Pandemic Interviews Provide Lessons in Media Training
- Posted by Monica Smith
- On November 1, 2021
Throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, news interviews have allowed the public to see celebrities, politicians and medical experts, among others, more closely than ever. For instance, there is former Sen. Claire McCaskill, who regularly broadcasts from her kitchen. Room Rater gained quick Twitter traction in the spring of 2020 for its sharp commentary on Zoom rooms, and it even has a forthcoming book, The Official Room Rater Handbook, coming out early next year.
The pandemic has turned into a perpetual media training exercise that can help improve your own interviews, whether they’re on national television or by phone with a reporter from a trade publication.
Here’s a look at our favorite lessons.
Always begin with gratitude
Look no further than my personal favorite media interviewee, perhaps of all time, Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. Dr. Jha was – and continues to be – a regular on NBC’s “Today” show. At the onset of every interview, after Savannah Guthrie asks her first question, Dr. Jha pauses ever so briefly and responds with, “Good morning, and thanks for having me.” And from there, he answers the pressing question of the day.
Beginning with gratitude establishes rapport with the reporter; it puts you on even playing field, recognizing their time commitment and hard work going into the story. We see even the most seasoned reporter’s posture shift slightly going into the interview when we express thanks right out of the gate. And particularly if you are on TV, you want to get this in at the start of the interview because you may not have a chance at the end.
Similarly, at the end of the conversation, offer your contact information – assuming you aren’t live on the air! – in case the reporter has any additional questions after you hang up. Thank them again and offer to send any supporting data or additional resources – or perhaps something that you explained that was particularly complicated – by email to make it easy for the reporter. Treat the reporter like you would your best client.
Back to Dr. Jha, he follows up his kindness with practical advice, putting complicated topics like FDA approval and vaccine mandates into actionable soundbites. His rapport with the “Today” team was so apparent that when he came to the studio for his first in-person interview, the anchors joked that it was, “like having Beyonce enter the building!”
(We don’t know Dr. Jha nor do we work with his team. But kudos to them for all of their hard work; his media training and coaching has definitely paid off!)
Backgrounds establish credibility
Peeks into each other’s homes have become a staple of the pandemic, so when it comes to media interviews (whether on TV or by Zoom), we have to raise the bar.
For our background, we want to find a neutral spot without visual distractions. Less is more, but setting up right against a blank wall isn’t ideal either because we lose depth of field. Many of us are working from guest bedrooms, but we want to flip around the workspace so that the bed isn’t showing. While it might be a temporary hassle, it ups the ante on professionalism, so (temporarily) reconfigure the workspace so that you’re backed up to a bookshelf or a neutral wall.
Keep in mind, whatever is in view, people are taking all that information in and applying it to their perception of you.
If standing is more comfortable for you, build your background around that posture. This allows you to command presence. And if you’re like most of us and get nervous, standing opens your diaphragm so you can breathe easier. Breath is always the first to go when we are anxious or excited, making it hard to communicate effectively.
We’ve had a lot of questions about virtual backgrounds and the Zoom feature “blur.” They certainly take the guess work out of finding the perfect spot, but in media interviews, they can actually be more distracting to the viewer. It creates a sense of, “This person is hiding something,” which challenges your credibility. Take the time to perfect the background so that you don’t have to rely on these tools.
Connect with the camera
Connecting with your audience on the other side of that screen really takes some extra effort because you have to do it all through that tiny dot on your screen. That’s your virtual eye contact – we want to make it count!
Your eye contact needs to be straight into that camera. You don’t want to be looking at other screens during a media interview to reference your notes. And on Zoom, which is where many media interviews are now hosted, it’s easy to look at the other attendees or even yourself while talking. When you have a message to deliver, however, you want to look straight into the camera at the top of my screen. Maybe a sticky note right next to the camera would work for you.
The best on-camera presence occurs when you really keep it conversational. While no one expects you to present like a seasoned news anchor, it is worth taking a cue from your favorite TV personality’s delivery. (Mine, for the record, is the aforementioned Savannah Guthrie.) She is having a conversation with the viewer, and this is where media training really comes into play. We want our responses to be part of a dialogue. You’re not there just to answer the reporter’s questions; you’re there to deliver your message points.
These tips only scratch the surface when it comes to preparing effectively for media interviews. The best Fortune 500 CEOs media train regularly – annually in-depth and then before and after each and every interview. To put your media training skills into practice, contact our team today about coaching opportunities.