Nailing your TV interview: tips from our media trainer from her years at CBS, NBC & Bloomberg

TV interviews are an exciting opportunity to spread awareness about your ideas, product or brand. But if you’ve never appeared on TV (or have never been happy with your clips), the excitement can quickly morph into knots in the stomach and panicked overnight emails to your publicist.

That’s why when we book television interviews for our clients at BookSavvy PR and ThoughtSavvy PR, we hook them up with Katie Riess, our media trainer extraordinaire.

Katie’s deep media-world expertise is rooted in 15-plus years as a TV news producer and booker at shows from CBS News to Bloomberg TV’s “EnergyNOW” to NBC4 in Washington, D.C.

Below are highlights from the many tips she offers our thought leaders and authors before a big broadcast interview:

Q: What makes TV interviews different from other broadcast mediums (radio interviews, podcast interviews, etc.)?

KR: With TV interviews, camera position, pacing, body language and presentation all matter. This is where you have to really dig deep to notice how you come across and what might distract an audience. For instance, in a phone interview, no one will be distracted by roaming eyes as you search for a response to a question. But on TV, the same darting eyes can cause your whole audience to begin looking around the room with you. These types of seemingly small distractions can prevent viewers from fully engaging with you and your ideas.

So, your first goal while preparing for a visual interview is to eliminate as many distracting habits as possible to help listeners really key into your message.

Q: Say more about body language, cameras and pace. What are the quick-and-dirty tips I need to nail this?

KR: When you walk into a TV studio, you may be shocked to find that the room is much smaller than it appears on TV. Cameras may be practically on top of you and right in your face. Despite this, you have one goal: look natural. How is this done? Just like in a casual conversation, you should focus on the person you’re speaking with. Don’t look directly into the camera. Look at the host, reporter or other guests.

Even if you are on TV to speak about a serious issue, I always recommend to start by smiling as you are introduced. This creates immediate trust and likability with the audience, so practice smiling in a way that feels appropriate to your message.

Use your hands and body language the way you would when having a conversation with a friend or colleague. If you normally talk with your hands, go for it. Being comfortable, making gestures as you normally would, goes a long way toward conveying confidence and personality.

As for pace, remember: with TV, you are looking to produce soundbytes. Keep each answer to between 1-1.5 minutes if possible. Don’t ramble or offer too much background. Get straight to the point to keep things moving. The key is to practice while being recorded so you can go back and tweak how you look and sound.

Q: Aside from the basics of where to be when, what questions should I ask my publicist or the TV production team before the day of the interview?

KR: First, ask the length of the interview. Most TV interviews are under 10 minutes long, but you don’t want a surprise. Next, you want to know the format: Are you appearing on a panel show? Is it a roundtable? Will you be speaking one-on-one with the host? Make sure you know if the segment is live, taped, or taped-as-live (where you should act as if it is live because it will not be edited), and whether or not the segment will be edited. All of these factors can change the experience of the interview day, and you want to go into things with as clear a picture as possible. This will help keep you relaxed day-of.

You should also ask whether or not the show will provide hair and makeup. Definitely do not show up just out of the shower unsure of whether or not someone will handle that. More often than not, you should show up “camera ready.”

Q: Speaking of looks, what should I wear for a TV interview?

KR: This may be the most frequently asked interviewee question, and the short answer is: copy the host. Check out what the host(s) of the program you’re appearing on wear, and mimic that. Also, wear something that you feel confident in and is comfortable.

The longer answer: Don’t wear any type of tight or loud pattern. Never wear anything white or green (in case you’re in front of a green screen background!). Wear solid colors or women can wear toned-down florals. Keep it professional, but it doesn’t have to be a suit.

And this is key for women: try to find out if you’re sitting or standing. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen high-top chairs at tables on sets, and the tables are clear, which can make even a knee-length skirt appear really, really short.

Q: Visual interviews aren’t always in TV studios anymore — they’re often hosted remotely via Skype or Zoom and posted on social media, blogs, YouTube and internet channels. What advice do you have for those who have an upcoming remote visual interview?

KR: Body language and pace tips still apply. Test your computer camera angles before the interview, and choose a clean backdrop. But here’s the killer, and I can’t stress this enough: test your lighting. Over and over. Take screenshots, send them to friends, and ask how you look. So often, remote interviews can go from amateur to totally stellar with better lighting. One of the most important things is to make sure you can see your eyes. The audience tends to not listen if your eyes are in shadow or too dark.

How much light? As a rule of thumb, place one to two lights directly behind your computer or camera so it shines right on you. If it seems like you are blinded, then you are doing it right! This doesn’t require any special lights, but this article talks about the different kinds of lighting you can invest in if you’re going to be doing a lot of remote interviews. Often it’s a “the more light the better” situation. Be sure to practice not squinting and positioning the lights so you are able to keep your eyes open normally.

Q: How can I make sure the audience walks away understanding my core message?

KR: When you’re going into any interview — TV or otherwise — you should have the three main points you want to get across down cold. AND, you should have a story to illustrate each point. Stories are what people remember and will help get your message across.

Definitely do not rely on your interviewer to bring up what you’re trying to promote or plug. If you have a new book, if you offer a new service or have a new idea that underpins your business, find a way to bring it in on your own. Practice actually mentioning it out loud, record yourself and make adjustments as needed. You’ll know if something sounds forced or awkward.

Q: And what about “gotchya” questions?

KR: The secret is: gotchya questions are super rare. It’s in everyone’s best interest to have a smooth interview. Both you and the program you’re on typically have a goal of being informative and engaging. If you bring that energy to the table, it’s going to be a great interview. Unless you’re a politician, they probably don’t want to actually grill you.

But, let’s say you do get grilled. Then you reach for what media trainers call the “block and bridge.” Block the question and bridge to the topic with which you want to stay on message. You’ve heard it before — blocking and bridging often sounds like: “That’s a great question, but the real focus should be…,”or “What I feel is really the top concern here is….” Don’t argue. Stay cool, focused on your viewpoint and positive.

Q: Any last words of advice?

KR: If the interview is a biggie, or you want to make public speaking a cornerstone of your media platform, book media training. You want to get it right. Having someone observing and holding you accountable is the best way to get comfortable and come across well.

Thank you, Katie! And thanks to our colleague Emily Adams for the editorial savvy that brought this interview and article to fruition.

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