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12 Things To Remember Before You Go On TV

Our former BBC News reporter explains how to give great TV interviews

Your awesome PR agency has done it again – they’ve successfully hijacked the news agenda and now you are in a cab on the way to a TV studio for one of your first live broadcast interviews. Your palms are a bit sweaty as you read and re-read your key message crib sheet and pray that those killer stats trip off your tongue in the studio as effortlessly as they have done in practice.

But for TV you need more than just the key messages and confidence – you need to win over the unsung folks that hold all the real power in a newsroom – the producers. Having worked in newsrooms for twelve years, believe me they are the ones with most say on which stories to do, and crucially who to book….

So if you want to be asked back – of course deliver in the short term to get coverage today – but real success is when producers are nodding along in the gallery thinking ‘this person is really good’ – noting down your number and remembering you next time this issue or story arises again.

So here’s 12 top tips to help you become a producer’s favourite guest…..

1. Don’t mention the brand.

Don’t mention your brand or company unless you really can’t avoid it – and certainly don’t do it more than once.  Producers hate it and it may pop up on screen under your name anyway, so there’s really no need to hammer it home.  Yes it will win you brownie points in the short term – but it’s also very likely that you won’t be asked back.  There are some exceptions to this rule including stories about a charity appeal etc.

2. Be available, amenable and reliable.

So much of a TV producer's life is logistics and having to rip everything up at the last minute and start again because of breaking news.  But no matter what happens, they always have a running order they need to fill.  The more of those blocks of time they can rely on to not  suddenly change, the less stressful their job.   
So amongst all the uncertainty and change, producers love a guest who will come to the studio (that's one less camera and producer to send out - also Skype interviews are generally terrible), won't cancel last minute and is available at very short notice.  It seems obvious but making a producers life as easy as possible is the way to their hearts.

3. Strong opinions are more interesting than sitting on the fence.

Of course you should use bridging techniques to avoid any questions that could get you into trouble, but where you can safely share an opinion, do so.  It’s a great way to demonstrate your insight and experience to give value to the audience – which is what it’s all about.

4. Think about your audience and imagine talking directly to them.

Perhaps picture one person rather than an abstract mass if it’s easier.  It’s likely they aren’t focussed solely on watching the TV, they'll be feeding their kids or scrolling through Facebook at the same time.  So your messaging has to be really clear and succinct.   Think “how would I explain this to my mates in the pub who don’t work in my industry and know none of the jargon?”

5. Statistic + Anecdote = Winning.

You’ll almost certainly be armed with a few killer stats, but back them up with fascinating facts and real world anecdotes that flesh out what you mean.  And if relevant personalise the story.  “I was speaking to one of our tech team the other day and actually what they were saying is that………”

6. Let me see those hands.

Keep your hands in full view at all times – if they go below the desk – it looks weird. And you know why.  Try not to fidget.  Having a pen to hold on the desk can be a useful prop.

7. ​Don’t let what you’re wearing be a distraction.

If people are looking at your silly tie, your elaborate earrings or the coffee stain on your white shirt, they’ll be less likely to listen to what you are actually saying.

8. Ask the producer or floor manager for help.

They want to make great TV, you want to be great TV, so your aims are aligned.  Take them up on make-up if they offer.  Ask them “where should I be looking?”  “how much of me is in shot?” and whether your tie is straight.   They’ll probably offer, but ask for water too - dry mouth is a common on air phenomenon.  And if you're unsure about something, ask!

9. Be nice to everyone.

Be very nice to everyone you encounter, the moment you walk into the building (and in life generally - Ed).  You are putting yourself in a vulnerable position and they potentially have the power to stitch you up.  It could be not lighting you properly or asking you an impossible question. Most people in TV are great but they deal with well known people every day and won’t tolerate any airs or graces.

10. Are you recording yet?

Don’t sing “We’re in the money” while staring into a live camera if you are about to pull off a massive business deal, even if you think you are not being recorded.  You may be recorded.  And shared. You may go viral.  And be mocked.  A lot. Oh look you’re a meme now.  That went really well.

11. Win over the audience.

Be polite, reasonable, warm and don’t get defensive.  It’s a massive turn off and will turn the audience against you. Whereas if a host is asking you unreasonably tough questions and you smile and stay reasonable – they may in fact turn against the host (see John Humphrys on Radio 4.)

12. Try to enjoy it.

Think about that Linkedin bio picture you’ll be able to upload of you talking on the tellybox looking very important and knowledgeable about stuff.  Let your passion show and remember nine times out of ten, you will know far more about the industry or area of discussion than the person asking the questions, who may have only just been handed a briefing minutes before going on air.  So don’t be afraid to correct any incorrect assertions and furnish the viewer with the benefit of your insights.  It’s likely that what you find most interesting about what you do is the thing that others will find most interesting – so make it relatable and share it.  You never know you might go viral for the right reasons.

Want to get some tips like this face to face?  

Contact our Studio team: [email protected]

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