- You usually end up speaking quicker than you think. Consider slowing down your speech and emphasizing key words or points.
- Avoid using acronyms and language that’s too technical/hard to understand for your listeners. Imagine you are explaining something to a teenager.
Additional tips for speaking face-to-face with an interviewer on a live broadcast:
- If seated, sit erect but not ramrod-straight, and slightly forward or toward the interviewer. Be careful not to swivel in your chair, rock back and forth, or lean away from the reporter.
- If standing, do so with arms at the side or one hand in a pocket. Planting one foot slightly in front of the other will help you avoid swaying. Never cross your arms in front of you! It will make you seem closed off or as if you are nervous or hiding something.
- If you gesture with your hands and arms, keep them small and in front of you.
- Consider removing jewelry or anything else that may cause noise with body movement.
- For men: a dark suit and blue shirt will look good on camera. Avoid ‘loud’ ties or ties with small patterns, and solid white shirts. Unbutton your suit jacket while seated, button it when standing. Sitting on the back of the suit jacket will help create a wrinkle-free line. For women, wear a dark outfit in solid colors and consider tying back loose hair.
- Keep a mildly pleasant expression at all times; an expression that looks neutral off camera seems unhappy or angry on camera, and a pleasant face may feel unnaturally ‘smiley.’ Practice in a mirror.
- Avoid obvious signs of discomfort or nervousness, e.g., foot tapping, clenched fists, knuckle cracking, shifting back and forth.
- Don’t nod your head to indicate that you understand or are ready to answer the question. Inadvertently, this may convey agreement with the questioner. Remain neutral and become animated only when you begin to speak.
- Maintain eye contact with the reporter and try not to look off to the side, up or down too much. A good trick is to stare at the bridge of their nose–it will let you concentrate more on your next speaking point than if you look into their eyes.