Prior to the pandemic, broadcasters took responsibility for making sure in-studio guests looked and sounded great on air. But as more interviews take place via Zoom, the onus to portray yourself in the best light has shifted to the interviewee, and there are daily examples of companies not being sufficiently prepared to appear on Bloomberg, CNBC and other news networks.
By Dex McLuskey
Late on April 2, President Trump said in a tweet that 3M “will have a big price to pay” after telling the company to export fewer face masks used to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus and to do more to prevent price gouging.
The stock, which had slumped 32% this year prior to the tweet, dropped more than 3% early the following day and, in a bid to right a perceived wrong, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Mike Roman went on CNBC’s flagship morning show Squawk Box.
The results, as can be seen in the video below, weren't great, as you can see in the above video.
Now I appreciate that Mr. Roman's appearance was probably set up in a hurry, but it still took place more than 12 hours after the president’s tweet.
And I have to wonder if a company with the resources of 3M could have done better with its preparation for a high-profile response to a significant crisis. Frankly, I’d be surprised if anyone could watch the interview for more than a minute or so, regardless of how robust a response Mr. Roman gave. As for leveraging the appearance in other digital assets to bolster the company's case? Forget it.
And if the stock is any gauge, the market also thought it was a lost opportunity, as the shares continued to drop throughout the day, ending 4% lower.
The interview looks like it took place over Zoom, a preferred method for connecting via video during the pandemic. The app had 200 million daily meeting participants in March, dwarfing the previous record 10 million set in December, CEO Eric Yuan said in a letter to users on April 1.
But a backlash has been growing over privacy and security. There have been accusations that the app installs itself without user authorization, scrapes e-mail addresses and lifts Windows log ins. And after the FBI issued a warning about "Zoombombing," where meetings are hijacked by intruders spouting hate speech or displaying pornography, New York City's Department of Education told schools to switch to Microsoft Teams.
The controversies have hit Zoom's stock. After more than doubling to almost $160 in the year through March 23, the shares shed 19% of their value through April 3. That persuaded Yuan to announce a 90-day moratorium on adding new features so that the company can focus on fixing privacy and security issues. The slide continued on April 5, with the stock another 10% lower in early trading after Credit Suisse downgraded it to underperform from neutral on concern the uptake in use will lead to fewer paying customers than the current price suggests.
In addition to distance learning and remote meetings via Zoom, the Covid-19 crisis also means that more TV news shows are being broadcast away from traditional studios -- often from the anchors’ homes -- and one consequence is a lot more Zoom interviews.
Before the pandemic, most in-person interviews took place in a broadcaster's studio, where everything would be in place to make guests look and sound their best on air. But that onus has now shifted to the interviewee.
As a result, it's now the responsibility of the communications department to know how to set up remote cameras, lights and audio so that executives are portrayed in the most positive light on TV -- and there are many daily examples of companies failing to do that.
If you think I’m singling out 3M, I’m not. There were other examples on the same CNBC show, such as below, when Joe Kernan discussed slumping demand for oil with American Petroleum Institute CEO Mike Sommers.
While the visuals and audio are an improvement on 3M, you’re still looking up at Mr. Sommers and does anyone need to see the ceiling fan in the background?
Others get it right, such as Chewy CEO Sumit Singh on Squawk Box the previous morning. He looks at ease and well prepared, the colors pop (no beige!), the camera angle is flattering and decent sound and lighting add to the air of professionalism.
So how do you avoid the mistakes of 3M and be more like Mr. Singh?
At the absolute minimum, raise the top of the laptop to eye level to avoid an upward-tilting screen, plug in a USB mic like the Rode NT-USB Mini for $99, and set up some front lighting, however basic. Don’t sit with a window behind you or you’ll likely be a silhouette, and don’t rely on a ceiling light as it will likely plunge the lower part of your face into shadow and create a shiny, overexposed hot spot on your forehead -- like Mr. Sommers.
But if you want to put your best foot forward in live TV news appearances – and I’d strongly suggest that you do -- you can significantly improve how you look and sound in Zoom.
For a start, small-sensored laptop cameras and webcams can't produce the best quality image. For that, you need a DSLR or mirrorless camera that's able to output a clean HDMI signal, which means removing all the settings you see on the camera’s screen.
The next issue is getting that clean HDMI signal into your computer, which is the job of a video capture card such as the Cam Link 4K. Understandably, there's high demand for capture cards just now. I wanted to do this article as a video, but am still waiting for a Cam Link 4K to arrive. When it does, I'll test it and do a followup video.
Deciding which lens to use depends on whether you want a wide or tight shot, and if you prefer the background to be blurry or in focus, which would be preferred if you're using a branded backdrop.
As for audio, it’s imperative to upgrade from the computer's internal microphone. They’re terrible -- really terrible -- so hook up a reasonable lapel microphone. The Deity V.Lav is excellent value at $50.
And because you can’t use speakers, you need some kind of discreet in-ear monitor, and there are plenty of options on Amazon. I find Airpods, as used by Raytheon Technologies CEO Gregory Hayes on the same April 3 edition of Squawk Box while discussing the closure of the merger with fellow defense giant United Technologies, to be an unnecessary distraction.
Finally, as with any video, you want to illuminate the subject's face evenly with something soft and diffused around 5600 kelvin to mimic daylight. If you decide on a tight shot with a branded backdrop, one such light is sufficient, but if you opt for wider framing, it may be worth adding some background lights.
If you regularly work remotely, aren’t near a TV news studio and think this is something you should be doing more often, then it’s worthwhile putting in the effort to dial in the light, sound and camera settings.
Plus, when you’re not on TV, you’ll look awesome in video team meetings.