Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
Three years ago, did you go around work or school looking in a mirror for eight hours a day? Probably not, but now you do. The switch to an online environment during the Covid-19 pandemic brought to light the self-consciousness some of us have about our appearance. This anxiety is very real.
The pandemic also changed the television news landscape forever. In the 15 years I spent in a TV newsroom as a producer/editor, I watched the networks look for any way to save money and beat their competition to get the story first. When the pandemic pushed us inside, TV news still needed a way to feed the 24/7 cycle. Bringing on a guest from their home computer meant two things: They got them on fast and saved money doing it. I’m confident this practice is here to stay.
So, maybe you’re an author, entrepreneur or founder of a nonprofit looking to expand and you get a call for a slot on a news show. You jump for joy, right?
But once the afterglow fades, panic sets in. You don’t have the luxury of a TV studio or a professional camera crew showing up at your door. You are completely alone. On top of that, there’s tremendous “performance” pressure. The producer who booked you pitched you to their boss, and if you aren’t a good guest, the producer is going to hear about it and may not call you back. No one wants to be asked afterward, “Was this your first time on TV?”
Don’t worry though, there are steps you can take right now to prepare and calm the voice of doubt.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
It sounds easier than it is — turning off your mind is hard. Taking a walk can help clear your head. Prioritize getting a good night’s sleep, and a word of advice: Lay off the extra alcohol the night before. I produced a TV commercial with a hung-over retired NFL coach and my crew had to scramble to get him camera-ready quickly as the anxious director paced around.
Pick a Nice-Looking Backdrop
Audiences have gotten over seeing into people’s homes on video interviews. But you don’t have a professional camera crew with you who would throw the background out of focus, so we will see what’s behind you. If your kitchen is the best place, clear the clutter and don’t make it look staged. Better yet, pick a bookshelf and put your products, awards or books where we can see them. Practice with your camera and background ahead of time. Do not have a window behind you because your face will be completely blown out by the sun.
Position the Camera in a Way That Flatters Your Face
A laptop on a low desk is not a flattering angle; the camera is pointing up and now you have three chins. Raise your device so that the position of the camera is eye level or just slightly above. A lot of us during the pandemic built elaborate “Zoom” towers out of stacked books for this very reason. You could also consider buying an inexpensive webcam and clipping it to the top of your laptop. Ring lights are great too but if you wear glasses, skip them — we will see the reflection of the light in the lenses. Instead, use the lights you have on hand.
The Great Microphone Debate
You want to sound the best that you can. The built-in mic on your laptop is OK, but a pair of Bluetooth earbuds, like AirPods, or a pair of wired earbuds with a microphone is better. Avoid a gaming headset with a flip-down mic because it will engulf your head on camera. If you want to go all out and buy a studio microphone on a stand, that’s OK, but remember it’s sensitive, and if you bump your desk, we are going to hear a loud noise.
During the pandemic, we had to conduct video interviews for projects this way and one interviewee had a studio mic. He was so excited that he repeatedly hit his hand on the desk for emphasis. That made most of the interview unusable. Instead, I recommend getting a lavalier microphone and clipping it to your shirt or jacket at the level of your heart. Same as the studio mic, resist the temptation to place your hand on your chest for emphasis, as you will bump the lavalier and we will hear it.
Write Down Your Talking Points and Then Put Them Away
The producer is going to prep you for what will be discussed. Write down your talking points, go over them and when it’s time for the interview, put them away. If you have them next to you, you will use them as a crutch, which means you will lose eye contact with the camera, and then you have lost us. If you have your notes as a document open on your laptop, then you are looking at the notes on your screen. Can we see your eyes moving back and forth? Yes, we can. We are no longer paying attention to what you are saying and instead are wondering what you are looking at.
Consider Hiring a Professional Media Trainer/Coach
If you are in this for the long haul, consider hiring a professional media trainer. Not only are they going to help you look your best — they are going to help you talk your best. Many of them are former on-camera news talents in a second career. They know exactly how an interview can go off the rails in a matter of seconds. A professional media trainer can teach you how to steer yourself back on track.
Keep in mind if you flub up, correct it and keep going. After all, this is a conversation with another human being. Be as natural as possible. Take a deep breath (or several) and just be yourself!