How to Ace a Virtual Interview

July 20, 2020

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and to maintain the safety of reporters and sources, news outlets are regularly conducting virtual interviews in lieu of in-person interviews. This transition has created a lot of opportunities for experts to connect with local, national and international media outlets faster than ever before.

If you are helping any experts from your unit prepare to participate in a virtual interview, here are some great tips:

  • Outline the interview expectations and logistics. Is this a live interview, or will it be pre-taped and edited? If the interview is going to be taped, your expert has the option of stopping and starting over when answering a question. If it is live, they won’t have the same luxury and may want to practice their key messages a bit more in advance of the interview.
  • Test your technology. Make sure that the expert has a strong internet connection. If they are working from home, they can consider using a hardwired internet connection, even if their WiFi signal is strong. You should also remind them to log on a few minutes before the interview starts to ensure that their sound and setup work well for the media outlet. It’s helpful to confirm with the media outlet which video conference platform they will be using (Zoom, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, Skype, etc.) so that the expert has the correct software installed ahead of time.
  • Set the scene. Encourage your expert to set up their webcam in a place with strong lighting, low traffic, limited noise and a nice background. Some set up in front of bookshelves or a solid wall with artwork behind them. It’s helpful if the background is fairly plain, as that will minimize any distracting items that could pull the focus from them while they are speaking. You could even set up a practice call with them and offer suggestions on how to set up their space.
  • Check out the view. Have the expert hop on their computer and test their webcam before the interview. Sometimes it helps to stack a laptop on top of some books or a box to create a better angle and put the camera at eye level. This will create the impression that the expert is speaking with the interviewer directly.
  • Minimize distractions. Before the interview, your expert should close their door and silence their phone so they aren’t interrupted. It is also recommended that they close all other programs on their computer (such as meeting notifications or chat functions) to avoid receiving notifications during the interview.
  • Practice! Before the interview, your expert should develop some key talking points and practice answering anticipated questions. If they are worried they will forget their key messages, suggest that they write them on a small sheet of paper and keep it nearby so they can quickly glance at it if needed.
  • Dress up. Although many are working from home at this time, your expert should plan to dress as if they were going to be on TV, at least in what is visible on camera. Read more about what looks best on camera in this blog post. (Promise we won’t tell anyone if they’re wearing sweatpants or slippers off-camera.)
  • Stay relaxed and confident. During the interview, the expert will want to sit or stand up straight and look directly at their camera (note that this is different from a normal TV interview, when a reporter may ask you to look away from the camera lens). The expert should let the interviewer finish asking their question and wait a second or two before responding, to minimize any sound quality issues. Also, they should be cognizant of their body language on camera.
  • Log off and move on. Once the interview is completed, the expert can thank the reporter for their time and wait for their cue that they are finished and may log off. It is recommended that interview sources stay on camera and remain engaged until their webcam is shut off and they are logged out of the video conferencing program. You never know what is still being recorded.

Any tips we missed? Let us know at unews@umn.edu.