As a TV producer, I’ve worked with dozens of presenters.
Some of the greats – including David Dimbleby and David Attenborough. And some of the not so great – who it’s best not to name. So I’ve got a pretty good idea what goes into being a good one.
Of course, you need the talent for being natural in front of camera, a lot of self confidence and the ability to connect with an audience. But you also need a few other things as well – and this set of seven rules might help ensure that your television career lasts longer than the latest winner of Big Brother.
1. Make the script your own
The producer will write a draft script, but the presenter has to say the words. If they’re not comfortable with the style, the final programme will not sound right. So a good presenter will sit down with the producer and write the final script together. Working with the BBC’s George Alagiah on a programme about the slave trade we agonised together over every single word to ensure that the script suited his style, was accurate and fitted into the entire programme.
2. Treat everyone with equal respect and courtesy
Every single member of a TV production team, from the lowliest researcher to the exec producer, works extremely hard and contributes to the making the presenter look good on screen. It’s simple common decency to treat everyone well. Plus – you never know, that lowly researcher may one day be the editor! The first time I worked with David Dimbleby on the annual Remembrance Sunday programme, he sent me a hand written note of thanks.
3. Do your homework
Don’t expect to be able to turn up and perform well. To be convincing, it’s important to know what you’re talking about, so you must prepare. And if you have any desire to work in live television, you really need to know far more about the subject than is ever going to come out of your mouth. While working on Crufts, the excellent presenter Clare Balding was described as a ‘sponge’ for her ability to absorb information and then effortlessly present it live on air.
4. Be in the right place at the right time
Production teams work on extremely tight deadlines so if you’re not where you’re meant to be, when you’re meant to be there, you could miss a shoot – and cost the programme an awful lot of money. I was once filming with a presenter on a boat – and just when we had to launch it to catch the correct tide, we discovered she’d gone to a local pub for lunch because she didn’t like the sandwiches at the local café. She’s no longer working in national television.
However many programmes you’ve presented before, however experienced you are, each one is unique. So don’t skip the rehearsals. All the greatest presenters know that rehearsal will make the final programme smooth and seamless and that the worst possible thing would be to ‘busk’ it. I’ll be working with Huw Edwards and Jim Naughtie on the coverage of the Pope’s arrival in Scotland next week, and I know they will both want as much rehearsal as possible to get the programme right.
6. If the programme’s live, obey your director
Certain presenters who shall remain nameless don’t do this – they like the sound of their own voice far too much. But in a live programme, it’s vital to speak on cue, and shut up when you’re meant to. Most live programmes are meticulously planned, often down to the second, so when a presenter who ignores the director can cause havoc.
7. Don’t be a prima donna
Nothing will make you more disliked than this. And if the production team dislike you, they won’t go that extra mile for you – and ultimately you’re the one that will suffer.