One thing you’ve probably noticed about media in the time of coronavirus is the number of remote interviews taking place. More often than not, experts are giving interviews right from the comfort of their own living room (or study, or kitchen). In many cases the interviewers themselves are Skyping in as well.
It’s actually been a bit of a panacea for many of our clients who aren’t based in the financial media capital of the world, New York City. While cable producers would tell us they were willing to do remote interviews during “normal” times (and many did), it was always marginally easier to secure a booking when a client was visiting Gotham and could drop by a studio. Today, however, a portfolio manager living in Brooklyn, Minnesota, is on equal footing with one residing in Brooklyn, New York, in that both will be doing the “hit” remotely. Perhaps as a result, we’ve seen a modest uptick in broadcast appearances by our non-New York clients.
With the greater number of remote interviews, we put together some pointers to make sure you put your best foot forward (and would note that many of the tips can be applied to that other ubiquitous feature of business in 2020, the videoconference meeting):
Lights! Lighting can make a big difference in your appearance and, to the extent it makes it easier for the interviewer to read your expression, can make for a smoother interview. If possible, face a window to provide natural light on your face and add another light above or to the side to fill in shadows. If you want to go the extra mile, put a big piece of white foam or paper flat on the desk in front of you (but out of camera) to further reduce shadows and blue screen glow.
One client recently did an interview from their bright three seasons room, which made for great lighting. But make sure you don’t have bright windows, or a bright light behind you because your camera will adjust and leave you looking like a shadowy silhouette.
Camera! You don’t need to go out and buy a fancy camera—just optimize what you’ve got. For many of us, that means the one built into our laptop, which is perfectly acceptable (though, unless you’ve got a really nice chin, you might consider elevating it with a few books for a more flattering angle). More important than the camera is your background set up. You want it to be uncluttered, but not barren. Consider a bit of guerilla marketing by subtly positioning a coffee cup or deal trophy with your firm’s logo showing in the picture. One client recently did a broadcast hit with two-thirds of their CFA certificate in the frame—nice touch!
For the audio piece, check whatever mic and speaker you are planning to use ahead of time; a good headset is perfectly acceptable these days. Bluetooth earbuds are undeniably cool, but make sure you are experienced with them; we’ve seen interviews go pear shaped because of the extra lag some introduce. And speaking of lags, it might be a good idea to keep the rest of the family off their devices during a big interview or meeting. With kids home from school and spouses working from home, household bandwidth is being tested like never before.
Action! On top of all the usual advice we give to clients for broadcast interviews—don’t wear plaid, remember the message triangle we developed with your key points (if remote, you can even pin them to your wall!), don’t be drawn into a discussion that is controversial or makes you uncomfortable—remote interviews require extra care. Try to avoid rat-a-tat back and forth with the host that may lead to you stepping on each other’s words—hold the floor with a long statement and then make an obvious pause to throw it back to the host. Also, and this is especially important if you are part of a panel discussion, use visual cues (lift your finger, raise your eyebrows or shift in your seat) to signal to the host and other panelists that you have something to say.
That’s a wrap! Finally, don’t stress out. Nobody expects you to have the directorial skills of Cecile B. DeMille or the stage presence of Walter Cronkite. Part of the charm of all the remote interviews is getting what feels like a more personal—and in some ways more genuine—glimpse into the lives of newsmakers. So don’t forget to smile and enjoy yourself.
And if something goes wrong, try and keep your cool and even make light of the situation. You don’t want your pet (or your child, as happened to one MSNBC correspondent) wandering into the shot when you’re delivering your market outlook, but it’s not the end of the world if they do. In fact, in the era of pandemics, your cat’s whiskers or your toddler’s smile might be the best thing the audience sees all day.