Category Archives: Media Training Blog

By Lisa Oake, CEO, Oake Media                       

As the COVID-19 crisis envelops the planet and encroaches on our daily lives, I have started taking comfort in things I once took for granted. I am especially grateful for the technology that is keeping us connected, informed, educated and entertained during this frightening time.

Because of social distancing, many of my clients have started giving interviews to television news channels from their home computers. Instead of letting far from ideal circumstances intimidate them, they are showing up from their living rooms, studies and bedrooms to bring their expertise to a world hungry for accurate information.

But innocent mistakes made from a home computer – even during a time of crisis – can make or break your credibility. You may feel more relaxed sitting in a familiar environment, but the professional stakes are just as high as during an in-studio interview. In fact, reputational risk can be elevated because you do not have a technical team framing your shots, adjusting your lighting and protecting you from the many, many things that can go wrong during a live interview.

Here are a few guidelines to help you avoid the most common technical mistakes of television and deliver a professional-looking interview from home.

  • Frame the Shot: Camera people in the news business follow the “Law of Thirds” to determine the correct eye level for an interviewee. Imagine you are dividing your screen into three equal  parts by drawing two horizontal lines across the screen. Your eyes should be on the line that divides the upper one third of the screen from the middle one third. By following this rule, your shot will be the same as the news anchor conducting the interview and there won’t be an empty gap over your head.


  • Look Directly into the Camera:  I know it is tempting to look at the monitor so you can see yourself and the person asking the questions during an interview. This may feel like a more comfortable human-to-human interaction for you but to viewers it looks like you are avoiding eye contact and should not be trusted. Television distorts reality and every little shift of your eyes is magnified to the viewer. Maintaining eye contact with the camera will trigger your audience to intuitively have faith in what you are saying.
  • Lean In:  A neat little trick for appearing more authoritative during an interview is to lean slightly into a shot. Tilting your upper body about 15 degrees towards the camera sends a subliminal message that you are confident about being able to answer any question that comes your way. Leaning back creates the opposite effect. Place your fist between the small of your back the chair to achieve just the right angle.
  • Don’t Smile During a Crisis:  Smiling during a normal interview makes you look confident and approachable. Smiling during a crisis comes across as unconcerned or nervous. If you are doing an interview related to Covid-19 or some other crisis, eliminate all smiling and nervous laughter. Think about the appropriate tone for each interview and stay on track throughout.
  • Get to the Point:  When a television host introduces you on-air, don’t say: “Thank you for having me.” This is a polite gesture but a waste of valuable airtime that slows an interview down. Just jump right in with your most important message. This may feel abrupt but it works on television where viewers have often been watching all day and heard the “thanks for having me line” multiple times. They want to hear your advice and perspective as quickly as possible. Get to the point right away.
  • Dress Professionally:  No hoodies. No pyjama bottoms. Not even a shirt, jacket and tie on top with comfy sweat pants on the bottom. When you are appearing in front of an audience, it is important to act and feel in alignment with your professional values. This permeates your answers and affects your internal dialogue on-air. You have been invited to speak on television because you are a respected member of your profession and people want to hear your perspective on this crisis. Dress the part, even at home. Don’t forget to use a mattifying gel or powder to reduce the chances of looking shiny on camera.
  • Buy an LED Ring Light:  Any news anchor will tell you that the right lighting can make you look 15 years younger. Fortunately, studio lighting can be recreated at home by using an LED ring light. For about $30, you can buy a ten-inch ring light that provides luminescent, diffused light and wipes out unflattering shadows on your face. Some of them even have smart phone holders. Don’t rely on overhead lighting for interviews. The shadows and distortions will be a distraction for viewers and you need to put your best professional image forward at all times.
  • Keep it Short:  The average television interview is about four minutes long so limit the length of your answers. About 30 to 40 seconds per answer is just enough to create a conversational effect with an anchor. This also protects your interviewer from having to interrupt because your answers are too long.
  • Turn Off Your Phone:  We are all now dealing with tenuous situations that require vigilance-family members who are fighting the virus, children who are frustrated with home schooling and  collapsing retirement portfolios. But if you have committed to a live interview, please have the courtesy to turn your phone off for the few minutes you are on air. It is distracting for an interviewer and viewers at home to hear your message notifications going off in the middle of a discussion. Even though we are all connecting digitally now instead of in person, manners still matter.

I applaud anyone who is brave enough to step outside of their comfort zone and add their voice to the global discussion on how we can protect our families, communities and investments during this unprecedented period of uncertainty.

Keep up the good work and stay safe.

Donald Trump’s complete domination of the Republican nomination race has baffled me.

At first, I expected political journalists to smile wryly at his attention-seeking antics and then get back to their jobs – assessing the skill sets and character of the candidates who want to lead the country.

