By Dex McLuskey
NZS stands for “non-zero sum,” reflecting the company’s ethos to invest in organizations that create more value for the communities they serve than they retain in profit. A non-zero sum transaction is one that leaves both parties better off than had they not participated. Brad felt it would be a win-win to fill the slot for the producer.
Only one problem: while he has appeared countless times on CNBC and Bloomberg TV in recent years, as well as other major global outlets such as BBC Radio, this would be his first live TV news interview since the coronavirus pandemic forced broadcasters to mostly conduct them via video conference apps.
Having viewed Context Content’s “How to Rock Zoom TV Interviews” video, he reached out.
“So many of these interviews still don’t look or – perhaps more importantly – sound good, and I wanted to do what we could to avoid that,” Brad said. “I was keen to avoid a shot with the camera pointing up your nose and a ceiling fan spinning behind you, or the cliché bookcase background that makes you want to look away and hit the mute button.”
The task, then, was to create a simple, clean, distraction-free shot to help viewers focus on the substance of the conversation, which you can view in entirety here with a CNBC Pro subscription, or watch a snippet below.
Crucial to that is audio. As we’ve said in several prior videos and blogs, you should never rely on the internal microphone of a laptop computer or camera, because our ears are way less forgiving than our eyes.
CNBC asked to use Skype, so the first task was to make sure the app worked on his laptop, which required both of us to delete and reinstall the desktop client. As expected, this revealed that the audio from the laptop’s built-in microphone was insufficient for broadcast.
Because of the surge in work from home and video conferencing during the pandemic, audio gear is in scarce supply, but a quick Google search showed that a BestBuy near Brad had one Blue Yeti USB microphone in stock.
While not the ideal option, the Blue Yeti is a solid all-in-one, plug-and-play device with good preamps, making it a substantial upgrade to a laptop mic, and tests on Saturday morning showed a significant improvement in audio quality.
Now it was time to sort out the video.
In a bid to improve on the image produced by the laptop camera, Brad plugged in a Logitech 1080p webcam. While better, skin tones were over-exposed and the white balance skipped from too orange-yellow to a blue tint, while a lack of control over settings made it difficult to dial in an acceptable and stable picture, as the exposure and focus continually shifted.
I remembered that Brad had previously told me he owned a Canon EOS T3i with an 18-55 mm kit lens. A month or so earlier, Canon released a utility that allowed several models to be used as webcams by VC apps by connecting them to a Windows PC via USB.
While a check of the utility’s microsite showed that the T3i isn’t among the compatible models, a quick YouTube search revealed that the version for the T6i can work with the T3i, so I told Brad to download it.
And it worked.
So now we could use his DSLR, giving us control over superior exposure, white balance, aperture and ISO capabilities, while setting the movie mode to 1080p at 30 frames per second, the same rate used by US broadcasters.
By front lighting Brad and adjusting the framing to get a simple, colorful background featuring two original artworks and a fireplace, and putting Brad in a dark blazer and complementary monochrome shirt to contrast with the light background, we had an image that let viewers appreciate the composition, while focusing on the topics being discussed.
There’s room for improvement. By switching to a USB audio interface with a lavalier microphone attached to a shirt or lapel, we’ll get cleaner, crisper, richer audio than a USB microphone a foot or more away can provide. A more discreet in-ear monitor will be less distracting, and with more time we’ll hone the camera settings for an even more polished look.
But the lesson is clear: if you’re appearing on live TV news, don’t just flip open your laptop and start up Zoom. By putting some time and thought into how you look and sound, you increase the chances of your messages being heard and of being asked back as a guest.
“The producer I worked with for the segment commented on the look and sound,” Brad said. “And you can also use a setup like this for client and other VC calls. At a time when in-person meetings aren’t possible, a little effort to look and sound good can go a long way.”
And as Brad pointed in his SITALWeek newsletter, putting in such effort has side benefits.
“I don’t usually mind trekking over to the studio in San Francisco,” he said, “but I could definitely get used to broadcasting from home.”