This week Robert Kelly of Pusan University in South Korea suddenly found himself the world’s most famous political science professor – but not quite in the way he might have wished. The video of his Skype interview on the BBC went viral as millions of people around the world were entertained by the sight of his two small children bursting in and interrupting the live broadcast, as their father battled to keep a straight face and their mother harried them out of the way. Skype interviews are becoming more common on both radio and TV – they will always be prone to technical or human failure, but what are the rules for maximising the chances of a stress-free experience if you get called on to perform in this way? Here are my five rules.
1. Look good: background and lighting are key here. A darkish background looks more flattering than white walls; a bookcase is ideal because this also makes people imagine you are intelligent. Try and make sure your face is well lit but not ‘burnt out’, with a main light behind the camera and a softer one from a different angle to fill in any shadows across your face. Using natural light through the windows works well when available; avoid flat, unflattering light from fluorescents. Spend a little time adjusting for best effect. During the interview, look directly into the computer’s camera rather than down at the picture on the screen, and smile. Don’t sit too close to the camera, which should be roughly at eye level – the ‘up the nostrils’ angle is never a good one. Adjust the framing to leave room for the broadcaster to add a caption at the bottom of the screen. Avoid a swivel chair, as any movements will make you look even more nervous than you already are.
2. Sound good: a quiet room with plenty of sound-absorbent soft furnishings works far better than an empty, echoey space. For radio, the BBC even recommends draping a coat or blanket over your head and computer, to block out as much external sound as possible. In some circumstances, using a headset may improve sound quality. If you are likely to broadcast regularly in this way, it is worth buying a clip-mic (£20 upwards) rather than using the built-in microphone, for better quality. Attach this to your lapel at chest level, hiding the cable and making sure it doesn’t rub or get knocked when you move your hands.
3. Get the tech sorted: Skype video requires good consistent broadband. Make sure you have your Skype username to hand, and the latest version of the software installed so it doesn’t try to update itself when you are on the air. Plug in your laptop via an ethernet cable if possible, otherwise make sure you are not too far from the wi-fi router. Ensure other members of the family are not watching Netflix or anything else that might weaken or break up your signal.
4. Do a dry run first: a test run with a friend can help ensure you have got the Skype settings right. They can give feedback on how it comes over from their end, which microphone settings sound best, etc. Be aware that the online systems at some outside locations such as conference centres prevent the use of streaming services – better to find this out sooner rather than later. As with any other interview, find out as much as you can about what sorts of questions the programme wants to ask, so you can prepare the key points you want to make. Be ready a few minutes before your on-air time so the broadcaster has time to establish a good connection and sort out any glitches.
5. And finally, sort the environment! Minimise the risk of interruptions. Switch off mobile phones, unplug landlines, and turn off distracting notifications on your computer. Ask people in adjacent rooms to stay quiet and not come in – sticking a notice on the door is a good idea. Unfortunately though, pets and small children cannot read, so if you have any of these, lock the door if you can – or at least make sure someone is keeping them distracted elsewhere.
Tom Maddocks is founder and Course Director of Media Training Associates