Warning — men and woman are not equal:
Men typically have sock problems while women suffer from short skirts. During my years as a journalist I witnessed many unfortunate wardrobe malfunctions getting caught on camera. Besides causing embarrassment, they grab focus away from the quality of the information being shared. At Bloomberg News in London we’d actually brief scheduled interviewees on ‘dos and don’ts’ in advance to help them avoid common mistakes. You can also avoid these mishaps and not lose your audience with some pre-interview preparation.
Context is everything when it comes to clothing:
There are two main variables here:
1. Your employer
2. The news outlet
How formal you dress will depend on who you work for and what the organization does as well as the outlet asking you for the interview. If you work for a large corporation that provides a professional service and have just been asked by business press for a live interview, you’ll dress more formally. If you work for a non-profit that focuses on environmental issues and your local news wants to speak to you, wearing more casual clothes might be appropriate. If you’re a startup founder being interviewed by industry press, business casual is probably your look. When in doubt, always ask your communications team and/or the interviewer what they think is appropriate so you won’t feel silly during the interview.
Its called a lapel mic for a reason:
Many interviews will require you to wear a microphone attached to your shirt. It’s called a lapel or collar mic because it should attach to your shirt collar. It can also clip to ties, buttons or folds but be careful you don’t want to risk having your mic fall off during the interview. For recorded or live television interviews you will have to use one so be prepared and wear a top that has a spot where you can safely attach the mic without having it scratch the shirt.
For other forms of interviews, ask when you’re booked if your interviewer will need to put a microphone on your shirt. For the ladies avoid shirts with lots of ruffles, frills or plunging necklines because they not only interfere with a lapel mic but they are distracting in general. Anything that is distracting takes focus off your message. Avoid distractions.
Battery packs need pockets or belts:
If you’ll be wearing a lapel microphone you’ll also need a place to put the battery. This is where men have it easier. Men’s suit jackets come with inside pockets which are great hidden little places to hold the battery. Men who aren’t wearing jackets will be wearing trousers and the pack can hook to the waistline instead.
Unfortunately, all the ladies reading will know that women’s suits do not come with those nice jacket pockets. When I worked for Bloomberg News, this was probably the biggest warning we’d issue to women — wear something with a pocket or belt that can hold a battery pack.
Here’s an example. I was at Bloomberg in London during the financial crisis and volatility in the global markets didn’t always permit enough time for a pre-planned interview. This meant that female executives would arrive at Bloomberg’s newsroom directly from their office wearing a beautiful professional dress with a clean slim line but no pockets and no belt. It was hard for the crew to attach the microphone to them but it was also distracting for the executive who had to handle tough questions while juggling the battery pack. This is a risky situation you want to avoid: the pack could drop, turn-off during a live interview and take your focus from your message. It’s best to be able to fix the microphone and its battery pack to your clothes and forget about them.
Beware of skirts and dresses that finish above the knees:
Women should not wear short skirts or dresses if you want people to focus on what you’re saying. This is especially critical for television interviews. Again, when I was at Bloomberg News, we’d warn ladies to wear skirts and dresses that fell below the knees. This is because you don’t know what set you’ll sit on. You could be asked to sit on a bar stool, a regular chair or in a panel of chairs with other interview participants.
Don’t assume you’ll be hidden behind a desk. Most often you’re not. What this means is if your cute skirt is a bit too short you risk sharing more with the audience than your knowledge and you absolutely do NOT want to do this. Short skirts are high risk for wardrobe malfunctions and the late night comedy shows love these sorts of clips — avoid the blooper reel. Get a chair and put it in front of a mirror to double check your length before you leave the house.
What’s your color?:
Color counts. Don’t wear green, white or black for TV interviews. Green is the color of the chroma key screen — anything can be superimposed on it and if you wear green you just might end up blending in with the set.
White glows and becomes the most noticeable thing on a TV screen. Choose oatmeal or cream colored shirts instead. As for black clothes, they are too harsh and can suck up all the light. The safest color on TV is blue. Pastel shirts also usually work well.
Solid colors look better than patterns. Stripes dance around on the screen and are distracting. Herringbone and small intricate designs are hard for a TV camera to pick-up on. Meanwhile checks, very narrow stripes and small patterns can cause a strobe effect and appear to the viewer as if they are moving. Avoid them too.
A final thought: makes sure your clothes don’t display any visible logos or brands unless of course it is your own logo. They are also a distraction.
Watch your bling:
This tip is mostly for the ladies. Jewellery jingles and distracts. Remove all pieces that make noise, move around or could hit your microphone. Also do not wear dangly earnings. It is hard for a TV camera to focus on big shiny accessories.
Socks and shoes get caught on camera:
Feet are probably the most commonly forgotten element by interviewees. Make sure you polish your shoes and clean the soles in case they appear in the picture. Don’t forget to also keep your socks simple — the color rules also apply here. Additionally, men and women should be mindful to make sure that they wear high socks under trousers so that your skin doesn’t show when you sit down or if you cross your legs.
Make-up and hair help present a polished image:
I think the most famous example of when a TV segment hurt a participant because they looked bad is the legendary 1960 US presidential television debate between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon. JFK used makeup and presented a polished image to the public. Richard Nixon refused and he came across pale with facial stubble plus he was very sweaty under the lights. Analysts believe Nixon’s pale, stubbly and sweaty image on TV ultimately cost him the election. Don’t be a Nixon.
Not all news organizations have a Glam Squad. You should arrive for your interview prepared with your own make-up bag. Some outlets have a staffed make-up room to help you. Bloomberg does but your local newsroom might not. For ladies: natural is best. Avoid glossy products. Apply powder to your face, nose and forehead to avoid shininess from the glare of lights. Also watch your hair. A common problem is having hair fall across your eyes and then needing to be be constantly flicked away. This is very distracting.
As for the men, many guys don’t wear make-up but I would say that a little powder to help avoid shiny skin does help. Powder also helps calm the shine on skin that might show around a rising hairline. If you feel weird don’t worry. It can always be washed off immediately after your interview. Men should also check their hair in the mirror to make sure you don’t have a cowlick sticking up. If you do, it will move around as you talk and that’s distracting.
Prêt à porter:
The goal for both men and women is to look polished while feeling confident and comfortable. Relax and treat your interview like it is a conversation, even if you’re being recorded or broadcast live. Remember that many interviews end up online afterwards so choose timeless fashion. If you do wear anything distracting, especially on TV, people will remember that instead of what you have to say. That would be a real shame. You’ve been asked to give an interview because you have important information to share. With a little planning you can avoid distracting mishaps and get your message clearly across.
If you’re looking to get press you can read more on how to get coverage for your company in my article “7 Tips for Getting Startup Press from an Ex-Journalist”.
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