For executives, authors, attorneys or anyone who is not a veteran of on-camera work, it can be daunting when a news event or a publicity tour means going in front of the camera. Sitting in a small room for a satellite interview, with an earpiece in your ear and a video camera lens pointed at you, isn’t anything like having a normal discussion. Neither is a sit-down interview with a journalist who has question after question for you. Either situation can end up making you look or sound ill-at-ease.
Helping people get comfortable in front of television cameras is part of the consulting work I do. Providing comprehensive coaching to reach your goals. But I’ll share with you four bits of free advice right now on how to triumph over television as a medium.
1 – Look Away
Don’t be afraid to briefly look away from the camera or from the interviewer when you’re talking, as you would if you were in a regular discussion. Too many people who are interviewed on-camera stare straight into the lens or ceaselessly at their interviewers. You will look much more experienced and far more natural if you glance away from time-to-time, as if gathering your thoughts. Then you can look back into the lens of the camera or back into the eyes of your interviewer.
2 – Energy
Be about 50 percent more energized than you think you should be. Television dramatically reduces the energy level that viewers perceive in guests. In order to appear engaged and engaging, you’ll need to get comfortable using far more emotion in your voice and facial expressions than usual. Hand gestures help, too. The executive producer of my talk show once told me to feel free to occasionally stand up—literally get up, out of my seat—when I felt surprised by something a guest on the show said. “When you’re on camera,” she said, “you’ll need to be more animated than you would ever think to be off-camera. Otherwise, you’ll seem dull.”
3 – Sound Bites
Talk in sound bites, so that your comments are easy to use on television broadcasts. This means making sure that your answers are self-contained (with a beginning, middle and end) and relatively short – say, 15-30 seconds, if possible. It’s even better if the self-contained answers you give include an element of drama that makes them headline-worthy. An example: Ted Smith calls Apple rotten fruit. That kind of thing.
4 – Take a Pause
Pause for effect. You can pause, or pause and nod, gathering your thoughts, especially when you want viewers to sit closer to the edge of their seats. Television reduces energy levels, but it increases the dramatic impact of silence. So, use it.
Use these four tips, and you’ll be 75 percent better than most people are on camera.
What’s the rest of the recipe for success? Coaching. Appearing on television is no different from any other skill. You build it with feedback and fine-tuning. Whether you reach out to me, or to another coach, don’t hesitate to invest the time. Being a pro on-camera doesn’t take many practice sessions and can pay huge dividends, down the road.
Keith Ablow, MD