24. Why you should always turn off your cell phone during an interview

August 02, 2021

Today's tip is very simple in theory, but it's so easy not to do. And it can disrupt an interview if you forget to do it. And occasionally it can ruin your interview.

I am the medical expert for ABC News 4 and FOX 24 in Charleston, South Carolina. Before COVID-19, I appeared on TV, live in studio, every Tuesday during their 5 PM show. We did a live interview, where one of the hosts would interview me about a medical topic. Sometimes they picked the topic, but often I picked the topic.

I'd would arrive to the studio around 4:45. I was usually in the B block, going on around 5:12. So I'd go into the green room, check my clothes, maybe remove oil on my face and apply powder if I had come from clinic or and not after I showered at home. Then I'd look over my notes before they were ready for me. At the commercial break before my interview, one of the cameramen or women would come get me from the green room, show me where to sit, and help me put on the microphone.

I tell you this because there was a huge sign on the door into the studio I'd see every week walking from the green room into the set. It said, "Turn OFF your cell phone."
Turn OFF your cell phone.
I would always chuckle. Can you imagine if you're on live TV and your phone rings? It would be a disaster.

But it doesn't even have to be the possibility someone calls you during your interview. If it's on, your phone will distract you. Even if you put it on silent.

Alerts for text messages, reminders, calendar appointments, social media notifications, new emails – All of them are distractions.
Your phone can distract you, even if viewers and listeners can't hear it.
On silent, maybe the host or the viewer or listener doesn't hear it. But you will hear it, or at least feel it. And it will disrupt your train of thought. Or it might cause you to miss some or all of the question the host asks you.

Those split-second pauses are awkward. Not hearing the question or losing your train of thought are even more awkward. And they make you look unprofessional.

I know this too seems to be a small one. One that doesn't matter that much. But trust me, it does.
Cell phones distract you during TV, radio and podcast interviews
For TV, obviously it matters. The phone ringing disaster is surely what the ABC and FOX people were worried about, but those pings and alerts for everything on your phone would be almost as bad. I used to leave my phone in the green room so that there was no way I could be distracted by it.

But those subtle distractions, even if no one hears the alert, are bad for you too. On radio or podcast, that makes sense. I've told you before that you should never do a radio interview by cell phone. Go back and listen to that episode for the reasons why. But even when using a landline or voice over IP line, turn off your cell phone or put it in another room.
Notifications are bad for print and online publication interviews, too.
Even for print and online publication interviews, get into the habit of turning off your cell phone. Or turn off the alerts while you are on the phone if you're using your cell phone to talk to the reporter. Those alerts are rude. Plus, you want to give them your full focus and attention. The interview will go better if you aren't distracted by what's happening on your phone. Nothing on it is more important than the interview anyway.

So turn your cell phone off completely. Or at the very least, put it on Airplane Mode. Don't just turn it to silent.
Turn off notifications on your computer before an interview
And if you are doing a TV or podcast interview on your computer, by Zoom or Skype or similar software, make sure you turn your computer on Do Not Disturb. I know my iPhone is linked to my MacBook Pro laptop.