Monday, 23 November 2009

How to be a hit on television!

Anita Cox recently presented an excellent workshop at her club, POWERtalk Pollokshields on the secrets of a successful television presentation. She generously shared her material with us:

Having worked in television for over 30 years, what is normal to me
is far from that to others. TV studios can be daunting alien places, especially if you are asked to appear on a programme, so I hope that these notes will be of help you should you ever be invited to appear on television.

Imagine you have been asked to appear on a programme to give a talk about a subject that you are knowledgeable about. You may initially be approached by a Researcher for the programme who has been charged with getting the right people to make up the programme, which could be a totally new programme or an insert into an existing one.
You may have been asked generally whether you would be prepared to give a talk and your availability. In the excitement of the invitation you may not have asked very much about what is expected of you. However, you will need to know a few specifics initially to give you the best information for your preparation.

First of all you should establish whether your talk will be filmed (ie by a small camera crew in a location which could either be in your home or somewhere other than a studio) or either recorded or performed live in the studio.

It is worth asking what programme it is for and what context your talk will be used in and most importantly you must establish what the running time of the actual piece is required to be. You may be expected to talk on your subject to an interviewer after you have given your talk so it is best to be prepared – just in case.

Timing on television programming is usually very specific, it is not just rounded up in minutes but is counted down to seconds, so it is important to establish at the outset how long your piece should run. Be as professional as you can be, nobody, certainly not you, will want to fluff your lines and have to ask if it can be repeated. Even if it is not a live transmission, prepare as though it will be.
When you have that information, prepare your talk carefully and then time and practice it. We all know from our own experiences that what seems to flow beautifully in the written word may, when spoken, become stilted and awkward. You should read your piece out loud, refine it and rewrite until it flows trippingly off the tongue and also runs to time! So you now have your ‘script’.

I would suggest that you now think about what to wear. Less is more on television and black, stark white and red are colours that can cause problems with cameras.
Black can be very harsh (and if you are filmed against a black background– which is basically a black curtain- you could almost disappear!), white can flare under the lights and red can bleed, so think carefully about what to wear and have someone take pictures of you in the outfit you are considering wearing. It may help to show you what looks best. Stripes can also moirĂ© (or strobe) so it is best to avoid stripey shirts for men and woman. Large patterns and geometric designs may detract the viewer from your talk so try to look smart but appropriate to the programme and your own personal tastes.

Crisp fabrics such as taffeta and jangly jewellery can play havoc with radio microphones so avoid these. There is nothing worse than microphones than screech and crackle. If you do wear crisp fabrics or bracelets, large earrings or chunky necklaces etc and you move while talking, it will sound awful as the mic will pick up the rustles and jingle jangles and will magnify them.

If possible try and establish what background you will be sitting in front of. As I have said earlier it may be a cyc (cyclorama) which is usually white or black curtaining. The white cyc can be coloured by lighting on the day. You may however be in a set with quite specific colours and if that is the case think about your colours , after all you don’t want to fade into the background or clash violently with it! If you can’t establish what the set will be then it may be better to take a couple of tops of different colours – just in case, better to be safe than sorry.

Double check before you are about to start or go into the studio that your hair is combed, and clothing is sitting correctly. For men if you are wearing a tie, please check that the knot is in the right position and it is lying correctly. A lot of men have said that they went on a programme with a crooked tie because nobody at the studio had told them. Of course this provides a distraction for the viewer and will detract from the impact of your talk so do check.

On the day, if you are to attend the studio then get there in plenty of time and make sure that you have your notes prepared in an discreet but organised way with pages or cards numbered! You may be sitting at a desk so you need these not to be too noticeable. Cream paper as opposed to stark white is probably best.

You may be shown into a ‘Green Room’. This is effectively a waiting room for the show. The Researcher, stage manager or runner (junior) will take you there and ensure that you are taken to the studio when it is time for your piece.

Television studios have changed dramatically over the last few years and often they are very small and cramped places. There may be three or more large cameras on pedestals set up and you may be surprised at what looks big on screen at home, may be a tiny corner of a studio in real life.

If your piece is to be recorded you will probably be in a more relaxed studio atmosphere than in a live programme.
If you are to appear in a live programme there will be a lot of activity happening around you which could be distracting. Stay focussed!

You will probably speak into just one camera and you will be told which one. However, other cameras may be moving around getting into position for the next item and a floor manager may be indicating to presenters how long before the camera is on them or they have to wind up their piece. The Director, PA, Vision Mixer, Sound and Lighting Directors sit in a control room which is not on view from the studio. The presenter and floor manager and cameramen all have headphones or earpieces allowing them to hear the directions from the Control Room. Sometimes the presenter has an earpiece. This would certainly be the case in a newsroom environment.
So the crew on the studio floor will be concentrating on their own particular jobs and you should stay focussed on yours.

Remember your audience is the television camera. Play to it but don’t overemphasise your gestures, they should be smaller than usual. Don’t let your eyes wander especially when things are happening in other parts of the studio, you will look like you are about to take flight!

It is a new experience for you so enjoy it – you may be invited back.

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