What can you expect if a TV programme wants you to appear as a “presenter’s friend”, an expert interviewee the presenter can turn to for clarification, analysis or information about an issue? This is what we were asked ahead of a recent training course.
The client asked us to help prepare one of their experts to appear on a news programme which was going to focus on her specialist area. The producers wanted her to share her expertise and views throughout the programme, so we created a training course to teach her the essentials of giving any interview, plus the specific techniques she would need to get her organisation’s point across in her segments.
Here is some of the advice we gave to prepare her to be a presenter’s friend:
- Presenter – anchors the programme and will be conducting the interviews
- Camera operators – there will probably be two or three
- Soundman/woman – they are responsible for putting on your microphone
- Floor manager – tells you where to stand and when your sections are taking place
- Director – he or she co-ordinates the output in the “gallery”, including when particular items run, which camera is showing
- Programme producer – in overall charge of the editorial direction of the programme
- Assistant producers/broadcast journalists – responsible for different items in the running order
- Reporters – produce each news item they show
What to expect
- A TV news studio will probably be very busy, and may seem chaotic, as a lot of things happen at the last moment. Often news items are edited right up to transmission time, and programme plans can change even during the programme
- The producer & director control the programme from the gallery, alongside vision mixers, script supervisors, sound supervisors and more
- There will be a lot of equipment: two or three cameras with autocue, possibly lighting, cabling into the studio to the gallery
- The cameras could be showing you at any time, either in a single shot or in a wideshot with the presenter and other guests
- If the programme is an outside broadcast, there’s always the prospect of external distractions, such as traffic, passers-by etc
- Make sure you discuss in advance with the production team exactly what they are planning and what they expect you to say and do. Find out how long your segments will be and what questions they are planning to ask
- Arrive early at the studio or location
- Ask to see any pre-recorded reports before the programme (though they may not be finished until transmission time)
- Wear separates, appropriate to your role, and generally aim to be smart but not too formal. Don’t wear anything which will distract from what you want to say. And remember, if you are going to be standing or walking and talking, the audience will see all of you, not just your head and shoulders
- Make up – they should have someone to make you up, but check, as if not, make sure you do it yourself
- The soundman will give you a radio mic; the power pack will be clipped to your waistband and the microphone part on your lapel
- The floor manager and/or a producer will probably be assigned to look after you. The floor manager will tell you where to stand and will cue you when you’re about to speak
- The programme will probably have a rehearsal where they run through each section of the programme, so you get a chance to practise your segments
- Look at the presenter, not the camera. Remember to smile when your name is mentioned as the camera will be on you at that point
- Agree a subtle signal with the presenter to a) shut up Or b) less likely, carry on!
- The camera may be on you at any point, so don’t grimace/look bored & don’t leave or move until the floor manager tells you to in case the camera is still on you
- It’s hard to relax/not become nervous in that environment, so make a conscious decision to remain calm, block out distractions, deep breathing, find somewhere quiet to sit, while you wait to appear
- In general, aim for a conversational, friendly, chatty and down-to-earth tone.
- Keep your answers simple and use stories and anecdotes which will help the audience understand the points you are making. If you use policy-speak the audience will lose interest.
- Have three main messages to get across
- Don’t include too many statistics or complex facts
- Don’t talk over the presenter
The course gave our expert plenty of opportunities to practice and rehearse, and when she appeared on the programme, she did a great job.