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Mastering a Skype Media Interview

BY IN BLOG On 01-05-2014

Skype interviews have become so pervasive I’ve added a component on them to my media training workshops. Skype gives TV outlets a quick, cost-efficient way to add interviews to a story.  Print outlets use Skype video interviews in the website versions of stories and online media use Skype interviews extensively and have for a long time.

Skype and similar technologies present all the challenges of a TV interview. Those, however, are more than offset because Skype, like a phone interview, is an open book test.

The Challenges

When a TV crew comes to your office to set up an interview, they move furniture, banish reflective objects from the background, perhaps offer a little powder to take the shine off your brow, and light your office with professional skill.  A camera operator sets up the camera, makes sure you are properly framed and keeps an eye in the viewfinder throughout the interview so she can follow you if you move and shoot close-ups of any props or graphics you may deploy.

With Skype, you are the camera person, makeup artist, lighting director and prop master.  Chances are good none of these are your chosen profession and you have little to no training in any of them.

No one expects a Skype interview to look as if it had been lit by an Emmy-winning lighting director, but you should make every effort to make the picture as good as the little camera embedded in your computer or phone can make it. Since one picture is worth a thousand words, save yourself some time and look at this image from my laptop:


Self-explanatory, isn’t it?  Don’t set your computer with the back light brighter than the light on your face  (unless you’re doing it on purpose — as an anonymous whistle-blower, for example).  I’ve labeled the image on the right “Not so BAD” because it is adequate but doesn’t rise to the level of good.  The Skype image below is good:


This picture was posted on the web by Skype itself, so you can bet there was professional lighting and makeup involved.  Still, it gives us a clear indication of what a good image looks like. The woman is evenly lit an effect you can achieve with a pair of soft light lamps placed on either side of your laptop or computer monitor.  The background is not distracting and her eye line is much better than the bearded man in the Not so BAD image. If you are using a camera embedded in the frame of a laptop, you can adjust the angle — and your eye line — by tilting the screen forward and back.  With a desktop computer, you’ll have to move yourself up or down to make that sort of adjustment.  You want the camera at or a little above eye level, but not so high that you have to thrust out your chin to see it comfortably.

If you can come up with an appropriate backdrop, that’s even better than the white wall behind the woman.  A repeat pattern is a good backdrop — the logo or seal of your organization printed repeatedly over a contrasting (but not too bright) color. Below is a repeat pattern of the Honda logo:


This logo is printed on cloth and cloth repeats are costly, but long-lasting. Any company or organization with a competent graphics department can turn out a logo repeat on a large sheet of paper, paste it to a foam board and bring it to any office in the building or on the campus for a Skype interview.  Since Skype interviews are almost always done at a desk, the logo repeat need not be as large as the repeat backdrops we see behind celebrities at red carpet events on TV.

 Don’t Forget Audio

The best looking interview in the world falls flat if no one can hear what you say.  Set yourself up in a quiet room, preferably one with carpeting on the floor to absorb echoing sound. If you must use your computer’s built-in microphone, speak directly toward the computer.  But it’s preferable to use an external microphone.  Many computers accept external microphones and  you may even be able to use the earbud/microphone from your smartphone.  Just remember to change your preferences settings so that the computer  accepts the external microphone and does not default to the built-in microphone.  Skype sells a variety of microphone and microphone/headset combinations on its website, and you can find others at any neighborhood Radio Shack or other electronics store.

Other Cosmetic Skype Tips:

 Look at the camera, not down at notes or up for divine inspiration.

In most interviews you want your head and shoulders to fill the screen.  But if you are going to hold up props, you’ll want to give yourself a little more room, so move back from the screen a little bit to insure the props fill but do not overflow the screen.

If you are going to use props, practice with them.  Move very slowly — as if you are under water — so that viewers can see them.  Hold them in front of the camera for what seems like far too long.  Then hold them there a few more seconds.  Move them in and out of camera range slowly.

Avoid swivel chairs — if you’re sitting in one, you are likely to twist from side to side and appear nervous.

 Skype’s Big Opportunity

 Like a phone interview, a Skype Q & A is an open book test.  You can — no, you SHOULD — have your agenda in front of you and you should use it.  With Skype you don’t even have to have printed notes.  Type your agenda points out in a presentation or word processing application and have them on the screen in front of you.  You won’t break your eye line with the camera when you read them. If I were doing a Skype interview on the subject of how to do Skype interviews, the screen on my laptop would look like this:


Point number three on the screen above is my final Skype tip.  It’s pretty easy in any open book interview to work in your agenda very quickly.  It’s incumbent on you to then go back and revisit your points when you answer the reporter’s subsequent questions.  If you stray from your agenda, you invite the reporter to write a story that strays, too.



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George Merlis

George Merlis is the founder and president of Experience Media Consulting. He is an award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist who has been doing media training, presentation training and crisis communications consulting for more than two decades. He has been day city editor of the nation's largest-circulation afternoon newspaper and executive producer of two of the three network morning news programs, Good Morning American and the CBS Morning News. He also served as executive producer of Entertainment Tonight.