Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lights, Camera, Action!

In our ongoing effort to relate all the important aspects of public relations and social media to small businesses and non-profits, we here at Real Public Relations want to pass on some information designed to make you a movie star!  Well, maybe not a movie star, but certainly a TV darling, and if not a TV darling then most definitely an internet sensation.

Learning how to craft your press release and build your social media network is vitally important to the success of your growing organization, no doubt about it.  But what you do after you nail down that all-important interview is equally important.

I've written in this space before about producers and reporters constantly diving back into the well of interviewees they feel comfortable with.  Once they find a person who is easy to interview, speaks in sound bites and looks and sounds good on tape, they will go back to that individual time and time again.

But what constitutes "looking and sounding good?"  It's a combination of things, and, depending on the medium, requires different skills.  First and foremost you have to come across as both likeable, knowledgable and trustworthy.  That's a difficult combination to pull off, just ask any politician.

Or you could simply take a look at this article that appeared on the InventorSpot website discussing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his upcoming television interview.  Click here for the entire article: 

Or, you could just look at this video to see how easy it is to screw up a TV interview:

I've been doing media training for over a decade now and I've seen some clients completely destroy all the good effort they put into their PR campaign simply by doing poorly in an interview.  It's like I used to tell my students at the University of Colorado at Denver; when it comes to being on television or radio, "anyone can do it, not everyone can do it well."  Clearly, Mr "Z" has an issue with his TV image.  There's not much you can do about sweating on camera.  Some tips include not doing anything phsyical leading up to the interview, certain kinds of make-up will also help.  Wearing cool, breathable clothing will also help.  However, if you can't overcome your penchant for sweating profusely, then you might consider avoiding TV interviews when possible.  It simply makes you look shifty.

In other words, yes, you can go on television and be interviewed.  You can probably get through it without any major gaffes or slips of the tongue, or a river of sweat.  But you might not get the bump in business you hoped for because, while you did it adequately, you didn't do it well.  There's a different between just being interviewed, and being a great interview.  And that difference could spell disaster or lead to success.

So, for your benefit, here is a list of tips for being interviewed, whether it's a TV interview, a radio interview or a print interview, if you follow these tips, you'll have more impact every time you speak to a journalist and you'll start to see your business grow.

Television Etiquette:

Television interviews are perhaps the hardest of all interviews for the simple reason that there's a camera involved.  Most of us don't spend our lives in front of cameras.  It's alien to us and, for many, the addition of the camera makes them uncomfortable.  One of the ways to get past this fear is simply to record yourself over and over and over again, until you begin to feel at ease in front of the lights and the camera.

When I media train a client, I always put them in front of a camera early so they can see exactly how they look.  Most are shocked by how they appear on camera, much like many are surprised at how they sound on tape.  When you go on camera for a TV interview, you can't dress or act like you do during everyday interactions.  You want to present an image to potential customers, one that is polished and professional and likeable.  You may think you present that image in public already, and most likely you do.  But on TV everything is exaggerated, so you have to adjust.

Appearance - There are some very simple rules when appearing on TV for an interview:
1.  wear the right clothes: This means no black, white or patterened shirts, blouses, suits or skirts.
2.  Your clothes should be pressed, clean and professional.  Make sure you match.  If you question what you're wearing, ask someone.
3.  Women, wear makeup.  You don't have to go all Tammy Fay Baker, but wear something because the studio lights will wash out your face and you'll look like a ghost.  Make sure you have some color in your cheeks.
4.  Men, shave. If you have a beard, make sure it's trimmed.  Trim your nose hairs, ear hairs and eyebrows.  If you have a wild hair sticking out somewhere on your face, no one will hear what you're saying, they'll only be focused on that hair.
5.  Keep your hair out of your face.  I know it sounds strange, but people get distracted by things like this.
In Denver, there's a local anchor for the number-one 10pm newscast in town.  She is an excellent journalist and a well-liked anchor.  She's been on the air for over ten years and has won many awards for her work.  But when I ask someone of their initial thoughts on this particular anchor, the one thing that comes up constantly is her hair.  When she first started, her hair was, well, awful.  it was big and distracting and out of style.  For years she has had a pretty fashionable hairstyle, and yet viewers just can't seem to get past her hair.  You don't want to become the person that's known as "The guy with the strange tie" or the woman with that awful dress" or "the dude with the funky goatee".  People won't remember what you said or what your message was if all they remember is how you looked.

