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Nailing your next virtual interview: 7 tips for success

The steep and unexpected need for social distancing, and the rise in those working from home throughout 2020, has majorly impacted the way in which media interviews now take place.

Just 12 months ago, it was rare for a major news programme to agree to an interview via a video conferencing platform unless absolutely essential. These days, the vast majority of media interviews are being conducted virtually. Platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams are dominating the media landscape - and new rules of engagement apply.

Yet these are not your usual telephone interviews from your office or home, or typical down-the-line TV interviews. In fact, being interviewed online can be an exhausting and challenging experience - if you don't take steps to get yourself ready.

Be prepared

Prepare for the media interview in the same way you always would do by considering who will see, hear or read the interview; but also warm up your voice. Think about repeating a tongue twister or yawning to stretch your jaw beforehand so you are ready to speak clearly.

Check your dress or shirt for collars up, buttons undone or anything else that might detract from the messages you want to convey.

Make a good first impression

When the video camera is switched on, what does the journalist see? What does your environment and backdrop say about you? Is it professional or is there something behind you that will distract the journalist? Avoid clutter or a too minimalist look. Bookcases are also a bit old hat these days - but a picture or fire place, for example, can be a good look.

Check your lighting and camera position

Where is the window in the room? Is half or more of your face in the shade? If your room is dark, consider investing in a small light to attach to your laptop or desktop computer. Ideally a window should be in front of you rather than behind.

Watch your distance

Don’t be too close or too far away from your camera. Getting it just right will help you engage with the journalist and his or her audience in the right way if the interview is being broadcast. Your head and shoulders should fill the screen with the camera lens at eye level.

Think about what you wear

Be smart but dress in a way that reflects your brand and your authentic voice. Whites and blacks can make the camera auto-adjust the brightness and then it can become hard to see your face. Pastel colours always work well for virtual interviews.

Remember the importance of tone of voice

How you sound and how you talk will have on impact on how you engage with the journalist and the audience. You need to consider the 5 P’s:

  • Pace: don’t speak too fast or slow

  • Pitch: how high or low is your voice and can you moderate it?

  • Pause: if you make an important point, have the confidence to pause for one or two seconds for effect

  • Projection: can the journalist or audience hear you?

  • Power: think about which words you stress or accentuate; these will be key messages that, if written down, would be bold or underlined. This needs to come across verbally.

Don’t let your body language let you down

Think about eye contact with the interviewer and look down the camera lens if you can… and smile. A smile always brings the screen and the interview to life.

Try and also sit still and avoid habits like playing with your hair. Don’t be afraid to use your hands if that is your natural manner, but don't overdo it and allow it to become distracting.

Above all, be yourself and not too corporate. The big plus side to virtual interviews is that they allow you to speak from the comfort and security of your home surroundings. Bring this familiarity to the conversation, and get across your true personality and that of the brand or company that you're proudly speaking on behalf of.

Steve Hemsley is Second Mountain Communications' trusted media trainer. An experienced journalist with almost 20 years' media training experience, Steve has trained executives from companies including M&S, Barclays, RBS, Boots, Disney, WPP, PepsiCo and Britvic, as well as a host of technology and marketing firms and start-ups. Steve specialises in teaching how to make the most out of any journalist interaction, understanding body language and tone of voice, and how to remain confident and in control during media interviews.

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