When you are being interviewed on a television news channel, it’s most important that the viewers out there focus on what the interviewee or spokesperson is saying. After all, that’s the reason that most people agree to be interviewed. They need to get some important messages across to the world at large and thereby win the support of the general public as a result.
This will not be achieved if the interviewee displays irritating, annoying, unnecessary or over-the-top mannerisms that distract the viewer from the words he or she is speaking.
Let’s start with those on-camera mannerisms that steer the TV audience away from what you are actually saying.
In a face-to-face studio interview, for example, make sure you are sitting fairly upright in the studio chair. This doesn’t mean that your seating posture should resemble that of a nervous wreck – someone who’s so terrified of what lies in store that they are sitting upright in a way that makes them look like a petrified school child worried in case their teacher tells them off for adopting a lazy seating position at their school desk.
On the other hand, you don’t want to be seen slouching in the studio chair, as though you have just dropped in after an overnight cannabis session, or you’re so unconcerned about how the interview turns out, you’re quite happy to loll around as though you are having a lazy chat stretched out on a bean bag.
Instead, it’s got be a balance between the “lazy” and the “set-in-concrete” seating position.
A good way to remember what seating position to adopt in the studio chair is “BBC”. For most people that obviously means “British Broadcasting Corporation”. When it comes to how you should sit in front of the TV camera, however, it means “BACKSIDE on BACK of CHAIR”. Get your backside well tucked in against the back of the studio chair and this will give you a seating position that makes you look professional and business-like.
Another problem you can have with a studio chair is if it swivels.
In many TV news studios, the interviewee’s chair will be locked by the studio floor manager so that it doesn’t swivel. Sometimes this doesn’t happen. So, if you go into the studio and discover you’re sitting in a swivel chair, lock it off yourself.
If you are unable to do this, because the interview starts before you have had a chance to do so, make sure you don’t swivel during the interview. It can look bad.
Let’s assume you are the CEO of an arms manufacturing company that’s been accused of secretly selling arms to a regime somewhere in the world that’s run by a dictator who tortures and kills his opponents, bombs villages that are sympathetic to the dictator’s opponents and suppresses a free media. An anti-weapons activist group has made the accusation.
However, there are serious doubts about whether the activist group is correct in its allegation about the arms manufacturing company. No proof exists.
As the CEO of the company involved, you are invited onto a major international news programme to respond. You agree to appear on the programme.
The first question from your interviewer is this: “These are very serious allegations against your company. They mean that you and your company have been exporting weapons under cover to this tyrannical, anti-democratic regime and have therefore been instrumental in the killing of thousands of people.”
That’s a pretty direct question that gets straight to the heart of the allegations being made.
If the first thing the viewer sees from you in reply is a definitive swivel in your chair, that sends out a signal, namely this question has thrown the interviewee completely and that he or she has gone off in search of an answer. In other words, in the mind of the viewer the interviewer was spot on with that question.
At a moment like that, it’s best not to swivel in your chair. Hold your seating position.
Similar advice comes into play when you are taking part in a satellite interview or “down-the-line” interview, as we call it in the trade.
This is where you are not in the studio, face-to-face with your interviewer, but somewhere else. You cannot go to the studio, for whatever reason, and so the TV news team will arrange to have a camera team sent to you.
You might be attending a conference somewhere and so the camera guys will set up outside on the pavement and phone you to come out for the interview when they are ready.
The interview might also be outside your office. In either case, you just don’t have time to go into the news studio.
This is where you look directly into the camera while being interviewed, because your interviewer is miles away.
In interviews like this you will be standing up in front of the camera. You therefore don’t have to worry about being seen swivelling in a studio chair. What you do need to focus on, however, is how you balance your body while being interviewed.
Let’s take a different scenario. You are a politician attending the annual conference of your party. In recent months, your party’s ratings in opinion polls have plummeted.
The first question to you from the interviewer is this: “Let’s be honest. Your party is going to be wiped out at the next general election, wouldn’t you agree?”
At a moment like this, a lot of interviewees suddenly transfer their weight from one foot to the other. Like swivelling, this sudden weight-transfer can come across as looking like an interviewee who has been seriously unsettled by the question and who doesn’t know where to go with their answer, let alone the rest of the interview.
When doing an interview standing up, make sure you disperse your weight equally on both feet and keep it like that throughout the interview.