Demeanor - I can't stress enough how important this is to the success of a TV interview:
1.  Sit up straight.  Don't slouch, don't turn to the side, don't fidget.  Put your feet squarely on the floor in front of you, sit on the edge of the chair and push your head back, chest out.  It may feel strange, but it looks good.
2.  Don't talk with your hands.  Again, this is distracting.  You can gesture occasionally, but don't let your hands fly around while discussing something your passionate about.  This can be hard, especially if you're used to a lot of hand movement when you speak.  But it won't take long for viewers to stop listening to your words and start focusing on your flying fingers.
3.  Don't talk with your head.  A lot of folks like to emphasize their points with head gestures.  This makes you look like a ragdoll.  If you absolutely have to move while your speaking, bend at the waist, just slightly and try to keep it to a minimum.
4.  Don't fidget.  Moving around makes you look nervous.  Looking nervous makes you look untrustworthy.  You want people to believe you, to want to listen to you.  If you fidget, you seem unsure and no one wants to get advice or tips or insight from someone who isn't confident in what they're saying.
5.  Don't have shifty eyes.  This one is a toughie for a lot of people.  When you sit down for an interview, the producer or anchor or reporter will tell you where to look.  Open your eyes, and look directly where they tell you.  Don't look at the camera (unless they specifically tell you to do so), don't look around at other things, just look where they tell you to look.  Again, looking around makes you look uncomfortable, unsure and untrustworthy.  If you're speaking to a reporter or anchor in person, make eye contact and don't break it.  Oh, and don't forget to blink, otherwise you're just staring, and that's not good either.
6. Smile.  I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but you'd be amazed at how many clients I've had to tell to smile over the years.  Smiling makes you seem nice, it makes you seem approachable, it makes you likeable.  Try practicing your smile in front of a mirror.  Find the one that looks and feels natural and rehearse it.  
7. Breathe.  Again, it seems like a no-brainer, but I've seen interviewees actually pass out during interviews because they forgot to breathe.  I couldn't tell you what the interview was about, but I certianly can remember the individual, because he simply fell off the chair in the middle of an interview.  Don't be that guy.
Message - Now you get to focus on what you're saying:
1.  It's how you say it.  Don't be angry, don't be wimpy.  Speak in a confident voice, be passionate, but don't spew words out like you're a machine gun.  Be measured and enunciate.  Your message won't have any impact at all if no one can understand what you're saying, or won't listen because you're angry.  
2.  Speak in short sentences.  Otherwise known as sound bites.  As you're preparing for your interview, try breaking your messages down into a series of 10 to 12 second statements.  The shorter and simpler the statement, the more understandable and impactful your message will be.
3.  Answer the questions directly, don't answer a question with a question, this makes you look defensive, and don't expand on a question that steers away from what was asked.  These things make you look evasive and untrustworthy.  
4.  Be flexible.  You might have an idea of the questions you will be asked beforehand, more often than not, you won't.  Just be prepared with your messages and go with the flow.  The worst thing you can do is to stick only to your messages.  You'll look like a robot with no personality and no ability to adjust on the fly.  This won't instill confidence in you from the viewer standpoint.
When I was working at KOA radio, I often covered Denver's Mayor, Wellington Webb.  A good guy, but a true nightmare for reporters because he had a tendency to ramble.  Often, we'd have to dig through his interviews or press conferences for a nugget of a soundbite.  He made our job harder and we never looked forward to his interviews.  We much preferred talking to his press secretary, Andrew Hudson, who was a great interview.  You want to the one reporters want to talk to, not the one reporters dread talking to.

