For lawyers, being interviewed on TV may seem like a piece of cake. After all, you've interviewed clients and grilled hostile witnesses, so you know how to handle yourself, right? But from a former TV news producer's perspective (this blogger used to be one), there are many things a lawyer can do to make or break a recorded TV news interview.
We've come up with 10 tips for lawyers to keep in mind when being interviewed for TV. Today we'll cover the first five tips, which apply to TV interviews in general:
Put your best face forward. At the very least, check yourself out in a mirror (or take a selfie), get your hair right, and make sure there's no food around your mouth or stuck in your teeth. Since most TV stations now broadcast in high-definition, it may also be smart to apply some makeup -- if only a bit of powder to tame your shiny T-zone (i.e., your forehead, nose, and chin). Guys: Just ask a lady friend for help, or go to a makeup counter and explain your situation. (There's no need to be embarrassed; you're going to be on TV!)
Plug your firm, if possible. If you're being interviewed at your office, you may be able to get your law firm's logo in the shot as well (on a sign or computer screen behind you). It's also quite common to "subtly" plug a book you've recently published (by placing it on a bookshelf or otherwise propping it up behind you). Just try not to make the backdrop look too staged or unnatural.
Say and spell your name, along with the name of your law firm. TV reporters are trained to have you do this, but many forget -- and then go on to mispronounce or misspell your name on air, making it impossible for potential clients to look you up later. Once the camera is rolling, clearly pronounce your name, then slowly spell it out for the reporter's reference. Also mention the name of your law firm, which may be used in a "super" or "lower third" (the superimposed graphic that appears on the bottom third of the TV screen with your name -- for example, "John Smith / Smith Law Firm").
Answer in complete sentences. One of the easiest ways to get cut out from a TV news story is by giving answers that are too short or choppy. In general, you need at least a five-second continuous soundbite to get your name on TV -- otherwise, the clip may be too fleeting to add that super or lower-third graphic. Also, try to answer using complete sentences, because the reporter's question will generally be cut out of the story. For example, if a reporter asks you, "What's your take on the verdict?" don't just say "Terrible." A better answer would begin, "The verdict is terrible because ..." Reporters also listen for cues such as "Here's the bottom line," "Here's what people are getting wrong," or "There's only one issue in this case" -- using similar phrases can help "nudge" the reporter toward using that particular soundbite.
Don't get in a fight with the news crew. Some reporters, especially so-called investigative ones, will try to get you angry or riled up. Whatever you do, don't get into a physical confrontation or shove the camera away from your face -- if so, that's definitely going to be the clip that makes it onto the news.
While these tips can apply to any TV news interview, there is a particular type of interview that's becoming increasingly common: the speakerphone interview, in which the reporter is not physically present to ask the questions. Tune in tomorrow for some more tips.