Teaching an old dog new tricks - the golden rules of Skype interviews

We are becoming more and more used to Skype and FaceTime – it has transformed our home lives for the better and now it’s doing the same in the newsroom.


In Radio

Some outlets are still resisting and one global radio station has banned them, but the overall trend is that more and more interviews are being carried out by either Skype or FaceTime.

BBC radio newsrooms now place Skype/FaceTime as a higher priority in terms of broadcasting quality.  It’s now beaten the telephone and is second only to face to face or ISDN.  One of our journalist tutors recently admitted that 80 per cent of their BBC radio interviews are now carried out on Skype or FaceTime.

The presenter doesn’t see your face - it’s just about the audio quality being better across the internet rather than down a traditional telephone phone line.

Such is the rise in using these channels that a refusal to use them for an interview is increasingly being seen by journalists as a snub.



Crucially, it can make a huge difference in terms of reaching the viewer. A few years ago when an earthquake raised much of Haiti to the ground and communications were down.  The charities who made it on air had Skype. Within minutes the full scale of what was happening was broadcast live on BBC World.  The charities could not only show the most human of crises to millions of people, they could also, successfully, get their appeal out.  

Similarly, when a Virgin Atlantic did an emergency landing at Heathrow in December 2014, passengers were no longer asked to do a phone interview from the plane. It was Skype.

These channels come into their own during weekends and Bank Holidays.  The office may well be closed but if thanks to smartphones, there’s more than likely going to be a FaceTime or Skype connection.  In times of crisis media management, it’s an excellent way of getting seen quickly.

For some time now journalists have been asked to do more and more, such as operate cameras and edit as well as ask the questions. As Skype and FaceTime play a bigger part in broadcasting, the interviewee also takes on some of those roles. You have to be ready to be cameraman, soundman, lighting and director.  So here are some golden rules.



  1. Check your surroundings. Skype’s quick and convenient but your surroundings can be a distraction. If you’re an expert, position the camera so that you’re being interviewed in front of, let’s say, a bookcase. Usual rules apply  - if it’s a positive story, try to put your logo in the background, if  it’s negative, don’t.  

  2. Then check your surroundings again.  A few years ago there was a Skype interview which was broadcast live on the BBC News Channel. No one remembers what it was about because in the background, on top of the fridge, a large pink sex toy was winking at the camera. This teaches us two things: in live television the technical team doesn’t have time to check you’ve tidied and also, there is no fathoming what kitchens are used for.   The interview is still on YouTube if you’re interested.


  3. A few technical tips: position the camera so that it flatters. A lens angled upwards fattens the face. Straight on or pointed slightly down slims it. Have any sources of light directed towards your face, not behind (ie don’t sit in the window).  Ask the technical team at the other end of the line if the shot is properly framed. There’s also the issue of delay. If you hear an interviewer ask a question, finish your answer first. That way you’ll avoid the awkward ping pong we see so often on news channels.


  4. Remember you’re on air. You may be in your most comfortable surroundings but keep focussed and concentrate on your message.  That means, if you’re on TV, smarten up your appearance. If in doubt, see the above point on the sex toy.


  5. Buy a decent microphone or headset. It doesn't have to be expensive but an external one will dramatically improve sound quality and ensure your message gets heard.


  6. It sounds obvious, but make sure you have a good quality Wifi connection, 4G signal or at the very least 3G signal.


Nothing beats a one on one interview but for anyone who takes communications seriously, it’s time to face FaceTime.


Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

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