When faced with a media interview, most people are frightened of expressing something the wrong way.
In reality, many an interviewee has been let down by looking the wrong way (and I’m not talking about their appearance). It’s their eyes that are the problem, not their mouths.
There’s something about a TV camera that is “magnetic” and when it’s pointing at YOU, it’s hard not to look straight at it. But, with one notable exception, you must resist this temptation.
Why? Well, have a look at this clip of former News Of The World journalist Neville Thurlbeck as he’s introduced on BBC2’s Newsnight.
Unfortunately, Neville does more than simply glance at the camera – though this is bad enough in itself, as it makes an interviewee look shifty – he stares at it and actually follows its movement around the studio.
As a result, some might think he looks pretty sinister! And no matter how he performs in the interview itself, the damage has been done.
Indeed, Neville himself accepts on his website, “I didn’t realise we were live and was practising my Bela Lugosi impersonation and was caught on the hop.”
Alas, Newsnight is not really the forum for a Dracula impression Neville.
So, if you find yourself doing a face-to-face TV interview, make sure you look at the person asking the questions. If the interview is a long one and you sense you’re beginning to stare at the presenter, just look at their ear or the top of their head – the camera won’t pick up a slight movement like that.
The one exception I alluded to is when you do a “down-the-line” – one of those interviews we’ve all seen, where the interviewee is in a remote studio, although that’s a bit of a grand description. It’s rarely more than a cupboard with a backdrop, which often symbolises the location, such as the dreaming spires of Oxford, or the splendid Royal Pavilion if it’s Brighton.
Then you should look directly at the camera and this time you must avoid looking at the presenter, whose image will appear on a tiny TV monitor in a corner of the booth. Better still, switch off the monitor – you can still hear the questions via your ear piece.
Follow these simple rules and you won’t have, as Ann Widdecombe once remarked of Michael Howard, that other famous Newsnight interviewee, “something of the night” about you.
Only Dracula would be happy with that.