By Phoenix Zones Initiative
Whether as a pundit on CNN, an activist in the streets, or an amateur on a YouTube broadcast, several basic rules can help you communicate effectively on camera, radio, or a podcast.
- Be prepared and up to date on the topic.
Being prepared doesn’t mean memorizing lines. Yes, you will have talking points, but you also need to make sure you can speak on the topic in a cogent and conversational manner. You may not get to choose the questions you’ll be asked. If you don’t know the issue that well or fear that your information may be out of date, then it’s a good idea to pass the interview to a colleague you know would make the most of the opportunity.
- Prioritize your points (and know your audience).
When preparing your specific talking points, decide which points to cover first, and which are most important to emphasize, explain, and reiterate. You’ll want to prioritize your points based on your knowledge of your audience and of the person who’ll likely be asking you questions.
- Pause, rather than interjecting filler words and sounds.
It’s common to hear speakers interject filler words such as um, uh, like, sort-of, or you know what I mean. But the most effective and confident presenters will simply pause to collect their thoughts. Removing fillers from your speaking may take practice. Remember that brief silence is permissible, and sometimes is even useful, for emphasizing a point.
- Avoid jargon, abbreviations, and acronyms whenever possible.
Unless you’re speaking to professionals who know the jargon in a particular industry, speak like you would to someone you just met in a hotel elevator. You may never meet that person again, so you have this one chance to impress them. You don’t know their background and expertise, but you want to make sure that they walk away more informed and more interested in what you have to say. Choose your words and framing accordingly.
- Speak succinctly, cogently, and passionately.
Usually there is a lot to say and little time. Speak succinctly and in a way that generates interest, affirms your credibility, and conveys your point of view.
- Treat every question and answer as an independent dialogue.
Even if your interview is live, it’s likely being recorded, and future audiences may not see or hear the entire recording. It can therefore be confusing if you refer in your comments back to previous parts of the conversation. Avoid phrases like “As I said earlier.”
- Expect distractions and disruptions.
It is unlikely that you will be doing an interview in an environment that you can control. Even if the interview is being recorded, you may only get one chance to make your point. Interview settings may be dynamic and distracting. An ambulance goes racing by, your cat jumps in your lap, or a camera light starts blinking in your face. Also, interviewers themselves may need to stop and restart, to alter the recording environment, or communicate with producers. Whatever the circumstances, stay flexible, and focus on making your points.
- Dress for the situation.
How formally you should dress will depend on your audience, the interviewer, and your environment. However, there are some general rules for being on camera: Avoid pin-stripes or tight patterns like paisley, which can create a strobe effect on video, making you look like you are floating. Wear some color, not all white or all black, but avoid neon shades. Also, remember that someone may need to pin a microphone onto you somewhere that’s not distracting, so wearing a lapel or collar is useful.
- Be prepared to be nervous, but minimize how it shows.
The more you speak on camera, the easier it gets. Even if you have done many interviews, you may find yourself getting nervous. You can prepare in practical ways based on what you know about yourself. Some people sweat, especially on upper lips and foreheads. If that could be you, keep a handkerchief in your pocket. Some sweat all over, in which case the right color of clothes can help to hide it.
Practice looking confident. Not only does nervousness show through on camera, but some of your body language actually reinforces your anxiety. Speak with your hands. When you are not speaking, keep your hands still but visible. Try not to cross your arms.
- Take full advantage of every chance to speak (while respecting the interviewer).
Every time you’re asked a question, it’s your chance to focus on sharing your priority messages. If you find that the question is loaded, or that it doesn’t have a useful frame or angle, frame your answer to transition to a different point that reinforces your message. If you are on a panel, take advantage of pauses to jump in. An interviewer may ask “Is there anything you’d like to add?” at the end of an interview, which provides a great opportunity to repeat points you’ve already made. Often you may find that the second time you make a point is far more effective.