“I don’t care about looks. They just have to take me as I am. And if they don’t like it, that’s their problem, not mine.”
My piano-playing friend whom we met in the second installment of this media training, was at it again. He was getting ready for another interview and he decided to wear an old shirt that had a stain and desperately needed ironing.
I said to him:
“Just look at you. Your shirt is dirty. Your nails are filthy. You haven’t had a haircut in months and it might be nice to wear some deodorant for a change. Is this the best you can do for a TV show with an audience of three million?”
“Give me a break, Mr. Clean!” he said. “You’re not my mother. They’ve invited me for my music and not for my dashing looks.”
“Just think about that for a moment,” I said. “Picture yourself in a studio with the camera zooming in as you’re playing a romantic piece. Do you really feel that we should see a close-up of your dirty nails; hair sticking out of your ears and nose and that beer stain on the cuff of your shirt… in crystal-clear HD? Wouldn’t that be a bit distracting, if not repulsive?
The camera lens is a magnifying glass. It makes everything look bigger (including your ego). I guarantee you: When you watch that interview on TV, you’ll notice things about yourself you’ve never seen before.
I recently saw a show featuring one of my voice-over colleagues, and after the first five seconds I said to my wife: “This guy’s a radio man.”
“How can you tell?” she asked.
“For starters, look at his hands,” I said. “He’s scratching his head. He’s touching his face. He’s playing with his coffee mug. He acts as if nobody’s watching, and I bet you anything he has no clue he’s doing it. This guy is used to being in a radio studio where nobody but the engineer can see him.”
Then I asked my wife: “Tell me what he just said.”
She paused for a moment and drew a blank.
“Why can’t you remember?” I asked.
“I guess I was distracted by what he was doing,” she said. “The guy can’t sit still and he looks nervous.”
“That’s exactly my point,” I responded. “It might seem silly, but most people don’t realize that television is a visual medium and that pictures always overpower words.
When I teach a media training, I usually tape the first interview of the day and play it back without sound so my students can focus on their body language. Most of them are shocked by what they see.
Then we tape the interview again, and this time they look like a deer staring in the headlights of a fast approaching Mack truck. They’re frozen stiff. That’s not good either.
Unless you’re a trained actor or presenter, most of us are not so great at being natural in unnatural situations, and we have no sense of how we come across. That’s why training is so important. People need to learn to sit still and make smaller, purposeful movements that emphasize the points they’re making. If a movement doesn’t add anything, it distracts from the story.”
JUDGING A BOOK
My piano playing friend finally stopped me and said: “I don’t want to be judged based on my looks or on my moves. I want to be taken seriously as a musician and I’m not going to sell out to the media. It’s all so superficial. All I want is to make music and reach people through my art.”
“Precisely!” I said. “And that’s why you have to learn to use the media instead of complaining that they’re using you. The media are nothing but an instrument and you have to know how to play it.
Understand that everything about you sends a message, including the way you look. First impressions matter. In a way, an interview is like an audition for thousands, if not millions of people. You want to show your best and most professional self.
“What are you really saying?” asked my friend.
“Just because you wear comfortable clothes in your home studio doesn’t mean you should show up in your favorite jeans and a T-shirt that says “Who’s Your Daddy?“
It’s time to think of yourself as a brand. Every brand has an image. If you’re on camera looking ungroomed and sloppy, what impression do you think the viewers will get of you? If you constantly shift in your seat or play with a pen, what are you telling them?
YOU’RE A MOUTHPIECE
There’s one more thing to consider. As a recording artist, it’s not all about you. You also represent your label.
You know I’m a voice-over artist. This means that I am literally the spokesperson for a product, a company or the voice of an author of a book I just narrated. Because my voice is associated with something or someone else, it matters how I present myself. Take my word for it:
It’s not only important that you look good. It’s important that you make others look good (including your host).
You want to come across as an entertaining, informed guest; someone the viewers can relate to; someone they might want to hire or buy from.
Remember the purpose of the interview. It’s a means to an end. In your case, you’re selling CD’s and seats in the concert halls you’re playing in. Your talent keeps a lot of people employed. Do you still think you can show up in that stained old shirt or should I call in the team of “What Not To wear?“
My friend looked at me with a grin on his face as if he suddenly had an idea. He walked back to his bedroom to get changed.
