On-camera interview fails and pitfalls

What is it about doing an on-camera interview that causes folks to have a kind of out-of-body experience? And not in a good way. Once the camera light goes on, suddenly interviewees become either void of personality or take on some other alternate persona that they think is a better version of themselves. I get it: you’re nervous, worried you’ll make a mistake, that embarrassing faux pas that winds up as a viral meme in your Nana’s inbox.

I do a bunch of media training. Here are five areas that tend to trip up even the most experienced interviewees during an on-camera interview.

  1. What, me serious? Even when you’re being interviewed about serious, professional subjects, let your personality shine through. Show some emotion. Add a personal anecdote. Expose your wit. Smile. Before you get into the guts of your answer, react to the question in a way that is natural, befitting your personality. Remember the clip of the North Korea expert being interviewed live on the BCC when his little toddler comes bounding into the room? What made the scene so memorable (read: painful) was not so much the interruption itself as the way the expert handled it, never breaking his gaze into the camera while elbowing the young lad out of the way. Had there been no camera there, it’s hard to fathom he would have reacted the same way. Come on, Dad, let your dad-ness come through at a time like that. We all can relate.
  2. Keep your “pause” to yourself. Okay, you’ve finished your answer, covered what you wanted to say, but the interviewer is curiously silent. What are they waiting for? Ah, beware of the “pregnant pause.” Whether intentional or not, that moment (or two) of silence tends to wig some folks out, and before you know it, you’re expanding on your original answer, very often moving into some iffy territory. Don’t take the bait and wait patiently for the next question.
  3. Chummy banter. The interviewer has arrived – or you’re talking on set or in the remote studio before your scheduled segment – but you’re not on the air yet, so you assume the interview hasn’t started yet. Bad assumption. This preliminary banter is fair game as far as the interviewer is concerned, so if you are bemoaning your “crazy day” or making a snide comment about something in the news that day, don’t be surprised if you’re being asked about it once the camera is rolling.
  4. Dunno. No matter how much of an expert you are, you can’t be expected to know everything so what is it about the words “I don’t know” that become so elusive once on camera. If it were a print reporter asking you a question that you either didn’t know or weren’t quite sure of the answer, it’s likely you wouldn’t hesitate to tell her that you’d need to get back to her with the answer. You should have that same comfort level during on-camera interviews. Better to defer the question that utter something wrong.
  5. Behind the (am)bush. While it’s not a common practice these days, you might find yourself with a camera suddenly thrust in your face, seeking comment about a breaking issue. Here again, if it were a print reporter with a note pad, chances are you’d feel comfortable referring the reporter to the proper channels. Don’t let the fact that you’re on camera divert you from following that protocol. No one’s going to air a clip of you saying, “I’m not the right person to ask. I’d be happy to refer you to our communications office, and I know they will be happy to answer your questions.”

These days, with Zoom and Skype and even cellphone videos, we’re all getting more and more comfortable in front of the camera. Make it a point to extend that comfort level to TV interviews as well.

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Josh Dare

Josh’s career in communications spans more than four decades. In addition to providing strategic counsel and crisis communications direction to clients, he is the resident Writer-In-Chief, regularly writing op-eds and bylines on behalf of clients that have been published in The Washington Post, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Huffington Post, among others.

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