How to Sound Good on Camera
Tips for delivering usable footage in a filmed interview
There are particular considerations to excelling at a filmed interview. These apply particularly to those that are filmed and will be edited later (less to a live broadcast).
From a big picture standpoint, it’s important to realize that the most successful pre-recorded interviews do not follow the social norms of having a conversation. You are not trying to have a fluid conversation where the other party feels comfortable - you are trying to deliver succinct sound bites that can be edited out and spliced into other footage. The way that you speak should be in service to that, even if it makes you feel a little awkward at first.
Read our tips for delivering concise sound bites. In some ways they apply even more to video: a writer can extract the “ums” and extraneous asides pretty easily using the delete key.
On video, it is much harder, requiring the video to cut away to an image in the middle of your sound bite in order to cover the visual jump. Especially for the local news, which operates on strict deadlines, editors are looking for a single clean sound bite they can put into their story.
Delivering Usable Sound Bites
When you begin, hold your gaze at the interviewer and wait for a full second. Then begin speaking.
Deliver your short answer and then end your sentence with your voice on a down note that signals finality. Don’t trail off, don’t have your voice go up at the end, don’t mumble anything extra. (“So anyway that’s my story.”) End your short sound bites with confidence and follow that with a beat of silence as you continue to look at the interviewer.
This makes the interview so much easier to edit, and ensures that what you say is usable.
You should also complete your thoughts. If you start to make a great point, but then fail to end the thought and veer off into something else, what you’ve said is likely unusable.
There is a tendency for academics on camera to just keep talking, as if they’ll get to a magically smart point if they keep going. Avoid doing this, as it is also very hard to edit. If you need a moment to collect your thoughts, ask for it. Then deliver a succinct answer.
If you want to repeat your answer because you think you can do it better, ask. They will almost certainly say yes.
Does a lot of this feel strange? Sure. But a taped interview does not follow social norms of conversation flow. If the interviewer is going to be editing you into a piece as a “talking head,” what they need is 2-3 sentences that they can easily clip out and insert into their piece.
Avoid Conversation Filler and Physical Movements
In the same way that speaking with finality in discrete thoughts helps make clips usable, avoiding filler words does also.
Avoid starting your sentences with “So….” or any extraneous words. Wait for your one second pause, and then begin your sentence unequivocally. Any kind of filler language at the beginning will need to be edited out, and that often makes the start of your sentences begin in a weird tone or with an odd facial expression.
Similarly, ensure that your gaze stays steady on the interviewer and your eyes don’t roll up to the ceiling the way people sometimes do when they’re thinking. If you need to look around or move around, do it between answers.
Start by Repeating the Question
In normal conversations, someone asks a question and then you provide an answer.
For example, what is your favorite color? You might reply, "Blue."
But when an interview is edited down, you usually don't hear the producer off-screen asking the question. Here, having a person just saying, "Blue" makes little sense.
If you were on camera, your answer should be, "My favorite color is blue."
Here are some examples of on-camera questions and how you might begin an answer:
|What is your research about?||"My research deals with..."|
|Who inspires you?||"I am inspired by..."|
|What do the findings of this study show?||"The findings of this study show that..."|
|How many people are on your team?||"My team consists of ..."|
As you give a recorded interview, you continually need to be contextualizing what you're saying so that any piece taken out of context is a complete thought.
In normal conversation, we need to acknowledge when we repeat ourselves. But in an interview, using phrases like “as I was saying earlier,” make that clip hard to edit — nobody seeing that edited clip out of context knows what you said earlier. In fact, repetition is useful in a recorded interview: it gives the editor multiple options where you made a particular point.