The COVID-19 pandemic has made us rethink a lot of behaviors—buffets, delivery services, happy hours, remote work, and more. It’s standard to ask now, “Will this be in-person or virtual?”

You may have also noticed—at least our public relations team did—how media have adjusted to reporting the news, especially during mandatory quarantine periods. Even though newsrooms and coffee shops are open again, virtual interviews have proven to be a convenient method for all involved, and they’re here to stay.

Our PR team has always prepared clients for live, pre-recorded, and virtual interviews by phone or video. But, the pandemic definitely increased the abundance of the virtual interview because news stations stopped allowing guests in the studio, travel between states and countries was extremely limited, and we went through many periods of quarantine.

Even though these types of interviews may be more common, don’t let your guard down when you’re preparing for a media interview. The internet is a fickle place, and they’ll pick up on the smallest thing—like using BBQ sauce as decor. Make sure your dog is occupied, run a comb (and maybe some dry shampoo) through your hair, and consider investing in a ring light.

Below are examples of good and not-so-good virtual interviews. Keep these examples and pro tips in mind to make your next interview go as smoothly as possible. As you read through these, keep in mind that remote interviews are not just for television; radio stations and newspapers have increased their use of video over the past decade. You can translate many of these tips to professional presentations as well.

Do Not Disturb

In this example, a British politician was explaining necessary policies to address COVID-19 health concerns. Unfortunately, her daughter saw a closed door she needed to open at the exact moment her mother was being interviewed by Sky News. Do your best to avoid distractions in the background as they’ll distract the viewer and could mess up the audio. Another note to improve the quality of the interview, angle the camera so the view is straight-on rather than pointed up—it will help with the lighting and you won’t appear to have several chins.

This example from our client, Hancock Health, shows that minimal movement in the background isn’t always distracting. The population health coordinator for the healthcare system is very engaging as she talks about their Health Possible personal health style quiz, so a few people working out on treadmills in the back is acceptable. Additionally, the location makes perfect sense because she’s discussing a health and wellness topic. Not to mention, the lighting is great in this segment.

As the tax season got underway, a representative with Indiana Legal Services’ Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic participated in a news story about taxpayers’ filing options. To make sure the audience wasn’t distracted, we advised her to sit in front of a neutral background and wear a solid color—patterns usually don’t look good on camera. She also wore minimal jewelry, as heavy necklaces and earrings can cause audio interference, especially if you’re wearing a microphone.

Filter Out the Bells and Whistles

This is an example of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Instead of finding a quiet place with a neutral background, this person used a virtual background of a blank wall and was, let’s say, interrupted. Despite being the king of virtual meeting software, Zoom hasn’t really perfected their filter (think cat lawyer) and background options. Keep it simple—don’t use these features if you can’t easily control them, especially during live interviews.

Marion County Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine has certainly had a lot of practice with virtual interviews over the past two years and it shows. If your organization would like to show the logo during the interview, then invest in a step-and-repeat backdrop or a custom wall decal—don’t rely on filters.

Additionally, Dr. Caine is very good at sharing medical information, data, and citywide health orders very clearly with audiences. Sometimes that’s all in one interview! Make sure you’ve got a good understanding of what you’ll be asked and how you’ll answer the question so audiences will easily understand the point you’re trying to make or the information you need to share.

Final Checks Before Signing On

Getting comfortable in front of a camera, or your own webcam in this case, for an interview can take a few tries. My father always gave me this advice about public speaking, “No one knows you messed up if you don’t tell them.” While that can certainly apply to live interviews, feel free to ask if you can give your answer again in pre-recorded interviews!

I believe we can always learn something new from any of our virtual interview experiences. Please remember, we’re all human; we all have pets or children with impeccable timing to interrupt and we really should wear pants even if it’s a waist-up interview.

To talk media tips or for other public relations questions, feel free to reach out.