Strategic communications adviser and broadcaster Guto Harri offers advice on how to both look and sound good in a Skype TV interview
The Newsnight studio is not for the faint hearted. Designed to project authority, credibility and a commitment to forensic reporting and interviews, it’s an intimidating set-up for most. I’ve sat in the Green room before wondering why I’d subjected myself to the challenge, but on a recent visit, less than a fortnight ago, I was glad I’d opted for the full, live experience, because the other three panelists were on Skype. It wasn’t flattering.
Skype, and similar applications propping up corporate life during this crisis, may feel more familiar and comfortable to most executives. Conference calls and remote working were part of the pattern before they recently became our only options. But as a means of engaging with the media - beware.
Frankly it’s hard to look good on a flat screen tilted towards your nostrils in whichever part of your home you’re least likely to be interrupted. On the other hand, it’s easy, convenient and cheap. You also have more control than you realise. So here are some tips:
Skype is not a studio. You choose what the i-Pad or laptop is looking at, so choose well. A CEO would not normally address a large audience from his kitchen, bathroom or bed, so why start now? Take care not to be too contrived but try to create a comfortable space where you project well. Keep it clean and simple. Avoid distractions. Allow a lamp or a few books - especially if you’ve read them!
Dress for the studio not your sofa. Yes, you’re at home but we want to know you’re still on it - working, not working-out or grabbing a siesta. A tie or power dress look strange in a domestic setting but if you’ve arranged your space well you should look the part in a structured top or shirt and jacket. Below the waist doesn’t matter - I’m often in shorts, but you need to feel in charge - so dress accordingly.
Look at the camera eye,not at your own reflection. Your screen may only be a foot wide but if you’re close enough to it to be heard, you’ll look cross-eyed or distracted unless you’re staring at the right spot. On sound, try to avoid an echo chamber. Carpets and curtains may not be your fashion preference but you’ll sound better if you have them.
Make sure that spot is level with your eye line. Do not look down. Television piles extra pounds on all of us and it’s mostly in the face. You’ll look your best when a camera looks across at you - not up or down. So don’t default to your desk. Use a high chair or build a tower with books.
If you don’t want to wear your glasses - take them off long before you’re ready to perform so your mind as well as eyes have re-calibrated. The last thing you want is to handicap yourself with a sudden loss of vision when you need to be at your most confident.
Take care with lighting. You don’t want to be a silhouette surrounded by burnt out brightness. Go soft not harsh, with the focus on you not the background. A lamp can be a good prop, but careful with shadows.
Tune in to the moment. Forget what’s around you, remind yourself what’s at stake. They see you in a two dimensional tightly-defined space. Imagine their mood and context, end of a hard day or long commute. Kids may have just done to bed. Partner may be late home. They can’t tell if you’re hot or cold, squashed into a tight corner worrying that your cat’s about to jump onto your lap. If you’re thinking of them your language, tone, pace and projection will reflect that. And - notwithstanding the challenges of SKYPE - those are the critical components of effective communication.