Shining in the spotlight: 12 tips for successful on-camera interviews

On-camera interviews can be nerve-racking for even the most seasoned spokesperson. In addition to speaking clearly and staying on message, interviewees must also be mindful of nonverbal communication, appearance, and posture. 

A long time ago, in a country far, far away, I worked as a TV presenter. I made a lot of mistakes. Here are a few tips I have picked up since then for polished presentation on-screen. Follow this advice to appear confident, relaxed, and comfortable in front of the camera.

Sterling client on-camera TV interview

A Sterling client is interviewed on camera for a local affiliate.

Preparation:

1. Practice — Practice in your bathroom mirror with a stopwatch. This sort of preparation will enable you to exude confidence and eloquence during the actual interview and prevents the dreaded  “ums.” Tilda Swinton’s Oscar-winning performance in the movie Michael Clayton demonstrates what this looks like in action.  

2. Dress for Success — Wear solid colors, with an emphasis on blue (avoid green unless you want to become meme fodder). And although nautical stripes may be on trend, they don’t always play well on TV. Patterns and high-contrast combinations produce strange visual effects for viewers.

3. Hydrate — Drinking water increases brain activity and enhances mood. Drink plenty of water throughout the day leading up to your interview so you’re not parched on camera. During the interview, have water at the ready to combat dry mouth, but don’t reach for it while talking…it looks weird. Sip only when the focus is on the interviewer (or avoid drinking altogether while cameras are rolling so that it doesn’t distract from your words).

4. Groom — Being on camera can be uncomfortable both figuratively and literally (studio lights are very hot). To ward off flop sweat, wear comfortable clothing and remember to breathe. Minimize unwanted shine and blemishes with a little translucent powder on the forehead and nose. While major studios will supply makeup stock, most executives with high media visibility carry their own. It also helps you avoid looking like Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential debate. But go easy on the lips: Learn from Congressman Joe Kennedy’s appearance for a State of the Union rebuttal and avoid shiny lip moisturizer.

5. Get a Healthy Glow — If possible, taking a brisk walk shortly before going on camera will bring a healthy flush of blood flow to your face.

Engaging:

6. Remove Distractions — Be completely “present” by banishing anything that might divert your attention. Set your phone to airplane mode, remove coins from your pockets, and ditch the pen and paper.

7. Check Your Posture — When sitting during an interview, lean forward around 20 degrees when you talk to open up your diaphragm, increase your air supply, and signal interest in the discussion. If you’re wearing a jacket, take a tip from Broadcast News and sit on it so that the shoulders don’t hunch up. Don’t lean back in your chair, and if possible, avoid chairs that swivel and rock.

8. Plan to Smile — Nervousness leads to looking stiff. To keep your look natural, keep your lips in a slight smile. It will show in your eyes, too, giving you an attentive expression. 

During the interview:

9. Communicate with Your Eyes — When face-to-face with an interviewer, focus on the person asking the questions, not on the camera. Anxiety induces excessive blinking, so be mindful to slow things down. Lastly, if pausing to think, look down — not up. You don’t want viewers to think you’re rolling your eyes. 

10. Embrace Your Message — Key messages are your best friend. Acknowledge any questions you’re asked, but always bridge back to your key messages during the interview. Rephrase long questions before answering. Also, reiterate your messages if you’re asked to provide a sound check or give a closing thought/summary.

11. Think in Soundbites — Journalists tell stories for a living. You can help them do their job by offering short examples and anecdotes. Clever soundbites can frame important ideas you want to communicate. If you have a good soundbite to offer, try to include the company name in a dependent clause.

12. Remain Calm — There’s no way to anticipate everything that may happen — an interview is a conversation, so try to relax and roll with it.