Clearly, those days are over.

Traditional media outlets are now engaged in a desperate fight for survival. More clicks equals employment and editors often feel they have no choice but to lead with the most sensational story available.

As distasteful as Trump’s tactics may be, I have to give him credit for spotting yet another opportunity in a new market. Trump isn’t responsible for these emerging pressures in the media, but he has shrewdly used them to his political advantage.

As a media trainer, it’s my job to help people make a good impression during their interviews. Most of my clients are based in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and India but I feel there are a few things we can all learn from The Donald.

  1. Never Lose Your Cool: Don’t ever let a journalist or opponent get under your skin. Producers will cut the clip of you looking exasperated or unsure and play it later without the context leading up to your moment of weakness. Trump never allows anyone to throw him off his game. He understands that just one flash of uncertainty on his face will mushroom on social media.
  1. Subliminal Messages Matter: Human beings are social creatures and we assess each other subconsciously. One of the first things I learned as a news anchor was if you are unsure of how to pronounce a name, say it quickly and with confidence. Most people won’t even notice the mistake. Our brains are still wired like cavemen listening to stories around a fire – we respond to subliminal cues. If someone projects confidence through their voice and body language we are hard-wired to trust their judgment and view them favorably.
  1.  Style THEN Substance: Having a meaningful message is still important, but it means nothing if you can’t get the attention of the media. A snappy hook or “news peg” is now a crucial part of your pitch to producers. If you do land an interview, make sure you are ready to deliver your message in pre-planned sound bites. Ramblers will not be invited back. You still need substance – you just have to change the way you package your message.
  1. Don’t get Bogged Down with Details: Most of the professionals who approach me for media training are thoughtful folks who have succeeded in life by paying attention to detail. But that doesn’t work on TV. Most interviews will require only a snapshot of your business no matter what the topic – an earnings report, a recent scandal, your view of economic conditions. Anticipate the questions and prepare honest, efficient answers. They want the elevator version of the story. Give it to them.
  1. Help Make the Sausage: The first television news director I ever worked for used to joke that producing a daily news show is like making sausage – you throw in whatever you can get, turn the crank and “churn out the sausage.” Journalists are under pressure to fill their allotted time with news that gets ratings. Donald Trump understands this and helps them “make the sausage.”

Here’s how you can do the same:

  • Make life easy for the anchors. The day before your interview, send in three bullet points highlighting your top three messages. It will help them look good and improve your chances of the interview going your way.
  • Don’t give long-winded answers. The average interview is less than four minutes long. A conversational, chatty approach is best.
  • Learn how to close an interview with a punchy, pre-planned quip which sums up your message and is entertaining for viewers.

I wouldn’t advise any businessperson to engage in Trump-like behavior for the sake of media coverage – it would destroy credibility for most brands.

But we do need to pay attention to the vulnerabilities Trump has exposed in the media. Journalism is being reinvented, and only the clearest, most succinct business messages will be able to compete in a world where “click bait” rules.


* Lisa Oake is a contributor to  This article first appeared on Forbes on January 27, 2016.


The most embarrassing blunder of my news career happened fifteen years ago in Singapore. I had just finished a morning show at CNBC Asia and was sitting in front of a newsroom camera waiting to do a report into CNBC Europe’s programming.

But there was a technical problem. The computer that was supposed to switch CNBC World’s programming from Asia’s feed to Europe’s had malfunctioned and – unbeknownst to me – I was going out live on what was then a little known satellite channel for 36 minutes!

Viewers from around the world were treated to over half an hour of raunchy jokes and snorting laughter between me and my long-time coworker and friend Mark Laudi who was working at the next desk.

I am embarrassed to say we even had an in depth discussion about breastfeeding (my son Evan was just a few months old and Mark’s first child Sonya was on the way). We talked in horrifying detail about breast pumps and what I would do if my milk “let down” in the middle of a live show.

In hindsight, it was (kind of) funny. Viewers wrote in from Europe and several U.S. states to say they couldn’t take their eyes off the screen. That they were “fearing for me” because they were afraid I was going to say or do something that would end my career.

It was a close call.


“Every Microphone is a Live Microphone”

“Every Microphone is a Live Microphone” is one of the first lessons taught to broadcasting students in journalism school. It’s so simple that many guests being fitted with a mic before an interview will roll their eyes when they hear it and say: “Yeah, yeah, of course.”

But it still trips up the best of us.

Earlier this year, the mayor of Texas City went to the bathroom during a live telecast of a city hall meeting and forgot to turn off his wireless microphone.

