Beyond words: Vocal and body language techniques for TV interviews

Your message is, of course, paramount, but poor habits such as slouching, shifty eyes and verbal upticks will undermine your credibility.

How much time do you have to make a first impression?

A minute? Several seconds? How about a millisecond (which is less than a blink of an eye)?

This reality is particularly challenging when it comes to a televised interview. In these instances, employing effective body language is as imperative as using the proper words.

Body language basics

Overall, you want to deliver physical movements and a vocal tone that enhance your words. This will boost your credibility and help the audience forge a personal connection with you. If an audience likes you and relates to you, they will be more receptive to your message. If you are doing something that distracts from that, such as failing to maintain eye contact or fidgeting in your seat, they may not hear your words.

Keep these tips in mind:

1. Energy

Your words can’t do it all on their own; it would be like playing the piano with one hand. Two hands create a far richer sound. When you team the right energy with the right words, your message becomes more resonant.

Energetic people are hard to miss. They attract attention, are captivating and lively, and are often on the move. They can inspire others to follow whatever cause or message they are conveying.

The most gifted spokespeople use this dynamic quality to bring verve and energy to their interviews. They are compelling and engaging. Some may be naturally gifted, but more than likely they worked to enliven their delivery.

Here are a couple of ways you can pump up your on-camera energy:

  • The next time you’re out to dinner with friends, pay attention to your energy as you’re sharing an interesting, surprising or outrageous story. Odds are you’re speaking a bit louder than usual, using more gestures and employing a broader vocal range. Pay attention to that energy. It’s natural to you, so it will look natural on camera. It’s almost always better than the more conservative “professional” (and sleep-inducing) tone too many spokespeople think they ought to use.
  • To test your range, take a few videos while you are speaking. Aim for three different deliveries: one normal, one livelier and one over the top. You might be surprised which plays best to the camera.

2. Eye contact

In general, during a television interview, guests look one of two places—at the interviewer or at the camera. Though it might feel unnatural, it’s best to aim for 100 percent eye contact. It’s unnatural for a couple of reasons—mostly because in normal conversation such deep gazing would inevitably come across as creepy or too intimate. However, because the norms of casual conversation do not always translate into live media interviews, eye contact must be adjusted.

In everyday conversation, our eyes wander as we work to retrieve information, which is all perfectly normal. On television, however, that could come across as distress or nervousness. If the interview is a challenging one, the audience might think you are being evasive or defensive—and neither will elicit a positive impression.

Follow this eye contact advice for three common formats:

  • “Bites” interviews: This is the most common, typically used by producers who intend to use only a few quotes from your interview. You will look slightly off camera, lock eyes with the interviewer, and ignore the lens.
  • On-set interviews: This format, which is often seen on morning “chat” shows, most closely resembles everyday conversations. Lock eyes with the interviewer or whichever guest is speaking.
  • Remote interviews: This is the most difficult, because you stare directly into a camera. Before the interview begins, visualize your “target person.” Act as if the camera is that person. Stare into the lens during your entire interview, even when you’re not speaking—because you might still appear on screen. You can practice by delivering your answers to a specific spot on your office wall.

3. Gestures

Think of gestures as the interjections of body language. As with their verbal counterparts, gestures show emotion and feeling.

As Allan and Barbara Pease write in “The Definitive Book of Body Language”:

Using hand gestures grabs attention, increases the impact of communication, and helps individuals retain more of the information they are hearing.

In other words, gesturing not only helps you look more natural but also enhances the impact of your words.

Gestures also help improve the words spokespeople use. We typically find that people who gesture form clearer thoughts, speak more concisely, and appear more natural on camera. If you are too stiff, you potentially come off looking inauthentic, uncomfortable and unnatural. Viewers may deduce that you are not all that interesting and tune out.

Remember these key points for your next media interview:

  • Certain gestures are not as effective as others, such as jabbing one’s finger or clenching one’s fist. Be authentic, yes, just know what you are conveying. (Allan Pease offers some additional tips here.)
  • Although fast, undisciplined gestures can be distracting, don’t be afraid to employ gestures that come naturally—even if the camera is trained on your face, neck and shoulders. Even if viewers can’t see the movements, they can see the expression on the spokesperson’s face, which tends to become more animated when gesturing.
  • What should you do with your hands? Never “lock” or “hide” them. You can rest them at your side. It will feel odd but look normal. Another preference is to nest one hand within the other, keeping both at navel level (if standing) or on your lap (if seated) when not gesturing. This allows you to gesture freely when making an important point.

4. Posture

One remarkable thing about media training is watching the tremendous impact that “small” adjustments can make, and proper posture is chief among them. Here are ways to improve body language through your posture, whether you are sitting or standing:

  • If you are in a chair, lean forward slightly and firmly plant your feet on the floor (avoid crossing your legs). It is from this angle that it is much easier to project energy and to gesture naturally. When you slump, you are in a passive position. Researchers have found that our actions can change the way we think and feel about ourselves.
  • Another “small” adjustment can help if you are being interviewed while standing. Place one foot just a few inches in front of the other. Doing so will prevent the dreaded side-to-side sway and will keep your energy aimed toward the lens—and the audience.

5. Voice

Simply by altering your volume, pitch, pace, and tone—how soft, loud, fast, slow, high, or low you go—you can change the meaning of your words and add context to your message. In a media interview, it draws the audience’s attention and makes for a more dynamic appearance. A louder voice signals energy and excitement; a softer voice increases intimacy and drama.

Consider these factors to improve your vocal delivery while on television:

  • Pace: Most people speak between 150 and 160 words per minute, yet quicken their pace when nervous. Speaking quickly can add excitement to a specific point, but be careful not to rush through your interview. Reduce your speed when discussing more complicated information, emphasizing a key point or building drama.
  • Pitch: When you ask a question, your pitch usually goes up at the end; when you give a command, your pitch goes down. People tend to speak with a higher pitch when they’re nervous or excited and with a lower pitch when they feel relaxed and controlled. Both can be effective, but avoid vocal “upticks,” which occur when your pitch gets higher at the end of every sentence. An uptick makes you sound as though you’re seeking permission rather than making a statement—and overuse can diminish your credibility.
  • Pause: Practice “diaphragmatic breathing,” which can make your voice fuller, more resonant and less nasal. It also gives you better breath control, meaning you won’t have to interrupt yourself just to inhale. First, take a deep breath. If your chest expands, try again. You are trying to keep your chest still as you breathe in and push your stomach out. Now begin talking and expending that air you’ve taken in. Your stomach should be moving in. You could practice by lying down and then work up to a seated position, so that you are ready to employ the technique during a television interview.

When you are strong and confident in your appearance and delivery, you are putting your most effective self forward. That’s how you create a great on-camera impression.

Christina Hennessy is chief content officer for Throughline Group. This post originally appeared on the Throughline Group blog.


One Response to “Beyond words: Vocal and body language techniques for TV interviews”

    Chris Cochran says:

    Great article with good, concise, relatable advice. These are the techniques I’ve used for year in communicating to clients and people about how to both be interviewed and to present on video, I just haven’t written them down as well as this. I think the hardest for many is eye contact, but getting them comfortable with an energy which may seem overly dramatic to them, but looks natural to audiences, is what can really make a big difference.

    As an aside, I thought that your comment “fast, undisciplined gestures can be distracting,” is one that many of today’s on-camera field reporters should take to heart. Emphasis and illustrative gesturing can be useful. Unnatural, exaggerated ones distract from the message. Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from directly in your inbox.