Tips for Skype/FaceTime Interviews

Social distancing, quarantining, and an increase in working from home have moved many face-to-face meetings and conferences to video chat platforms. The 24-hour news channels have also increased the number of interviews they are doing through Skype, FaceTime, and other services. Below are my tips on how to ace these interviews; most of which also apply to online meetings and conferences.

Make sure your home network can handle a video call

The last thing you want during a TV interview is for your picture to lag, scramble, or freeze. If you’ve had problems with other video calls, see about upping your network speed. Also, ask that no one in your home stream any movies while you’re on your call (promise them it’s a short interview). Turn off any notifications for both your computer and your phone – it may be best to keep your phone in another room just in case.

Check out your background

ESPN’s Adam Schefter from his home studio

Treat your home office like a TV studio. What is behind you? Does it distract in any way? Are you too close to the wall so it looks you’re posing for your mugshot? Is there anything controversial there? The safest bets are to appear in front of a bookcase (with books!), or a wall with paintings or prints on it.

Set the camera at the right height

In the early days of Skype interviews, many interviewees would simply put their laptops on their desks and look down at them. This led to thousands of “up nostril” shots that were so distracting it was hard to pay attention to the interview. Conversely, many doing interviews from their desktops were forced to strain upwards to look at the camera. If you’re using a laptop, prop it high enough so you are looking right at it. For a desktop, raise yourself in your chair to get the same effect.

Have your notes on your screen

Remote interviews are the ONLY video interviews where you can have notes – because the interviewers/audience won’t see them. I recommend having a word processing file with your key points and answers to your toughest questions on your screen. Make sure the font is big enough for you to read it, but not so big you have to scroll during the interview (you should not touch your mouse or keyboard during an interview unless absolutely necessary).

Look at the camera, not yourself

It’s hard, when there’s a live picture of you sitting right there on your computer, not to stare at it and check your hair/makeup/posture. Resist the urge. If you can, move the shot of you directly under your camera. Or place your notes there so you can read them and still make good eye contact.

Check your sound and lighting

Don’t let your interview look like “Manos, The Hands of Fate”

I love bad movies. One of the clearest indications you are watching a bad movie is the sound and lighting – if you can’t see or hear what’s going on, you can be pretty sure the script and acting aren’t going to be Oscar-worthy either. Similarly, in an interview, poor sound and lighting will create a poor impression with your audience. You don’t need a professional light and mic kit, just make sure you have good light (preferably natural) coming from in front of you and that you can be heard. Unless absolutely necessary, do NOT use earbuds/headphones or a visible mic. Also, check that your glasses are not reflecting your computer screen or what’s on your desk (which you should clean off just in case).

Treat the home interview like it’s an in-studio interview

All of the rules and tips still apply. Dress like you would for a studio interview – same goes for make-up. Gesture. Use the reporter’s name. Make good eye contact (see above). Have good posture. Make your key points. Handle your negative questions directly.

Test it before the interview

Videochat with someone whose opinion you trust, and who will give it to you straight, before you do any interview. Record the chat, then play it back and critique yourself. It’s better to discover that you can see that messy pile of papers in the shot when you’re on with your mom than when you are on with CNN.

A real life example

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who has tested positive for coronavirus and is quarantined in his home, gives us a great “before and after” for these tips (N.B. he is not my client). In this still from his March 13 MSNBC interview, notice how he is looking down at his computer, instead of straight on. The background, while not distracting, is also not right for an interview. The lighting is OK, but needs improvement. And, the Apple Airbuds are a distraction (especially as they are white and he is in front of a white background).

Now look at this still from his March 17 MSNBC interview. The background is more appropriate, and he is far enough in front of it that it doesn’t dominate the shot. He is looking straight on, meaning the computer is at an appropriate level. The lighting is better, which makes the mayor the focus of the shot, not just part of it. And he’s lost the distracting airbuds.

One last tip

LOCK YOUR OFFICE DOOR!!!!!

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