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina lost her bid for the U.S. Senate in 2010 because she made an unkind comment about her opponent Barbara Boxer.  Fiorina was waiting to do an interview with CNN’s affiliate in Sacramento, California when she made fun of Boxer’s hair.  Even though it was not part of the actual interview, the station put the clip on their website.  Fiorina was quickly labeled “catty” and lost the election.



This classic compilation of political gaffes from ABC’s Nightline  (aired in 2010) illustrates the point beautifully. Click the Watch on YouTube link after you hit the play button.



Everyone’s Listening!

And don’t think you are immune because you don’t appear on television.

My two sons play online games while chatting with a group of friends over Skype. That means I can sometimes hear what is happening in other homes and vice versa. I have sometimes cringed at snippets of private conversations taking place in other people’s living rooms that are unknowingly being broadcast to four or five other homes via the little boy Skype network.

Our privacy is diminishing. With smartphones all around us, your next inappropriate comment could be shared with millions on Twitter or YouTube in minutes.

So while it has become cliché to say “Every Microphone is a Live Microphone,” take it from me, it’s a great piece of advice.


For more information on Media Training in Asia Pacific:

I recently interviewed London Mayor Boris Johnson at an event in Singapore.

He’s an interesting guy – expected to be U.K. Prime Minister someday – but for the life of me, I couldn’t stop looking at his hair!

It’s blonde, spiky and goes in many different directions. I was intrigued as to how a man in one of the world’s most conservative professions could pull off such a wild look.

After 30 seconds, I had my answer…

Mr. Johnson’s irreverent approach to image works because it is rooted in authenticity. He’s a cheeky devil and his wild hair is simply an expression of his personality.

Here are a few pointers to help you project your most authentic professional image.


#1: Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Accent

You no longer have to be from a certain place or sound a certain way to be successful.  Many of my media training clients approach me for help with disguising their accent or the fact that English is their second language.

My advice? Let it go.

People don’t care about your accent.  In fact, talking like yourself comes across as real, confident and trustworthy.  You’re not a robot.  You may even make a grammatical error that’s is specific to where you grew up.  So what?

Some of the best television guests I have interviewed didn’t try to hide where they came from.  A billion dollar fund manager from Queens had an accent that sounded street smart.  A feisty banker from Liverpool came across as tough and capable.

Don’t be afraid to talk like yourself.


 Rule #2: Appreciate What You Have to Offer, Even if it’s Different from What You Admire

Early in my news career, it used to drive me nuts that no matter how hard I tried, I just could not pull off being funny.  My co-anchor was brilliant at making people laugh.  I would watch him in awe.

As much as I admired my colleague, being comedic was just not something I could do authentically.  I was referred to as “nice” or the “social glue of the show” which – at the time – I considered boring and completely unacceptable!

But after viewers would comment on how they found my voice on their TV sets soothing first thing in the morning, I gradually started appreciating what I had to offer.   It was different but no less valuable.

Stop trying to emulate the strengths of others and do what comes naturally to you.  You’ll be the best at it and I promise people will notice.

Which leads us to….


#3: Embrace Your True Personality Type

Are you an introvert pretending to be outspoken and gregarious to fit in with your company’s culture?  Or an extrovert trying to tone it down because you think that’s what required?

That’s exhausting.  Acting like something you are not is like holding a beach ball under water – it requires a huge amount of energy.  Energy that could be better used staying focused on your message and your clients’ needs.

Your professional strengths will shine through when you are coming from a place of authenticity.

London Mayor Boris Johnson on stage with Lisa Oake in Singapore.

A friend of mine recently confided that her husband complains that she only wears black, white and beige.  I was surprised at the comment because I think she always looks classy and elegant.  Her wardrobe contributes to that perception.

So, which opinion should she listen to?  Mine or her husband’s?

Neither.  She should listen to her own opinion.  Wearing what makes you feel good – whether it’s crazy hair or a classic suit – generates confidence.  Confident people do better.

End of story.


Rule #5: Don’t Try to Disguise a Balding Head

No comb overs.  No hairpieces.  No colored spray.  A confident bald guy will always project more presence and credibility than a guy trying to cover it up.

To avoid a shiny head during interviews, photos or presentations, use a shine control gel like this one from the Body Shop.


#6: Don’t Embellish Your Résumé or Your Past

Your résumé and your word are arguably the most important places to be authentic.

The Internet now makes it close to impossible to get away with distorting facts.  Just ask NBC’s Brian Williams who was caught embellishing stories about his time covering the invasion of Iraq.

There is a saying in the news business:

“Credibility takes years to build and just seconds to destroy.”  

The same logic applies to your professional image.  Always stick to the facts.

Putting your authentic self out into the business world means you may face criticism or even outright rejection.  But doing so suggests you are brave and truthful – both of which generate trust across all corporate cultures.