6 Tips to Doing Zoom Media Interviews Like a Pro

By Jean Walcher, President, J. Walcher Communications

As I sit here in my “Whiskey Will Do” t-shirt (it’s a quality t-shirt, BTW 😊), preparing to attend a virtual conference with top PR agency leaders across the country, I wondered how everyone would present themselves.

These are pros, seasoned practitioners with a deep understanding of “presentation.” Most of us were dressed “decently casual,” with the presenters and hosts up a notch to “business casual.” This is completely acceptable; we were among peers – they all have a hearty sense of humor, and we’re in the throes of COVID WFH hell.

But the subject here is how to coach clients and interviewees so they can be effective during a Zoom (or Skype or FaceTime or any other online platform) media interview. JW August, investigative producer at our NBC affiliate in San Diego, is coaching his Zoom interviewees before his cameras roll – about lighting, hair, backdrop, where to sit, keeping the noise out, etc. According to August, he had just done a Zoom interview with prominent judges. They were too far from the mic, not centered so the top two-thirds of the screen were background – and, did not practice their comments in advance to help them sound more natural and confident.

As Alison King, the PR pro and president of Media Profile based in Canada, said in the aforementioned conference, “We’ve switched from media training to Zoom training!”

Here is some advice for those who have to do, or advise others who have to do, remote online interviews:

First: Try not to wear a mask during an interview, unless it is not possible to physically distance or there is an extenuating circumstance, e.g. you’re a medical professional standing in the middle of an ICU unit. But we do suggest you either have it pulled down around your neck, or you start with the mask on and pull it down when the interview begins. You want to convey the right message, that you’re following the rules. (P.S. And if you’re not following the mask rules, please do. Really, it’s not all about you).

Background: We find there is a balance between authenticity and professionalism. I prefer to have my home in the background of the Zoom interview; our No. 2 prefers to have the JWC branded backdrop. Choose a backdrop that will not distract from the conversation. Take your audience into account. I have seen many comments out there about how people are enjoying seeing people’s environments, especially those you wouldn’t typically see – your bosses, famous actors, etc. It’s OK to be human.

Lighting: Make sure there aren’t any bright lights behind you – you will be backlit and dark. If possible, use natural light. Sit at eye level with your computer, even if you have to adjust your location or prop your computer up with books. Light should be direct in front of you or just off to the side. Don’t over light either. The key here? Test, test and test again.

Dress: Seriously, if you are going to be on the news, a guest on a podcast or a presenter at a conference, you need to present yourself in the best possible circumstances. Wear a decent shirt, wear what you’d wear if you were in a real newsroom or standing in front of a camera. Comb your hair, put a little make-up on, etc. Good news is that you only have to do it from the top up (just don’t stand up before you are sure the camera is off!). As JW August said, “Homey is OK – up to a point!”

Sound: Do your best to make sure you are in a quiet place, but if your kid crawls over you while you are on camera, that provides a little joy in the time of Corona. (Unless, of course, the kid would knock your focus; then you need to make sure that won’t happen!) Test your computer mic vs. headphones to see what gets the better sound. Get close enough to the mic so you come across loud and clear.

Performance: Just because you get to sit in front of your computer and have notes handy, that does not mean you can skimp on performance! Many of the same media training rules apply: Energize, use soundbites, speak in layman’s terms! Do not read verbatim from your notes; we can tell, and it comes off as robotic. You can have them close by – BUT look up from them, paraphrase, insert your personality. Do not talk too fast.

Now, get it done!

For more info on how to conduct regular Zoom meetings, read our blog post on “5 Tips to Holding the Perfect Zoom Meeting.”