Before he reached the door I said:
“Now, do me a favor will you? Don’t go overboard and show up in your tails. Save those for Carnegie Hall. Clean up. Get a haircut and a close shave. Dress business-casual if you like, but whatever you decide to do: make sure your clothes are relatively new, clean and ironed. Wear matching socks and polish your shoes. Don’t cut any corners but don’t overdo it either.
Some people panic and buy a three piece suit, even if they never wear a suit. During the show it’s obvious they feel like a dressed-up monkey performing tricks on TV.
I’ve seen women overdose on make-up and jewelry, sporting a “hairstylist special” held together with tons of hairspray. Just because you’re on TV doesn’t mean you have to dress up like a Christmas tree or show more cleavage. It doesn’t make you look more intelligent.
Again, the idea is to reinforce your message and not to distract from it. Simplicity and sophistication often go hand in hand. Less is more”
“That’s what I think when I hear you talking,” said my friend when he came back down.
“Get off your behind. We’re going clothes shopping. You and Me. Now!”
* * * * *
As we picked out an appropriate outfit, I had some time to give my friend a few last tips before he was ready to go on TV:
- Turn your cell phone off before you go on the air. Better yet: don’t bring it with you into the studio.
- Leave your watch with your cell phone. You don’t want the camera to catch you while you look at the time during an interview.
- Take time to focus before it’s your turn to be interviewed. Go over your main talking points and remember your sound bites.
- Never chew gum. It makes you look like a cow.
- Apply a bit of lip balm before the interview, as long as it’s not glossy.
- Be well-hydrated, but don’t drink a whole bottle right before going live. It could make the next ten minutes extremely uncomfortable.
- Even though a TV studio might seem intimidating, act as if you belong there and focus on your message.
- While on air, don’t say things like: “I never knew your studio was this big,” or “It certainly takes a lot of people to produce a show like this.” You want to come across as a pro.
- Keep the magic of orchestrated spontaneity alive. The audience needs to feel that things are happening right there and then. They don’t need to know what is going on behind the scenes. Don’t say: “As I was just saying to one of your producers,” or “This is what I told the girl who did the pre-interview.”
- In the world of television, the only moment that matters is the moment you’re on the air.
- Forget the cameras. Talk to the interviewers. They are the windows to your audience. Have a normal conversation with them under artificial circumstances.
- Don’t take it as a bad omen if the host acts distracted or disinterested. She’s probably not even listening to you but to the instructions in her earpiece.
- Don’t expect your hosts to know the ins and outs of your topic. In the worst case scenario, they just read lines off the teleprompter pretending to be knowledgeable.
- Be an active listener and show interest in other guests, if you happen to share the spotlight with them.
- Never ever stare straight into the camera. Ignore it.
- Don’t try to be funny. You either are or you’re not.
- Be ready to illustrate your points with short anecdotes. Pick examples people can relate to; stories that paint a picture and evoke an emotional response.
- Tell a story as if you’re telling it for the first time. For your audience, it is the first time they’re hearing it.
- Avoid jargon, abbreviations and name dropping (unless you can reasonably assume people know whom you’re talking about).
- Professional blindness will most certainly prevent you from knowing what is jargon and what isn’t. That’s why you need training!
- If the interviewer asks you to keep your answer short, do it. Otherwise you’ll be cut off.
- Be gracious. Don’t protest after the fact if the five minutes that were promised to you were reduced to two because of breaking news. It’s up to you to roll with the punches and make the best of every second you’re in the hot seat.
- Remember everything we’ve talked about in chapter one, chapter two and chapter three.
- Practice, practice, practice!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
Rick Lance says
Great continuing advice, Paul! I retweeted this a couple of places.
These tips remind me of some media training I once had in the Nashville music biz.
One of the coolest things I’ve seen in the actor workshops I’ve been in are people who had no acting experience, no desire to be an actor but just wanted to become more comfortable and professional in front of the camera. On camera actor training is great for that since it puts you in a place of scrutiny, watching playbacks of yourself and finding where your own comfort zone is.
It takes a lot of work to learn to act natural!
Btw, I hope your friend took your advice. Sounds like he REALLY needed it! Especially in this day of HD film and TV… everything shows up!
Paul Strikwerda says
It really helps to have someone hold up a mirror every once in a while. What some people can’t accept is the fact that they cannot evaluate themselves objectively. Just as you and I need a set of unconditioned ears to critique the sound coming out of our studio, we could also use expert advice on our appearance ad professional demeanor.
You’re right: these tips and types of trainings aren’t just useful for on-camera work. The same information applies to anyone involved in public speaking, public relations and the like.
Thanks for your retweets, Rick!