About a month ago I wrote a piece on how not to broadcast using Zoom-style platforms, after watching a disappointing debut by “Independent SAGE” – a group of scientists who have formed a shadow version of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, because they’re concerned about a possible lack of transparency from SAGE.
It was such a shame, because they surely had so many interesting things to say, but all I could focus on was how their media performances were masking their messages.
But having watched one of their recent broadcasts on Youtube, it’s great to see things have improved….well, a bit.
They could still be so much better – with very little effort – and, arguably, those efforts would bring big benefits.
So for them, and anyone else about to take part in a video news conference, here are some top tips:
PERCEPTION MATTERS. I suspect scientists overwhelmingly feel it’s what they say that counts, not how they say it. Wrong. In a visual age, people are much more likely to be considered credible if they look credible. (There’s a reason why respected news sources, like BBC News online, make far more use of videos these days – pictures really do paint a thousand words.)
THE EYES HAVE IT. We’ve all heard that New Age stuff about the eyes being the key to the soul. But there’s truth in it – it’s much harder to take someone seriously when their gaze is all over the place. Look at the tiny laptop/tablet camera, not yourself on screen/out of the window/at the ceiling, (where divine inspiration may or may not lie). If you’re delivering a message via Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams etc… have the camera level with your eyes. If it’s too low, you’ll be a pair of nostrils with a ceiling on top. Not a good look.
DON’T LET THE BACKGROUND COME TO THE FORE. We tune in to hear the words of wisdom from the interviewee; we don’t – or shouldn’t – tune in to see what they’ve got on their bookshelves. Resist the temptation to stuff those bookcases with copies of your latest novel or a raft of academic tomes that have helped you reach your esteemed position as an expert in your field.
LIGHTEN UP. Try not to have distracting lamps in shot. Keep lights (and that goes for windows too) in front of you (and out of shot), so your face is bright and not in shadow.
SOUND ADVICE. Find out where the microphone is on your laptop and make sure you don’t rustle papers or your arm over it. If you check the sound settings on your laptop, you might be able to click on a box to reduce ambient background noise too. You could also go one step further and use an external microphone.
DANGEROUS SILENCE. Just because someone else is speaking at any given moment, not you, don’t treat it as a time to check your phone messages or slurp your coffee – we can still see you.
PREPARE TO GO GLOBAL. It’s tempting to think if your interview is going out on Youtube, rather than SKY or CNN, that only a handful of people might bother to watch, but as Professor Robert Kelly found out when his children burst in on his down-the-line interview on the BBC – you can so easily become an unwitting internet sensation…or blooper. Treat any media opportunity – whether a webinar, Skype interview etc, with the same level of respect you would a studio TV interview and convey the appropriate level of gravitas.
Let’s face it, if you’re wondering why you’re seeing the same pandemic spokespeople cropping up in TV interviews, live from their home offices, it’s not just because they’re experts in their field of say, virology or epidemiology, it’s because they’re probably experts at handling the demands of this new style of interview.
As we’re seeing daily at the Downing Street news briefing and on TV news bulletins, there’s more to giving a good down-the-line interview than most people realise – as spokespeople and even journalists are discovering to their cost and reputations.
But it’s not rocket science; just remember, experts are not experts in everything – the smartest though are those open to learning new skills.