Remember those screen-grabs of vast video conference calls everyone posted on LinkedIn during the first lockdown (apart from you, obviously) ?
No-one does them anymore because everyone knows the reality. After the fifth online meeting of the day, there’s the dull headache, the eye-strain – and that sense of spending too long communicating with humans shrunk to the size of credit-cards.
Even so, some of those video calls demand doing more than just showing up. And right at the top of the list are virtual TV interviews, the demand for which shows no signs of abating.
Paradoxically, having done countless video calls doesn’t mean we’re any good at them – and can entrench bad habits. As the saying goes, just because everyone has a kitchen doesn’t mean we can all cook. And a disengaged and incompetent cook is the worst kind of all.
I am still astonished by how many senior executives and politicians still don’t look into their webcam a year into the pandemic – despite knowing to look into the camera when doing a down-the-line TV interview [looking into a camera not always best practice, of course]. Looking the audience in the eye is one of the few tools we have to create meaningful engagement with a remote audience. And these are people who have paid personal PR staff.
For those new to the world of virtual interviews, the biggest anxiety for spokespeople often focuses on the tech, particularly lighting.
If you want a non-scary low-tech solution for lighting and other logistics of virtual interviews, here are a couple of things to think about beyond the usual broadcasting rules about not wearing busy jewellery etc:
- Position yourself in front of a window so that you get the natural light from in front of you. Don’t stress about your background. Provided it’s not squalid or distracting, a natural backdrop is often preferable to a slick but cheap virtual background. Green screens can help but if you are someone who talks with your hands you may still look as though you are emerging from a radioactive smog. Keep the clever tech to a minimum – it’s just something else to go wrong.
- Put books under your laptop or adjust the height so that you are looking into it at webcam at eye level i.e. into the audience’s eyes. You may already do this at your usual work desk but if you move set-ups you will need to do it again. If you doubt your capacity to do this under pressure put a note next to your webcam with the words ‘Look at me’ (or something ruder) if it will help. I like to call my webcam Polyphemus after the Cyclops in The Odyssey.
- You may find it easier to manage your light if you stand up, as the light will diffuse differently, especially if you are doing interviews during bright sunlight or towards the end of the day.
- Standing also helps create a sense of occasion/performance which we all need given that everyone is tired of Zoom and it’s hard to get excited, particularly if you have just spent the previous three hours on Zoom or Teams calls. But stand still, a wafting interviewee is not an authoritative one.
- If you are hand talker don’t stand too close to your screen. A wider frame will dilute your hand gestures which means you won’t exhaust your audience with intense gestures. This is a better option than trying to suppress hand movements which help you to be articulate, particularly if you are also trying to too meaningfully to your webcam.
Others will have countless other tips.
Please do share yours.