By Sean O’Leary, Vice President, Susan Davis International

The remote interview wasn’t invented in 2020, it just feels that way.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, news media organizations around the world have focused almost exclusively on remote interviews to keep producing content. It will likely remain the norm through 2021, if not longer.

There is plenty of information about the technical aspects of preparing for your remote interview, which you probably already know by now if you’re reading this article. You’ve tested your laptop or smartphone, you know the volume of your mic, and you’ve likely obsessed over your background on the off-chance Room Rater gets to you.

Instead, I want to focus on how to best present your message during these remote interviews, because they are very different from remote interviews in a pre-COVID-19 world.

In those halcyon days, I would work with clients to do remote interviews, but they weren’t always happening from someone’s home. In one instance, a former client of mine based in West Virginia would conduct remote interviews from the local NBC affiliate’s studio.

Needless to say, your local NBC affiliate likely has a better set-up for remote interviews than you do. That difference, though, plays into how you should approach remote interviews. Here are four key tips to maximize your message and come across well to the audience viewing at home, watching on television or online.

Keep Your Answers Short & Direct

As long as I’ve been doing media training, I’ve focused on preparing spokespeople to have their best soundbites ready. Nothing about that has changed. What has changed, however, is the natural inclination to keep talking as you’re looking at a screen.

When you’re doing an in-person interview on camera, you’re more inclined to pick up on the signals that you should stop talking or that it’s time for another question. When you’re doing a remote interview, that reporter is likely to be staring right back at you without much movement because they are also on-screen

This puts the onus on the interviewee to keep answers short and direct, to not lose the viewer at home, and keep them engaged. Nothing turns off a viewer quicker than a long, rambling answer where the interviewee doesn’t seem to respect the interviewer’s, or viewer’s, time. Less is more when it comes to remote interviews. Make your point. Wait to make your next one.

Pause a Moment Before Speaking

Speaking of waiting, nothing is more frustrating for viewers than a remote interview coming to a grinding halt because the interviewer and interviewee are talking over each other. Most of us have likely dealt with this during our business meetings as two people try to talk, then neither do, and there’s awkward silence as everyone tries to figure out who should be talking.

Before answering any question, pause a beat before speaking to make sure the interviewer has completed the question. This is extra important if you’re not the only one being interviewed.  Pause to make sure that the question is being addressed to you. Those few seconds of silence may feel like an eternity to you because it goes against our human nature to not instantly respond. To the viewer at home, it’s barely noticeable. Best to avoid the disaster of crosstalk.

Do A Practice Run for Every Interview

Many spokespeople, especially experienced executives, will scoff at the notion of doing a practice run for every interview. “I’ve done this before,” some will say. “Don’t worry, I got it,” others will say.

While the topics and messaging may be known by heart, I strongly advise doing a full prep call for every remote interview regardless of the executive’s experience level. The purpose of these prep calls should focus on ensuring the messages are coming across cleanly and directly via a remote interview. What sounds good on paper or in someone’s head, may not have the same impact when in action.

It could be as simple as avoiding tongue-twisters in soundbites, or as difficult as finding the exact right words to properly make your point, during a unique format. It never hurts to practice.

In A Group Setting, Focus Only on Yourself

The biggest difference in remote interviews and virtual events is how much panel discussions have changed. When done in person, it’s easy to engage your fellow panelists and develop a conversation. When done remotely, that is nearly impossible.

If you’re being interviewed with more than one person, you have to acquiesce the power of the conversation to the moderator. They will usually name the person they want to hear from, and then call on the next person for a follow-up if they have something to add. The worst possible thing for a remote panel discussion is people talking over one other.

Be comfortable in the fact that you’ve practiced your soundbites, have your messages ready, and are ready to perform.