Welcome to a world where Zoom meetings and interviews are replacing in-person, face to face connections. From podcasts to doctor’s appointments to third grade math, Zoom has quickly become the most important medium of our time. Careers are being made and lives are changing with this new phenomenon. Yet critical mistakes are being made. Rather than suffering the consequences of a failed meeting or interview, I’d like to share my thoughts on how you can leverage this new media to become a better host.
Aside from the technical issues (clear video, good lighting, and consistent audio), there are new challenges that Zoom interviewers and hosts are forced to face. My area of expertise is celebrity interviewing and knowing how to quickly connect with the other person(s) in a live setting, 3D and 2D. Here are six ways to successfully elevate your Zoom interviews and meetings.
More than ever, active listening and staying focused is critical. Remain in the moment. Compared to a face-to-face setting, Zoom presents more opportunities for distractions (the notorious example being The New Yorker writer and CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin’s recent… ahem, mishap). You must fight the urge to glance offscreen at your cell phone, write a text, or even eat. Better still, put your phone on mute and leave it in another room. Then turn off all other media, especially if you’re a guest.
Imagine You and Your Guest in 3D
The interview should be treated as if you’re face-to-face…and that’s not easy. If possible, put a brightly colored paper circle around your webcam or the camera on your computer so you focus solely on the lens without looking at yourself on the screen. Depending on the platform you use, once you’ve established the video feed looks good, delete your image from your screen without turning off your camera, of course. This will force you to look at your guest’s face instead of your own. Imagine you’re in front of the other person IRL and being watched by a live studio audience.
If something unexpected occurs, deal with it in the moment. This happened recently during a BBC broadcast when the children of Professor Robert E. Kelly crashed his live interview. Because he didn’t ignore them or get upset, it became a lovable viral sensation. Again, if you were in an in-person interview and your child walked in, you’d handle it in a compassionate way.
Connect to a 2D Image
How do you connect if the person is not physically there? One way is to point out things you’d notice in person, and mentioning them.
“I see you nodding, so we’re in agreement on that.”
“Is that a locket around your neck? Do you keep a picture inside?”
Remind the other person that you’re present, involved, and connecting with them. The tendency with Zoom is to talk as if you’re on the phone. You might impassively listen while waiting for your turn to talk again. This should be avoided at all costs. Also, I sometimes notice people writing notes as the other person is talking. This is something you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) do if it were an in-person interview. It shouldn’t be done now.
Talk Big Tip #1: Most conference platforms allow you to record the session, so you can go back and verify quotes and meeting points. All parties should know they’re being recorded, and check local laws before proceeding in this manner.
Dress to Impress
It’s one thing to dress more casually, which seems to be the accepted norm these days. But I recommend you only dress one level down, not two or three. In other words, if the interview normally calls for a suit and tie, for a Zoom interview or meeting, you can lose the tie. For women, if you’d normally wear a coordinated pantsuit, lose the blazer (unless it’s for a job interview). I’ve seen recent interviews where the host is in jeans and a t-shirt, with uncombed hair, and it just seemed to lose the other person’s respect. Yes, it may feel a bit odd sitting on your couch wearing a sport jacket, but for a serious interview, that tradeoff is necessary.
The “Brady Bunch” Format
Multi-person conference calls are tricky. Listen, participate, and force yourself to not zone out. Again, being actively involved will help you get there. When I participate on a Zoom conference, before the call I visualize it being a roomful of people who can change or better my life. I work myself up to make myself a little nervous before the meeting. Because don’t you get a little nervous going into conference meetings in person? You want to find ways to replicate that experience. Finally, you should never just disappear and leave a conference meeting as it’s getting ready to conclude. This is disrespectful to the moderator and it will be remembered. If you must leave, explain that either verbally, in the chat room, or via text message, and be as respectful as you would be for an in-person conference.
Talk Big Tip #2: When you’re the moderator, be specific by calling on different guests by name. Try not to ask questions like, “Who has something to share?” Dead silence ensues, and typically one person ends up dominating the meeting. Instead, try the fastball approach by asking, “Sharon, in 60 seconds or less, tell us what you learned from that presentation.” This keeps you in command and limits interruptions. It also prohibits the worst part of any Zoom call: Multiple people talking over each other.
If there’s one piece of advice for you to take from this article, it’s this: For the best results, always be “camera ready” and treat each call or meeting as if it were in person. Why not be known as the person who gives great Zoom?!
John Kerwin is an award-winning television interviewer and coach, specializing in interview preparation. His upcoming book is entitled Talk Big: How to Interview Celebrities and Make Them Love You. Find out more at www.johnkerwin.com.