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How to Give Great Virtual Interviews

Before COVID-19, it was common for a reporter or podcaster to sit face-to-face with their interview subject, in a studio, over a cup of coffee, or on set. Now, interviews are most commonly conducted online or over the phone, which can be a less intimate dynamic, but it doesn’t have to mean a subpar interview. Whether you’re soliciting press for the first time or preparing for an upcoming show you know you’ll be promoting, we’ve got some tips to make the most of your virtual interviews.

We spoke to producer Jenny Curtis of CurtCo Media. Curtis hosts and produces “Hollywood Unscripted,” life, art and career of filmmakers and performers, and “A Moment of Your Time,” a daily podcast featuring curated pieces of artistic expression from contributors around the world. We also chatted with Julie Wolfson, a writer who also teaches public speaking through workshops and coaching.

See how artists are talking about the work they do on "Southland Sessions" E10: Civic Imagination. Watch now.

Write a Press Release

Journalists may reach out to you. Maybe they saw your work on Instagram or had someone give them a tip about you. If that’s happened, our other tips will help you prepare! But if you’re soliciting press, you can write up a press release to introduce yourself to journalists and outlets.

A good press release is simple, straightforward and short. Explain who you are and what you do. Add other details as needed. If you operate a physical space, include a location and hours. If you sell things online, include a link to your shop. If you’re a musician, link to where people can hear your music. If you’re selling tickets to an event, include a ticket link and pricing information. Make sure to include how an interested writer can contact you and evaluate what you’re offering, whether that’s through an interview or an invitation to a press preview. For example, if you’re promoting an online theater performance, perhaps you’d do a show just for people interested in reviewing/covering.

Ideally, you would include all this information in the body of the email. And make sure to add a catchy, direct headline that piques interest and a high-res landscape photo with no text on it, preferably in color.

Those are the basics, but Curtis also recommends including “what a conversation with you could include that is relevant to the [outlet or podcast] and the current moment.” Essentially, why you and why now?

Let Your Interviewer Know More About You in Advance

Curtis recommends sending materials to the person interviewing you beforehand. This will help them come up with questions and lines of conversation relevant to you.

“Send your bio/any work you’re promoting/anything that can help your interviewer ahead of time (and I mean, days ahead of time, not minutes). Your interviewer will be doing their homework hopefully, but you want to do anything you can to help,” she said.

Do Your Homework Too

Check out recent episodes/interviews of the podcast or show you're going to guest on!" Curtis said. "See how they are handling the socially distant remote interviews and how it comes across in the final product. Understand what you are stepping into!"  Or, if you're providing quotes for a written interview, look for other pieces the author or publication has put out recently.

And remember, it’s always okay to say no to an interview if you’re not comfortable with an outlet, channel or podcast’s vibe. Just scroll up to our previous tip, write a release, and pitch yourself to a better fit!

Know the Medium

The last thing you want to do is show up for what you thought was an audio-only interview to find out video is expected and you’re still in pajamas. Ask in advance if you’ll be on video. Then, ask if your interview will be recorded. If this is for a written piece, chances are any recording will just be to grab quotes after the fact. But if you’re doing it for a podcast or YouTube channel, it’ll be in real-time. Use this information to decide how you want to prepare and, if you’ll be seen, if you need to get dressed up.

Get Familiar With the Interview Platform

If you're doing a phone interview, you've probably got it down. But if you're using Zoom or another platform, make sure you know how to use it in advance, so you're not stressed out or cutting into your interview time on the day of.   "Zoom is not the only option that may get thrown at you!" Curtis warns. "Find out ahead of time what program they use (Zencastr, Squadcast, Facebook Live, Twitch, etc.) and make sure you understand it. It is okay to reach out with questions prior to your recording."

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Check Your Audio Quality

If you’re doing an online interview, you’ll want to check your internet, sound and video quality (if necessary) in advance.

For Zoom interviews, Curtis recommends wearing headphones to diminish reverb in the recording.

"Cut out as much external sound as possible. Keep the windows closed; consider keeping the air off if it is not unbearably hot. Ask any other people in the house to stay quiet," she said. "If something pops up like sirens outside or your dog goes nuts, consider asking if you should hold and repeat what you were saying when it is quiet again (if the podcast is going to be edited)."  If you plan to be doing a lot of audio interviews, consider investing in a mic. And if you're doing an audio interview that isn't live, you could record yourself locally with recording software or your phone, then send the files to the interviewer.

It’s Okay to Ask For Advance Questions

You can prepare for your call in a few ways, including by asking what, specifically, the reporter wants to discuss and what their story will ultimately be about. Wolfson notes that many writers will be willing to share their list of questions or at least the topics the article will cover.

Practice Out Loud

Now that you know what you’ll be talking about, Wolfson suggests doing some practice “interviews” when it’s just you. “Get used to articulating your ideas, mission and describing your work. Practicing out loud may feel awkward, but it is worth the time just like you would practice for any public speaking opportunity,” she said.

Show Up and Show Up on Time

The prep work is done. Now, don’t flake! Even though you may be meeting up on the phone or online, your interviewer still has a schedule to keep even if working from home. They may be doing multiple interviews that day, and they may have to cut yours short if you’re late. Many writers will, with your permission, record your interview so they can review your quotes later. If so, they may be turning off their fans or A/C or finding someone to watch their children or pets to make sure they’re not interrupted. When you’re late or miss the interview, it can be pretty inconvenient. If you know you’re going to be late or have to reschedule, let them know as soon as possible.

Don’t Assume Everyone’s an Expert

Even if the person interviewing you is familiar with you and the work you do, the average person may not be. Avoid jargon and allow space for the interviewer to ask for clarification. This will help readers and listeners stay engaged.

Stay on Topic, But Don’t Stick to Talking Points

This one’s a little tricky. If you have set talking points going into an interview, you might sound a little like a “Westworld” robot trying to get back to your cornerstone no matter the question. You may also end up producing multiple interviews that are exactly the same, which can be boring for people trying to learn more about you. On the other hand, going off on long tangents can be distracting and turn a listener off.

Curtis suggests laying out your talking points ahead of time, but don’t glue yourself to them.

“Especially in a time where people are trying to find more ways to connect, create an earnest connection with your interviewer and follow the conversation where it goes,” she said.

Don’t Say Anything You Don’t Want in Print or Online

If you don't want something attributed to you, don't say it. You could specify that something is "off the record," meaning you don't want to be quoted on it. However, "off the record" material is rarely relevant to the interview, so it's often best just to avoid it. If you're asked a question you don't want to answer or don't have an answer for, you can just say so.

“If you don't have an answer for a question, say so. It's not worth making up and answer or giving an opinion about something on the spot and later regretting your answer or feeling it does not reflect your true opinions or knowledge on a topic,” Wolfson said. “Words are important. Articles live online or in print potential forever.”

Be Yourself

Wolfson and Curtis conduct interviews for different mediums, but there’s one tip they have in common: Be yourself. “Consider the chance to tell your story an important opportunity and be prepared. Writers who are interviewing you about your art generally love art and learning about the creative process, so also try to treat this as that chance to have a real conversation about your work. Try to really be yourself and show your personality," Wolfson said.   "The most inspiring thing about interviews with artists is to truly hear their perspective. At the end of the day, don't worry about the technology or the challenges of remote interviews. We want to genuinely learn about you and your art. Have fun with it!" Curtis said.

Top Image: Gray microphone with a colorful art background | Michal Czyz / Unsplash

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