Trends in television news change fairly quickly. A new one is emerging that requires business people, executives, managers and professionals at all levels to learn a new set of skills when they are interviewed.
The trend is to have more guests who are authorities on the set during the newscast, or live from a remote location, as they are being interviewed on a subject. This is a marked departure from using an expert as a sound bite that is merely part of a longer story – you are the story when you’re sitting next to the anchor answering questions. Typically, the interviews run two or three minutes, although on some shows in some markets they can last as long as 10 or 12 minutes. Moreover, with satellite time becoming relatively inexpensive, it is not uncommon for someone in St. Louis to be asked to be on a news program airing from Washington, Des Moines or even a foreign country – the BBC in England and CBC network in Canada are well-known for finding experts or sources where they live and hooking up a satellite interview, as is PBS here in America for its “Jim Lehrer News Hour.”
Preparing for what is called a “live shot” or “set piece” in the broadcast news business is a lot different than getting ready for a taped interview where you will likely end up a 20 second sound bite. But it is a skill set that can be learned and mastered, and knowing how to do a set interview well can help you in other areas of your work such as when you are asked to be part of a panel discussion in a board room meeting or up on a stage at an industry seminar.
Cue … You.
In many respects, the set interview is like a presentation at an office meeting.
As in a meeting, you are driving the material forward with pre-determined key messages, tailored to the audience, with an effective conclusion. Often, presenters work from scripts that include cues about the tone of the message and allow the speaker to stay on message and within the arranged time frame.
The interviewee for an on set or live talk back segment must spend as much time preparing and practicing as they would if they were presenting the material to prospective clients or colleagues.
The taped interview is, in many respects, similar to a debriefing following a presentation. The sage presenter anticipates the questions, shapes the answers and considers both the best and worst case scenarios in the getting ready. Anyone preparing for a taped interview is wise to follow the same steps.
Differences In Similarities.
The basics of a live interview are similar whether you are seated next to the anchor or are in your office talking to him or her through a camera during the show. But there are some key differences to keep in mind between the two approaches. These differences may affect how you handle yourself, and the credibility you will have with the audience.
When sitting on the set being questioned by the anchor, it is vital to look at the person when you are giving your answer. Don’t look at the camera, or around the studio. In a TV studio, there are plenty of things to distract you: Cameras moving around on the floor, a floor director giving cues to the anchor, other people walking about and paying no attention to you at all. Don’t try to glimpse of yourself in the monitor to see how you look, if you want to know how you did, make sure somebody tapes the show for you.
As hard as it might seem to do, disregard everything in the studio except the person to whom you are speaking. You’ll quickly forget about the distractions and you will not have people watching you wondering what is so fascinating off-camera that is drawing your attention away from the person you’re chatting with on-camera.
When you are in one location during the interview, and the person interviewing you live is somewhere else – across town or across an ocean — the situation may seem even more disconcerting and unreal. You will be given a small plug to wear in one ear through which you’ll hear the questions and comments from the journalist back in the studio. A camera mounted on a tripod will be set up a few feet in front of your face. And you’ll be expected to carry on a conversation with someone you can hear but not see, all the while staring at a black circle.
In this type of interview situation, you need to look at the camera throughout the entire interview; the anchor or reporter will be doing the same thing. To the people watching on television, you and the anchor will appear to be speaking directly at each other. Some clients find it much easier to tape a small picture of a trusted friend or colleague on the bottom rim of the camera lense and then carry on the conversation or interview with that person.
Although it is unlikely there will be a monitor in the room with you, nevertheless if there is one do not look down at it when the anchor is asking a question – people watching will wonder why you’re staring down at the floor or across the room. Again, if you want to see how you did, arrange to have the program taped.
Television remains a powerfully effective tool to use in getting your message, thoughts, ideas and concepts across. With the new trend to live, and longer, interviews, you can be seen as especially authoritative, a terrible bore or worse.