Too often you see an interviewee who’s not looking at the camera when doing a down-the-line interview. Their eyes seem to have wandered off into some middle distance to the left or right of the camera. It looks as though the interviewee is surveying a distant horizon in search of help or is scanning a prompt card held up by their PR aide.
The truth is they are looking at themselves!
Or rather, they are looking at a TV monitor to the side of the camera where the live programme is being broadcast and hence they can see themselves. It’s like looking into a mirror and lots of people like doing that.
The monitor will have been left in place after a previous interview. Perhaps Sky’s Political Editor was the last person in the studio, talking about Cabinet arrivals in Downing Street, for which he needs to see the pictures. He’ll want to talk about the Defence Secretary as he or she is walking into Number Ten and not the Environment Secretary. Or maybe the BBC’s Europe Correspondent is in a Brussels studio talking about EU leaders arriving for a summit. He’ll want to talk about the German chancellor when the viewer can see pictures of the chancellor and then mention the French president as the delegation from Paris arrives.
This is known as ‘talking to pictures’. It’s rare that a non-journalist interviewee will need to do this. So a regular interviewee might arrive in a studio for a down-the-line interview, discover that the monitor has been left facing them and will inevitably find their eyeline drawn towards it. For the viewer at home this is very distracting. Viewers like to look an interviewee straight in the eye. In such circumstances, it’s generally advisable for the interviewee to turn the monitor away so that they don’t end up looking at it instead of the camera.
Indeed, eyeline is one of the most important measures of how well an interviewee performs in an interview – whether down-the line or face-to-face in a live studio interview. In the latter case, it’s vital that the interviewee looks directly at the interviewer. They shouldn’t glance nervously left or right or, worse still, up at the ceiling – as though in search of divine inspiration.