There’s another way of interviewing you if you are unable to make it to the TV station’s news studio. The programme will invite you into another studio, somewhere near to where you happen to be on that day. If you are a German CEO attending a conference in Munich, for example, and a national TV news station wants to interview you, they might well set up a TV studio for you near where you are.
Let’s say ZDF in Mainz, one of the two main channels in Germany, wants to interview you. They’ll contact the ZDF office in Munich and book a studio for you at their Munich office.
One thing to watch out for in an interview like this is the TV monitor next to the camera that’s trained on you.
It’s there for a reason and the reason is not you.
Earlier in the day, a story broke in Munich – let’s say a train crash on the outskirts of the city. A ZDF correspondent based in Munich has been at the scene of the crash all day sending back live reports. He’s now back in Munich and is doing a “down-the-line” interview for the main ZDF news programme in Mainz, summing up the day’s events.
A TV monitor will be placed next to the TV camera for the following reason. The ZDF correspondent will need to make his interview relevant to how the day’s events unfolded. The news director in Mainz also wants to broadcast pictures of the train crash as the correspondent is talking. The correspondent can make his words relevant only if he can see what pictures are being broadcast while he is reporting, so that he can adjust his words accordingly.
Hence, the TV monitor next to the camera.
The problem is that when the interview is over, everyone in the Munich office is so busy they leave the TV monitor where it is.
You come into the studio an hour later and, while you are being interviewed, the “live” programme that’s going out on air can be been seen on the monitor you are looking into. In other words, you can see yourself on the monitor as you are being interviewed.
In such circumstances, the interviewee in question is certain to keep looking at the monitor – to get a glimpse of how they are coming across to the audience. You cannot stop yourself doing it.
Not good. Glancing at the monitor like that can appear to the TV audience as though the interviewee is extremely nervous.
Or, it can look as though the interviewee has their PR person standing next to the camera holding up a sheet of written-down messages and pointing to the one the interviewee should go to next.
Either way, it’s another way for an interviewee to look very rattled while being questioned.
Then there’s the whole issue of what you do with your arms and hands while being interviewed in a face-to-face studio interview.
You have to remember the size of the TV screen that the viewer is looking at while watching you. It’s not that big. That’s why most cameramen shoot an interview based on what we call a “tight head” – that’s a shot from the breastbone upwards.
So, if you are asked a question and there are two important points you wish to make in reply, don’t wave your arms around so that they go out of shot and therefore off the TV screen.
Don’t send your right arm off to the right as you say, “The first important point to make is…” and then send your left arm hurtling to the left as you say, “And secondly…”
You look as though you are conducting an orchestra.
If you want to use a hand movement to ram home a point, keep your hand within the range of that “tight head” mentioned above.
Occasionally, the cameraman might “pull out” and change from a “tight head” to a “wide shot”. This could involve the viewer seeing all of you in the studio chair or from the kneecaps upwards.
In case this happens, don’t clasp your hands around one of your knees, if you have one leg folded over the other.
Almost certainly your thumbs will pop up and you will start twiddling them. That’s another sign of nervousness.
Another danger for the interviewee when the cameraman pulls back to a “wide shot” of you is this: what’s sitting on your lap?
Have you taken a cluster of notes with you into the studio and they’re on you lap while you’re being questioned?
Let’s say you are the Financial Director of a company being interviewed on a business programme about your company’s annual financial results.
Half way through the interview the cameraman very generously goes to a “wide shot” to demonstrate how relaxed you look and how well you are interacting with your interviewer.
Pulling out his lens in this way, means the cameramen has opened to the public all those notes that are placed on your lap. In a newspaper newsroom somewhere else, a journalist is watching the interview. As the cameraman goes to his wide shot, the journalist pulls out his cell phone and takes a photo of the notes. After the interview, he zooms in on your notes, turns the picture upside down and sees the words: “Don’t mention yesterday’s raid by tax officials”.
This was one of the key points you were told to keep in mind when you were briefed ahead of the interview by your comms person. Unfortunately, you wrote it down,
That journalist and his newspaper now have a belter of a news story. So, when being interviewed, it’s very important to prepare what you want to say but, while being interviewed, watch out of for those mannerisms that can distract your audience from what you are saying, leave them feeling you are not the genuine article or that you are way out of your depth.