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    Tips on Remote Interviews from Dean Hyers

    Back in April (was that only four months ago?) I embarked on an arduous interview prep culminating with the largest client interview of my career: a solid two-and-a-half hours spanning multiple topics, building up to the MEP design award for a $2B+ new hospital tower dubbed “a hospital of the future.” I know what you are thinking…no pressure!

    I was soaking in all the resources I could at that point about remote interviews, still a month into quarantine and not knowing what the future held. From resources for executive coaching, and even acting tips, I was not ruling out any sources of potential nuggets of wisdom to pump myself up to coach this team. This is how I was first introduced to Sage Presence.

    I had signed up for their webinar in my frenzy for gathering more in-depth remote interview tips and was eager to hear Selection Committee Insights from an expert panel moderated by Dean Hyers. Admittedly, I had lower expectations for this webinar because the client makeup was not aligned with the market sectors my firm pursued and I had not heard of Sage Presence before. I listened in for the full hour, participating in the Q&A, and left the webinar wanting more discussion around making a lasting impression during remote interviews. I also left the webinar with sore fingers from typing so furiously in Microsoft Teams, grabbing every word that came from Dean and the panel on the do’s and don’ts in the somewhat foreign world of remote interviews.

    I synthesized those notes and reported back to my team. The list was about 15 tips that I had gathered from the webinar. As Marketers, I like to think that we have a little mad scientist in us, and like any scientist, I was eager to A/B test some of these out with my guinea pigs… I mean, willing participants! I tried some of these tips out successfully and some not-so-successfully (you will see the lessons learned below). If you attended the SMPS SFBAC Webinar with Dean Hyers on August 6, you will see some familiar ideas presented, and I am hoping you will get inspired to try some of these out with your own test subjects!

    Here is rundown of what we tried out in my remote interview test lab.

    Synergy/Chemistry Boosters

    The Tag Team – This one is tricky to execute because it requires a lot of practice time, but worth it if you have lead time. If you have a subject that you would like multiple experts to speak to, try having smaller groups practice these sections of your presentation together so they can work out the kinks and pile on information with finesse. You do not want it to sound like your experts are filling space with words, so try to ensure there is a succinct point to each piece of  information (as a general rule, Dean advised to keep the points of these pile-on comments in the realm of 30 seconds to one minute). If you do not practice enough the technique may seem awkward or clunky—just a word of caution from my experiments!

    Natural Handoffs – There is nothing natural about saying “Now I will hand the show over to Jay to discuss XYZ.” In fact, overt transitions remind me of a gameshow host announcing their next scene. Instead, for our interview, we tried to group like topics together within the presentation so we could have more natural transitions that would flow into the next topic. This also helped the slideshow controller, yours truly, know when to advance to the next slide in sections, serving as prompts for the next slide.

    Body Language – When your eyes glaze over and you begin looking at your phone, don’t forget the client is watching! Your team will need to make eye contact with their camera lenses, remain in good posture, and serve positive facial expressions to the panel as your teammates are passionately presenting on their topics. Even if the panel is looking less than thrilled, your team has to stay engaged and exude positivity during the interview. Clients will hire the team they want to work with, so watching your teams’ body language during the interview prep will come in handy. Keep an eye out for unfocused gazes, crossed arms, and any frowning.

    Practice Speaking to Your Camera Lens: This one sounds crazy, yes! But this was one trick Dean mentioned that will help you and your teams come across as directly looking at the panelists. It is easy to get distracted by the Hollywood Squares happening on your computer screen, but staying focused on your lens during your talking points will hold “eye contact.” Therefore, when your teammates practice their parts of the presentation, have them practice looking directly into their camera lenses; this is of critical importance during the dry run sessions, of course, but having them practice like this on their own time is also useful.

    Getting Technical

    Have a Technology Dry Run: This one is a no-brainer. Have a session with your team where you just focus on their lighting, camera position, microphone usage, audio quality, and overall position. This will get them more comfortable with the technology and the best way to position themselves on camera (close enough to look like you are sitting at a table with them but not close enough to see their freckles!) SFBAC Programs Co-Director for the 2021 Board Year, Tyler Chartier, has his own photography business and has offered up some great tips and tricks for enhancing your remote video quality here. He also has resources for high caliber equipment that you can use to boost your sound and image quality; drop him a line on our SMPS SFBAC Slack, if interested!

    Virtual Backgrounds: Dean had noted that the technology for virtual backgrounds is unreliable and can often yield fuzzy results (amusingly enough the technology seems to work better with bald people). We had one staff member on this interview team who had an older camera and his ZOOM backgrounds looked like he was performing wizardry with jolts of different colors running through the screen. For a later interview, we created a co-branded background for our Joint Venture. We opted to do a background to strengthen our team’s brand and did a full tech run with the participants beforehand. For the participant with an older camera, he went and purchased a new camera which resolved the problem. This idea could help your teams if you want to use a background but are having glitches.

    Less is More Sometimes: Dean cautioned about keeping your presentation simple and I agree with this. Don’t try to use the latest and greatest technology every time if your staff is not techy.  For instance, I would not use a ZOOM poll if the person running the show is not comfortable doing this. I would do it if the person felt comfortable and the poll got us feedback that was impactful to the presentation. You want to keep the presentation about your people, and if the technology distracts it breaks the attention from your team and their personalities.  

    A Non-Speaking PPT Controller: You will want to have someone who is behind the scenes running the show. Your presenters are going to be too busy remembering their speaking points and connecting with the audience (pokerfaced or not) to control the show. Often, someone who has helped develop the PPT content or has coached the team would be a natural fit here. I mentioned I ran the show in our interview for the healthcare pursuit and it was great being able to see the panelists’ body language throughout, and capture the questions asked in the Q&A portion.

    Cell Phone Messaging: Dean noted it would be distracting during a presentation to have a group chat going that could potentially distract from the presenters. We have used a group chat before in presentations. Mainly the emcee for the presentation (usually the Project Manager or in some cases Principal) will use this group chat to enforce time limits or to cue the PPT controller if a slide is not moving quickly enough. In the instances we have used this method, we have not heard complaints, but I would urge you to pick the best route for your people and their work styles.

    In the end, the coaching tips of Dean Hyers inspired me to try different things and take my interview preparation skills that extra step further. I was able to experiment before the biggest interview preparation of my career, so that our people could exude the chemistry that remote interviews often lack. With a little guidance from a “sage presence,” I was able to equip our team with the coaching they needed to communicate to the client panel all of the options they could design into a hospital of the future. Beyond them performing well in a 2.5-hour interview (an achievement alone), winning the project was the biggest motivator to fuel my fire to keep trying new things and experimenting within the confines of our new normal.


    Hannah Mobarekeh ([email protected]) is a business builder who thrives on creating meaningful relationships within the built environment space. With 8+ years of A/E/C industry experience, and a background in journalism and marketing, she equips technical teams with a compelling story to tell.

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