How to Prepare for a TV Interview: 9 Tips
So you landed a spot on TV. Congrats!
Maybe you’ve done interviews with the media before, over the phone or via email.
But this is TV. You’re being recorded. You have to look and sound good. How do you prepare? These nine tips will have you ready to go when the cameras start rolling.
Live or Taped? It Doesn’t Really Matter
TV interviews come in two main flavors: those that happen in real time (live) and those that are recorded (and edited) before the actual program runs.
A live spot may feel like the more stressful of the two. After all, you don’t have room for error. You’ve got one shot, and you can’t screw it up.
In a taped interview, on the other hand, mistakes you make can be edited out.
That’s the theory, anyway.
But in practice, even when TV producers pre-record their interviews, you can’t rely on them to smooth out your flubs in the editing process (in fact, your flubs or off-message comments can be very appealing and move the piece in the wrong direction!).
So whether the segment is live or taped, you should be prepared to nail it on the first take. The tips below will make sure you’re set up to succeed.
Tip 1: Practice, Practice, Practice
A TV interview is similar to a job interview: It’s a high-pressure situation where you’ll have to be quick on your feet.
But don’t panic: there are certain questions you know you’ll be asked, which gives you the chance to prepare.
Most TV news networks won’t provide a comprehensive list of questions ahead of time, but they should give you a general idea of what the conversation will cover. After all, it makes them look bad if you aren’t prepared.
If the producer you’re working with hasn’t provided some high-level guidance on what the interview will cover, just ask.
Once you know the gist of what the reporter will ask, you can practice your answers. You can do this in front of a mirror or (better) while recording yourself on your computer or phone (so you can watch yourself).
Tip 2: Dress for TV
Whether you’re going into a TV studio or doing a remote interview over Zoom or Skype, it’s important to look “professional.” But what does that mean? In addition to dressing as you would for a job interview, it's best to adhere to the following TV-specific wardrobe tips:
- Avoid clothing with intricate patterns, like thin stripes. They can shimmer on screen (this is less of a problem with HD TVs, but computer monitors are often lesser quality).
- Avoid wearing bright white. It sometimes glows on screen.
- Avoid shiny jewelry and dangly earrings. They’re distracting.
- Try to wear contacts instead of glasses. Glasses can create glare or reflections that distract the viewer and make it hard to see your eyes.
- Optional: A company-branded top will help boost brand awareness.
Tip 3: Speak and Act Like You’re Calm
It can be nerve wracking to be filmed if you don’t have a lot of experience with on-camera appearances. Here are some things to keep in mind to ensure you look (and sound) as good as possible:
- Don’t speak too quickly. A lot of people talk faster when they’re nervous, and that can, well, make you look nervous. Slow down. You want listeners to be able to follow what you’re saying.
- Keep your language simple and your sentences short. Using too many words, or speaking in long, rambling sentences, can make your audience lose track of what you're saying. Men tend to pontificate more than women. Viewers may find this arrogant or boring (or both). TV interviews are meant to be a dialogue, so don’t hog the mic.
- Use the Rule of Three. The Rule of Three is an old writing and speaking maxim that boils down to this: Our brains engage with patterns, and three is the smallest number that makes a pattern. Forming your thoughts into lists of three will make you sound more organized and intentional. For example: "There are three problems our company solves” or “There are three types of customers for our product.”
- Say your company's name as much as possible (within reason). This helps listeners better remember who you are, particularly since some interviews may be edited. Local news outlets, for example, are notorious for interviewing people for 20 minutes and then only including one five-second sound byte in their final package. So instead of saying “we,” say your company’s name, even if it sounds repetitive.
- Smile! No one wants to watch a super serious, grim-looking talking head. You don’t need to sport a huge gaping grin and you don’t need to smile the whole time you’re on camera. But when appropriate, an easy half smile projects energy and confidence.
- Let the reporter finish asking their question before you speak. Interrupting can read as disrespectful. It’s also unpleasant to listen to, so avoid saying even small words of acknowledgement (like “yeah,” “uh huh,” or “absolutely”) while the reporter is speaking.
- Place your hands by your sides or on the desk in front of you (if there is one). And while you’re answering a question, you don’t have to keep your hands cemented to the desk. Feel free to use gestures to emphasize what you’re saying. Just keep them to the strike zone: gestures that stray too far from your core may look wild, or catch viewers off guard. (Read more about nailing body language during an interview.)
As for what to actually say, check out these eight tips for mastering your message.
6 Logistical Tips for Remote Interviews
At the time of writing, the country is still deep in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, meaning most TV outlets are conducting interviews remotely rather than bringing guests into the studio.
Remote interviews require a bit more work on your part. To make sure yours goes smoothly, you’ll need to…
- Make sure your connection is strong. Consider using an ethernet cable to hardwire into your router. If that’s not doable, sit in an area where you know you get a good WiFi signal.
- Set yourself up in a quiet, tidy room. If you’re dialing in from home, get away from noises like dogs barking, babies crying, or roommates talking. A little background noise is okay, but when your home life comes crashing into the room where you’re trying to interview, it’s disruptive.
- If possible, use a wired external mic. This isn’t mandatory if your laptop’s built-in microphone or the one that came included with your earbuds or headphones work well enough. But using a device whose sole purpose is to be a microphone will make you sound clearer. The Chinese audio brand Fifine makes a highly rated $35 mic that connects to your laptop via USB. And no, they didn’t pay us to say that.
- Be sure your camera is level with your face. If needed, prop your computer on a stack of books. If you don’t, you’ll probably be looking down into the camera, meaning viewers will be looking at the underside of your chin and up your nostrils.
- Try to look into the camera when speaking. It’s tempting to look at your computer screen, or at the little window that shows you what you look like. But if you can look into your laptop’s little camera hole, viewers will feel you’re speaking directly to them, not looking down or off to the side.
- Consider your “headroom.” There’s a golden rule camera operators abide by: Keep about one inch of space between the top of your head and the top of the frame (see images below).
A cheat sheet that the news streaming site Cheddar sends guests to make sure they set themselves up properly for remote interviews. (Credit: Cheddar TV)
Practice Makes Perfect
If that feels like a lot, well, it is. It’s natural to spend hours preparing for your first TV interview. The good news is that, the more you do these, the easier they become. So take a deep breath and believe in yourself.
You’ve got this!
Still trying to land that TV interview? Check out our tips on getting media attention – even when you have no news to share.