Have you ever tuned into a news channel and found a guest’s television presence is so bad you can’t look past the awkwardness of the situation to listen to what he has to say?
Usually his suit is a little ruffled, he keeps looking everywhere except where he is supposed to be looking, and he is stumbling over his words like a toddler in an obstacle course.
In the 21st century, journalists and communications professionals must be adept at more than just writing. The demands of new media expect a certain level of acumen online, when appearing on television, and speaking on the radio.
Below is a list of tips that will keep you from looking like this guy when on the air. Remember, practice makes perfect and a few minutes in front of the mirror before a shoot can build mountains of confidence.
1. Smile. You’re on camera. When we are not speaking, we relax our faces. However, the camera tends to make the face in its natural state look more dour than usual. Try using a little half-smile when not speaking to keep you from looking like a Debbie Downer. The smile should be just enough to keep the sides of your mouth from drooping downward in a frown. It may look silly in person, but when on television you’ll come off completely normal and not like a scowling grump.
2. Sit on it. This tip pertains mostly to men, but if women are wearing jackets they should take heed as well. When you sit down, your suit jacket has a tendency to ride up in the back. The effect is you look like Quasimodo on his way to ring the bells at Notre Dame. To save yourself the embarrassment when you sit down, pull the bottom of your jacket downward and sit on the tail. This keeps the suit jacket from riding up to begin with and will keep it from doing so as you move around in your chair.
3. Hands down. It’s completely natural to use your hands when you speak. Body language plays a large role in the way we communicate. The problem is that when you are on news shows, you are usually shown from the chest up. When you move your hands in a chest-up shot, it looks like your hands are flying in and out of nowhere. As hard as it may be, it’s best to keep those hands in your lap unless you are certain the camera is panned out enough. Otherwise, it will look as though Thing from “The Addams Family” is making a cameo during your spot.
4. To err is human. We all make mistakes, but on television, as in life, it’s best not to dwell on them. You only have a limited amount of time to make your point. If you find yourself mixing up some numbers or saying the wrong name just apologize, correct yourself, and move on. Don’t ask if you can start over, and don’t stop. Just say, “I’m sorry; I mean X,” and keep going.
5. Take time to think. Occasionally, a question will catch you off guard. Sometimes an anchor is taking you down a certain line of questioning and then, bam, a curveball. Don’t sweat it. A good way to buy a few extra seconds to compose yourself is to compliment the anchor. Say something like, “That’s a great question.” You’ve probably noticed the pros saying something like this to buy time.
Scott Maucione is a Pentagon reporter for Inside Defense, a division of Inside Washington Publishers. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists by searching their bios, tweets, and articles.