I understand that this is a lot to take in at once, and believe me, I know it's not easy.  Keeping your appearance, your posture, your smile, your eyes all in check while simultaneously trying to speak in short, simple sentences, it's almost too much to think about.  Again, you can practice in front of your own camera and then review it to analyze your TV image.  You'll only need to see yourself slouching or having shifty eyes or rambling on and on in response to a question once before you realize what adjustments you need to make to look good on camera.

You're On The Air:

Radio interviews are a different kind of beast since you're not as concerned about how you look, but how you sound.  When doing a radio interview the length of your answers are even more important.  You will rarely get more than a couple of minutes for a radio interview, so you want to get through as many questions as possible.  If you take up 45 seconds to answer one question, you're going to be limited to only a few questions.  If you limit your answers to 10-15 seconds, you can answer many more questions.

Looking professional, sitting up straight, sitting on the edge of the chair and smiling will also help you during in-studio interviews.  There is an energy you can hear in people's voices.  If you sound tired, or uninterested, then you will be unintersting to listen to.  You want to have energy, be excited, but, again, don't speak to loudly or too fast.

One aspect of radio interviews that is perhaps the second most difficult kind of interview is "the phoner".  This is usually a live interview conducted over the phone, however they can also be pre-taped.  These are difficult because you're not talking to anyone in person, you're just talking into a phone.

This means you have to listen very closely so you understand exactly what the question is and when you answer, speak slowly, clearly and enunciate.  One tip I can give you about phone interviews is this:
Never do a phone interview sitting down.  Your energy will be low and it will reflect in your voice.  Stand up, walk around and do it in a secluded area.  You don't want to be distracted by outside sounds or people.  Other than that, simply stay focused on keeping your answers short and sweet.

Headline Grabber:

Newspaper interviews are, in my opinion the most enjoyable and also the easiest.  You have a chance to talk to a reporter in a one-on-one situation, you can allow yourself to speak in more detail when answering a question and you don't have the camera, lights or microphone to distract you.  I always tell clients to approach a newspaper interview as if they're talking to a friend.  Keep your messages in mind, try to speak in short sentences and make eye contact.

Newspaper phone interviews are very much like radio phone interviews, if you can do a radio phoner, you can do a newspaper phoner, no problem.

One thing to remember when dealing with a newspaper interview is that sometimes accuracy gets lost in translation.  What you said, isn't always what the reporter might have heard or written down.  For this reason, I tell clients to take a small recorder with them when they do a newspaper interview.  Record the interview yourself.  Most reporters today record the interviews on their own, which is great, but just to be sure, you should also record it just in case you end up being misquoted.

A Few Final Tips:

This is going to sound strange, but one of the most important aspects to having a successfull interview is being relaxed.  Yes, it might be hard to be relaxed with all of these rules bouncing around in your head, but it's vital to being a great interview, whether it's on TV, radio or newspaper.

One of the ways to get relaxed during an interview is to simply chat with the reporter before the interview actually takes place.  If it's a live interview, in-studio, you'll have a second to chat with the anchor, but not much time at all.  In these instances, just remember to breathe and go over your messages.  The anchor may ask you a question or two while in the break, if this is the case, answer them, compliment them on their work, don't be afraid of chit chat.

During an interview, you want to be open, but you don't want to be an open book.  In other words, you want to answer every question honestly and openly, but you don't want to volunteer information.  This is where rambling can get you in trouble.  You might say something that leads the interview in a completely different direction than where you want it to go.  Just answer the questions, don't start talking about things not related to the question at hand.

We'll discuss the art of controlling the interview in upcoming posts.  In the meantime, find yourself a mirror, a camera, grab a friend and start practicing your close-up.

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