The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone’s editors or publishers.
Three years ago, did you go to work or school looking at yourself in the mirror eight hours a day? Probably not, but now you do. The shift to an online environment during the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to light the awareness some of us have about how we look. This anxiety is very real.
The pandemic has also changed the television news landscape forever. In my 15 years in a TV newsroom as a producer/editor, I watched the networks look for any way to save money and beat their competitors to get the story first. When the pandemic pushed us inside, television news still needed a way to power the 24/7 cycle. Bringing in a guest from their home computer meant two things: they did it quickly and they saved money doing it. I am convinced that this practice is here to stay.
So, maybe you’re an author, entrepreneur, or the founder of a nonprofit looking to grow and you get a call for a spot on a news show. You’re jumping for joy, aren’t you?
But once the afterglow wears off, panic sets in. You don’t have the luxury of having a TV studio or professional film crew showing up at your doorstep. You are completely alone. On top of that, there’s a huge amount of “performance” pressure. The producer who booked you introduced you to his boss, and if you’re not a good guest, the producer will hear about it and may not call you back. No one wants to be asked next, “Was this your first time on TV?”
Don’t worry though, there are steps you can take right now to prepare and quiet the voice of doubt.
Have a good night
Sounds easier than it is – turning off your mind is hard. Going for a walk can help clear your head. Prioritize a good night’s sleep and one tip: cut out the excess alcohol the night before. I produced a TV ad with a hungover retired NFL coach, and my team had to scramble to get him ready on camera quickly as the anxious director paced.
Choose a nice backdrop
Audiences ended up seeing into people’s homes during video interviews. But you don’t have a professional camera crew with you blurring the background, so we’ll see what’s behind you. If your kitchen is the best place, get rid of the clutter and don’t make it look staged. Better yet, choose a library and place your products, awards, or books where we can see them. Practice with your camera and background in advance. Don’t have a window behind you because your face will be completely blown out by the sun.
Position the camera to flatter your face
A laptop on a low desk is not a flattering angle; the camera is pointing up and you now have three chins. Raise your device so that the camera position is at or slightly above eye level. Many of us during the pandemic have built elaborate “Zoom” towers out of stacked books for this very reason. You can also consider buying an inexpensive webcam and attaching it to the top of your laptop. Ring lights are also fine, but if you wear glasses, avoid them – we will see the reflection of light in the glasses. Instead, use whatever lights you have on hand.
The Great Microphone Debate
You want to sound the best you can. Your laptop’s built-in mic is OK, but a pair of Bluetooth headphones, like AirPods, or a wired pair of headphones with a microphone is best. Avoid a gaming headset with a flip-up mic as it will swallow your head up in front of the camera. If you want to go all out and buy a stand-alone studio microphone, that’s fine, but remember it’s sensitive, and if you bump into your desk, we’re going to hear a loud noise.
During the pandemic we had to conduct video interviews for projects this way and one interviewee had a studio mic. He was so excited that he repeatedly slapped his hand on the desk to insist. This rendered most of the interview unusable. Instead, I recommend getting a lavalier microphone and clipping it to your shirt or jacket at heart level. Same as the studio mic, resist the temptation to place your hand on your chest for emphasis, because you’ll smack the lavalier and we’ll hear it.
Write down your talking points, then put them away
The producer will prepare you for what will be discussed. Write down your talking points, review them, and when it comes time for the interview, put them away. If you have them next to you, you’ll be using them as a kickstand, which means you’ll lose eye contact with the camera, and then you’ve lost us. If you have your notes as an open document on your laptop, you’re looking at the notes on your screen. Can we see your eyes moving back and forth? Yes we can. We no longer pay attention to what you say and instead wonder what you are watching.
Consider hiring a professional media trainer/coach
If you’re in it for the long haul, consider hiring a professional media trainer. Not only will they help you look your best, they’ll help you speak your best. Many of them are former on-camera news talents in second careers. They know exactly how an interview can go off the rails in seconds. A professional media trainer can teach you how to get back on track.
Keep in mind if you’re wrong, correct it and move on. After all, it’s a conversation with another human being. Be as much natural as possible. Take a deep breath (or several) and be yourself!