While the message in a media appearance is certainly important, the spoken word isn’t the only factor to consider when preparing for an interview – the quality of which could make or break a communicators’ initiative.
In this visually driven digital age, visual appearances and backgrounds can be just as impactful as the message. A compelling visual is vital for CEOs, athletes, industry experts or anyone else appearing on camera.
Don’t be like former FBI official Andrew Weissmann, who recently appeared on MSNBC to discuss ongoing investigations by the Department of Justice. Weissmann’s backdrop fails the visual appeal test in multiple ways, including by featuring empty bookshelves (a real eyesore) and a noticeable overhead light reflection.
Andrew Weissmann, a former FBI official who recently appeared on MSNBC.
An interviewee’s visual appeal took on a dramatically higher level of importance during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the role of cameramen and television studios took a backseat to the public health crisis. But now, even as the pandemic has faded and in-person interactions have resumed, media outlets and public figures have discovered that the conveniences of a home or office interview are too great to pass up.
However, such convenience comes with a need to deliver a message with maximum impact, starting with how you look. Because no matter what you say, a sloppy appearance could cause viewers to tune out or question your credibility due to a lack of visual preparation. Even worse, a subpar visual may reflect poorly on whatever station or reporter is interviewing you, causing television producers to think twice before booking you again.
Some tips for “looking the part” include:
- Minimize Distractions – An overly busy background will divert viewers’ attention. Your audience should be focusing on you and your message, not staring at excessive clutter on your desk or other background distractions.
- Nail the Lighting – Ensure your backdrop isn’t creating reflections, shadows, or other visual impairments, while also ensuring that your lighting isn’t overly bright or too dim. Test how you look beforehand and judge the visual under different lighting conditions.
- Let a Backdrop Reinforce your Message – While you don’t want your screen cluttered with too many symbols, a straightforward backdrop that reinforces your primary message and area of expertise can ensure your brand is communicated in a professional manner.
Amid the ongoing strike by auto workers employed by major U.S. car manufacturers, United Automobile Workers President Shawn Fain has appeared on numerous news programs advocating for increased pay and benefits. As illustrated below in a Face the Nation appearance, his personal brand as a fighter for workers is backed up by the presence of the classic union logo on his shirt and podium, as well as the simple phrase “Stand Up” appearing to his right.
Shawn Fain, President of the United Automobile Workers, appears on
CBS’ Face the Nation.
Within mere seconds of seeing you on screen, viewers form opinions. A clean, professional look as demonstrated by Fain can instill confidence in your audience. But as seen in the preceding MSNBC interview setup, a cluttered, unprofessional, or distracting background can detract from the message you’re trying to convey.
In the age where at-home media interviews are dominated by platforms like Skype and Zoom, a good visual background isn’t just optional; a compelling picture is essential to your message and credibility breaking through.
Visual appeal can be an extension of your brand, your message, and yourself. So, the next time you’re preparing for an interview, give as much thought to what’s behind you as what you’re saying.