The television airwaves are filled with issues and multiple messages everyday because television represents a great opportunity to reach a broader audience in a short amount of time. So-called “talking heads” dominate national cable news shows as they weigh in on a range of national and international issues. Local television markets and local cable access news are also tapping into their own communities to get a more localized take on the day’s hot topics. Among the national, state and local television program producers, there is a constant demand for fresh perspectives and more guests as new issues emerge. As an in-studio television guest, you can be uniquely positioned to provide a new perspective or angle based on your views and personal experience.
You may be surprised by how receptive a news outlet is to listening to your perspective. For example, one of the defining issues for Americans ages 18-29 is youth unemployment and the everyday impacts the poor economy and lack of jobs are having on people. Telling your personal story of how the economy is impacting you is a way to make the news relevant and personal to the audience. We can provide the toolkit to assist with your on camera presentation so that you will be called on as a spokesperson to address the subject matter at hand.
1. Familiarize yourself with the target market.
Whether it is a local television station, satellite center, or national cable television studio, it is imperative to know the show, the host, the audience, and the substance in the segment you want to target. If you know a host has a half hour show with a segment on education and you have an idea for a story on education reform, you want to target that show and that segment. Find out who the producer is and pitch yourself and ideas to that producer. Check the show’s website or call the show to talk to the producer or talent booker.
2. Be an expert.
A producer or talent booker needs to know what makes the topic unique to their audience and why you are positioned to speak on that issue. Knowing the importance of what you have to offer puts you at an automatic advantage to sell your idea. Be prepared to have a small biography of yourself and clips of previous interviews or articles you’ve contributed to. Practice your pitch. Speak with authority and ease about the topic and correlate the relevance to the show.
3. Pitch to the right person.
In a local television market, contact an assignment editor or reporter. For a national cable television program, contact a producer, TV booker, or, in some cases, a correspondent. Do not send a blind email, cold call the station, or send information to the show’s general mailbox. Know to whom you will be making your pitch. Have a name, find out if they prefer phone or email contact (or both), and use the preferred method of contact. You can pitch more than one person as most programs have more than one producer or booker, and it definitely doesn’t hurt to cover your bases. Most of all, don’t be deterred if you don’t receive an immediate response or any response at all. Keep pitching.
4. Practice but don’t over rehearse.
Congratulations, you have landed a TV spot. Now research will be your best friend. Dive into the topic. Make sure that all your information is the most recent and that you are aware of recent developments. Be familiar with the counterpoints that will be made against your position and be armed with a reply. Practicing your points is essential. Memorizing and over rehearsing is not. If you come across as “rehearsed” or forget what you “memorized” it can take you off track and looks bad on camera. It is best jot down 3 to 4 main bullet points that makeup the crux of your position from your background material and put them on a small 3×5 index card. Stick to those. If you know the material and have done your research, the message will come across naturally. Visit our website, www.generationopportunity.org, to delve more into the issues.
5. Dress the part.
It may not be clear how much of you the audience will see you on camera so it is a safe bet to always assume they will see you from head to toe. That means ditch the sandals. You do not have to wear a suit and tie or blouse and pearls, unless that is your normal attire. Be professional, well groomed, and always wear a solid, bold color on top. No whites or busy patterns.
6. In Studio.
Depending on the station, there may or may not be a green room for holding guests and makeup. Be prepared either way. Always check yourself in the mirror before heading into the studio. Chat with other guests in the green room and check with the producer about any updates to the show or topics at hand. It is also a good idea to be sure they have your name and title correct. This is how you will be identified to the audience so it is important that the information on the screen is accurate.
7. On Air.
There is a difference between live and live-to-tape. There may be an opportunity for re-takes in the latter scenario, but treat both as though you are live. Always assume you are ON, even if the camera is not. If you are in studio with a host, look at the host, not the camera. If you are the one person in a satellite center, look directly at the camera and speak to it. Take a deep breath, smile, and speak in soundbites or short sentences. You only have a few seconds to get your point across. If you do have notes with you, do not read them verbatim. You can glance down and up when the conversation is not focused on you or when there is a natural break. Speak conversationally, clarify your position, and focus on getting the message across without being combative.
8. Don’t Lose Your Cool.
While it may be tempting to argue your point, and there are times you may be agitated at a question or counterpoint, civility goes a long way toward maintaining credibility. Use the extra energy as an opportunity to refocus on the points you want to get across. Do not be defensive. Take a deep breath, smile, and center the conversation back to the topic.
9. Thank the host/interviewer and producer.
As any dinner guest would, be gracious. Television hosts, producers, and the crew work hard at their job and, although it is often popular to criticize them, they are professionals who take pride in their work. Showing appreciation for the opportunity to be heard goes a long way toward building relationships and possibly being invited back. After a few times, the producer will be calling you! But don’t wait for the phone to ring; you should keep the lines of communication open. Check in with your contact every now and then to remind them that you are available to discuss a particular topic or to pitch them a new idea.
10. Use social media to spread the news and Tivo!
Stations do not routinely give away copies of your performance (unless you ask really, really nicely, and there are still no guarantees). It is better to notify friends ahead of time and rely on your own method of recording. Use the recording to spread your interview on social media, send it to friends and family, or post it on a blog in order to keep the conversation going. Watching it will also allow you to critique yourself for next time. Do not beat yourself up for missing a point or two; you will never have enough time to get all the information into a TV spot. Instead, pat yourself on the back for a job well done and look for more opportunities to spread your message!