THE MEANING OF RELAXED INTENSITY
- Be natural and at ease
- But make sure what you’re saying is compelling
- No “ya knows” and “ahs”
Even more than phone or radio interviews, it’s on-camera interviews for video or TV that strike the most terror into the hearts of those who don’t do it everyday. Not only is what you say going to be on record, but your face, your physical mannerisms, your outfit, and maybe even your bad hair-day are going to be recorded for posterity! No wonder most of us would rather avoid these appearances.
However, because on-camera interviews show more of who you are as a person, they increase exponentially your potential to connect and communicate, and to bring research alive for your audience. With a little preparation, you may come to value this unparalleled opportunity to promote the value of your work. Below, we will dissect the elements that make for a compelling TV or video appearance.
Preparing for the on-camera interview
Unless there’s been a chemical spill in your lab and news helicopters are hovering, you’re likely to have plenty of advance warning for your on-camera interview. The reporter or producer will call you ahead of time to schedule, and generally, whether the interview will take place at your lab or in the studio, they’ll want you there early to show you around, set up equipment, and chat about what’s going to happen.
As we discussed earlier, you have a chance in your first conversation with the reporter to get some information about the interview: Why they are doing it? What is the context? What sort of questions do they plan to ask? This gives you a chance to think about and rehearse the messages you want to have ready.
If the producer wants to do the interview on-site and bring a camera team to your lab, you’ll need to assess the logistics beforehand. It is a good idea to check with your institution’s media/communications office in case prior approvals are needed. In any case, the office will want to know about your media appearance.
If the team is coming to your lab, which areas do you want to show them? Are there certain areas where the equipment conveys something useful about the work going on? If your research involves animals, do you want them shown on camera? If nothing else, you’ll want to tidy up areas the camera will access… unless you want the public to see the typical piles of coffee-stained papers!
- It’s up to you.
- But don’t wear white.
What to wear or not wear may be the least of your worries. But if you’re on camera, you want to look pleasing to your audience. As a general guideline, don’t dress too conservatively or too casually -- go for the middle ground. Dominant, bright colors look best on most studio sets and add to your sense of energy. And stay away from white -- it often plays havoc with the camera.
Also, make sure that what you wear on top has a lapel or a collar. The studio crew will be clipping a small microphone somewhere near your face to get your voice. If you’re wearing a t-shirt or a blouse with no buttons, there will be no good place to attach the microphone, and the mike will stick out like a sore thumb. We don’t want viewers to notice the gear. They should notice you!
More and more, video is being shot in high definition. This can be troubling if you’re being interviewed. Unless you’re wearing a lot of makeup, every blemish and wrinkle will magnify on camera. So, women: don’t be afraid to lay on the make-up. Guys: You’re on your own. Shave carefully.
Relaxed intensity: Strategies for communicating on camera
When you read “relaxed intensity,” you’re probably wondering how it’s humanly possible to be relaxed and intense at the same time -- an oxymoron to be sure. But the idea behind this unlikely phrase is to come off as natural and at ease while also communicating that what you’re saying is very much worth hearing (that’s the intensity).
There is one personality attribute that anyone who appears on TV or radio regularly has in common, and that’s energy. Whether it’s an interviewee on “Meet the Press,” an MTV host, a “Biography” narrator, or the anchor on the evening news, they all sound as though they are thinking, “Listen up, folks, because you need to hear what I am saying.”
The trick, of course, is how to accomplish all this. Here are some pointers:
- Relax. If you’re like most of us, you’re a bit or more than a bit nervous before facing a camera or getting up in front of an audience. So take a deep breath, get rid of some of the tension, and relax your body.
- Keep your eyes on the interviewer, not on the camera. The only time you would look straight into the camera is if the interviewer is talking to you through an earpiece from some other location.
- Smile! Unless you’re talking about impending doom, for goodness’ sake, SMILE! If you truly want your audience to warm up to you in an instant, smile widely and often. Ever noticed how politicians can talk about very serious subjects, and then pepper their comments with smiles? They do that for a reason: People like people who smile. It’s human. It’s natural. So, please, do it as much as possible.
- Watch your pace. If you’re a slow talker, you’ll need to speed it up. If you’re a fast talker, slow it down. But speaking at a brisk clip is always better than taking forever to get out a sentence.
- Sit up, but comfortably. If you’re sitting while giving the interview, don’t lean back into the chair and don’t scrunch forward like you’re about to get out of your seat on the bus. But it’s OK to lean forward a bit.
- Gesture away! If you’re the type that talks with your hands and/or uses a lot of body language, do it!
- Monotone is a no-no. Be energetic and enthusiastic! This comes through in tonal variations in your voice.
Avoid the deadening “Uhhh…” or “You know…”
If you say “ah” or "uh" a lot, or, even worse, “ya know,” you’ll need to get rid of them in a hurry. These are very hard habits to break because they’ve probably been part of your vocabulary for years. The author of this manual has that problem, and I still, before every interview, write a note to myself that says “DON’T SAY “AH” AND “YA KNOW.”
As with everything, you can practice before the interview speaking while consciously avoiding these. Often, we insert them because it feels strange to sit saying nothing for a moment.
But taking a slight pause is substantially better than saying “ah,” or “ya know.” They serve no other purpose than turning off your audience and making you appear nervous and uptight. Often, a pause makes you look deliberate and even adds emphasis to what you’re about to say.
Remember, no matter what you’re saying, it is mandatory that your audience likes you! Do what it takes to come off as pleasant and as a person your audience wants to have as a friend. It does you no good to be stern and overly serious – no matter what the subject.
Reminders: What You Say Is Important. How You Say It Is Even More Important
- Your audience is probably hearing it for the first time
- Make your audience interested
- Sell it
Sound familiar? You already read about this, right? And there’s a good reason why we’re going into detail here: IT’S BECAUSE IT’S SO CRUCIAL!
A common trap for any expert in any field is to forget that most of your audience is hearing what you have to say for the first time. And they may be hearing from you for the first time. So sounding matter-of-fact is definitely out.
You may deal with the subject matter every day. It merely goes with your job. But it can’t sound that way.
Think of everything you say as exciting, compelling, and interesting. And frankly, if you’re being asked about it by the media or anyone else, it probably IS exciting, compelling or interesting.
So sell it! MAKE people want to be interested!