by Evan White, Account Director
“Say and spell your name”: Getting set for on-camera interviews
Before I got the words out, asking someone to say and spell their name (to have it recorded, and pronounced properly), the anxiety from interview subjects would be on full display. “The camera adds weight, I am having a bad hair day, my shirt is ugly, I smell.” Yes, people said that, and no, cameras aren’t on that level yet. These are some of the reasons lots of business leaders, professors, and everyday folks ducked my interview requests during a nearly 20-year run in local television news. Now, I am part of a talented team of professional communicators who help prepare clients to perform well in front of a lens as they do in the conference room.
At Issues Management Group, we have a skilled team with decades of experience in media relations, content creation, strategic counsel, and of course, media training. As someone who has been interviewed on CNN, the Wall Street Journal Radio, a popular local talk show, and by one of my former TV stations, I understand both sides of the interview.
While many companies that grant on-camera interviews to local television stations, networks, online outlets, or documentarians may plan to focus on the chief executive officer or other leadership members, it’s important to get everyone ready when the red light goes on. When a company or organization invites a media member to their facility, there should be the expectation that anyone else in their path could be of interest for the purpose of the story, b-roll, or the web image that will accompany the online version of the piece.
At times, the viewpoint of the journalist may not align with the expectations of the executives, but that won’t mean a negative story, just a different angle or focus than the business may have expected. No, the camera can’t smooth the wrinkles in your shirt or adjust your hairline, but it’s not the enemy, either. Preparing for interviews should be simple.
Executive, Leadership Team, Manager
Have confidence because you already know the answer. Except for certain investigative or political stories (you would determine the purpose of the interview before agreeing to participate), on-camera interviewers are not there to stump their subjects or make them defensive. What hurts an executive while on camera, in my experience, is anxiety since this is an unnatural way to chat. Ultimately, it is just a conversation. Shorter answers tend to be best, a line or two, well delivered is superior to a dense explanation that may not be useable.
If you’re a real estate developer, you know about every type of filing, the costs of your projects, number of properties, and many other specifics. Share your thoughts in a sentence or two. Be brief, speak up, and look at the person asking the question, never the camera or photographer. I despise the phrase “act natural,” because there is nothing natural about a camera, microphone, or three-point lighting in your conference room. What you can do is focus on the person speaking with you like they were any other guest in your office.
Local reporters are almost always urged to get “real people” not officials or executives. So, the hospital administrator may be of less interest, and have fewer seconds on-air, than the emergency room nurse, or social worker. The people battling day-to-day issues add perspective management often cannot. They are seen as more relatable. Making sure your media contact gets a full description of what the reporter’s story is about and what they will need, is vital.
The regular worker may only need to be available for a short time, to share a story of their typical day, struggles, and stressors. Be genuine, to-the-point. Communications staff will want to explain the interview, do some vetting, but not burn talking points into the brains of everyone in the office.
Everyone interviewed wants to look good on-camera and nail every aspect of the interview. With a little preparation, but not granular rehearsing, this can be achieved. Getting too technical, using jargon or acronyms specific to the industry will diminish your points. If you can explain what your company does, how an event has changed the business, or walk a reporter through your innovation in a sentence – you have already nailed it.