Virtual interviews – getting the best possible outcome

Last week my colleague, Lee Madigan delivered a short webinar to our PRCA Scotland members about delivering a virtual interview. Here’s my summary.

In the past, we’d normally have been sitting in the same room as clients when they were being interviewed, but now, we’re hardly going to be sitting on the Zoom interview with the client and the journalist, are we? If it was a TV interview you’d see there was a third person online.

Let’s assume the client is media trained and is up-to-speed with signposting, bridging, eye contact and body language. If they aren’t, this is a priority before you put them up for interviews (let me know if you need media trained). Also, make sure that they are the best person for the job. It doesn’t need to always be the same person, indeed it might be better practice to have a few trained in different specialisms/subjects. The person also needs to visually and vocally represent your business. Think carefully.

Preparing for a virtual interview is key – the only thing that will undermine your reputation and experience.

  • Key messages – be clear on the messages for this specific interview.
  • Sound bites – remember to think in soundbites as the whole interview will not likely be used.
  • Practice – it’s a performance.
  • Talking to a screen is quite different from talking face -to-face.
  • You need the interaction and when you can’t see people’s faces or reactions, it’s difficult to judge.
  • Test the technology to ensure it works. Internet, camera, microphone, clear picture.
  • Position yourself in the middle of the screen and make sure you have space above your head, sides and you can see.
  • Soft furnishing can absorb sound.
  • Clear and tidy surroundings.
  • Eliminate any distractions – put your mobile on silent, close the windows.
  • Perspective – hands can look huge, so limit gestures and stop the bad habits, for example, hitting the table you make a point.
  • Dress for the occasion! Avoid bright colours and patterns, anything which could clash with the camera.
  • Avoid some devices – tablets, mobiles. You can see and know where the camera is on a desktop and laptop, it can be more difficult on a tablet or mobile.
  • Try and prevent unwanted interruptions. Pets, kids and housemates bringing you a cuppa. Close the door.
  • Use hardwired earphones for mic and so Bluetooth doesn’t drop.
  • Background – avoid artificial backgrounds like the Zoom virtual backgrounds. They don’t always work well and don’t give perspective.
  • Face the natural light – don’t sit with your back to the window. Aura Tip: invest in a selfie ring!
  • Use the recording function to be able to transcribe if required and so you can playback and understand what went well, where you could improve.
  • If there are multiple journalists in the same briefing, then have them on mute for the briefing, then allow journalists to ask a question, person will respond, then move onto the next question.
  • Make use of getting questions in advance and then using the breakout rooms on Zoom, for example, if you need to do 1-2-1’s
  • Finding new technology – for any voice interviews you can use WhatsApp voice notes or Voice Memos already on iPhone. They are broadcast quality.

From a personal point of view, I’ve done virtual interviews before and during lockdown. Before, I was sending a soundbite for a radio station. During, the very same thing. The media is slowly adapting and being more accepting of different file formats as long as they get what they want.

I’d also add in here, that it doesn’t matter if you’re in lockdown or not. Make the effort. Not only to prepare the message and the ‘performance’, but make the effort with your appearance. It says a lot if you’re being seen to ‘hold it together’ under abnormal circumstances. Particularly, I’m thinking, in a crisis.

Of course the usual media training rules apply around messaging, tone, empathy, facts, solutions. But virtual interviews are a different experience.

If you need help preparing a media pack, for a media interview or around your media relations strategy, please get in touch. I’d be happy to get you set up and confident in handling media enquiries and interviews.