10 Things You Need to Know Before Going On TV

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 13, 2013 – 6:02 am

This is an excerpt from my new book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, now available in soft cover and all major eBook formats.

Appearing on television can be an odd experience. In one of the stranger (but more common) formats, you may be escorted to a closet-size booth, in which you will speak into a camera operated by a technician hundreds of miles away.

This lesson will help strip away some of the mystery by arming you with 10 logistical and technical details you’ll need to know.

1. Arrive early: Avoid unnecessary stress by allowing plenty of extra time. That buffer will be valuable if the producer, makeup artist, or crew is running behind when you arrive. Plus, you may meet some interesting people in the “green room,” the room in which you’ll wait prior to the start of your interview.

2. Bring makeup: Most major networks and some larger local stations provide a makeup artist. Ask in advance whether you will have access to one, but bring your own makeup and hair products either way, just to be safe.

3. Look in the mirror: Do a final check in the mirror before your interview begins. I’ve seen guests with lipstick smeared on their teeth, big chunks of food stuck in-between teeth, and even an open sore (yes, really!).

4. Check your microphone and test your earpiece: You will often wear a lapel microphone during your interview. The wires should be hidden—men and women can run the cord beneath their tops; men can also tape the cord to the back of their tie. Make sure the microphone isn’t brushing up against clothing or jewelry, which will make you sound muffled. You may also be fitted with an earpiece, or IFB (which stands for interruptible feedback). Test the audio before your interview begins and tell the crew immediately if the volume isn’t quite right.

5. Turn off your cell phone: Little is more distracting than a cell phone ringing in middle of an interview. Also, the phone’s signal can interfere with the audio. Vibrate mode isn’t good enough; power your phone completely off.

6. Turn the monitor off: Television monitors in the studio often show a feed that is delayed by a fraction of a second. That can be extremely distracting, so ask the crew to turn off any monitors or to turn them away.

7. Beware the split screen: In some formats, you will appear on camera even when you’re not speaking. Those “split screen” shots show you and at least one other person at the same time, and “reaction” shots show your reaction to another guest’s comments. Act as if you’re always on, being careful not to wipe your face, adjust your hair, or fix your outfit during your segment.

8. Restrict your nodding: It’s normal to nod when listening to someone else, but nodding can send the wrong message if you disagree with the premise of someone’s question or comment. Listen attentively, but only nod along if you agree.

9. Avoid (or preplan) props: We’ve all seen that television guest who holds up a piece of paper or newspaper article during a television appearance. It’s usually a bad idea. Few people know how to position an item properly for the camera, so it usually ends up distracting the audience. If you want to show something during your interview, talk to the producer first. The producer can help the crew prepare for the shot in advance.

10. Stay in your seat: Avoid the temptation to flee your chair the moment your segment ends. Maintain your pose for a few seconds, remaining seated until a member of the crew tells you you’re clear.

The Media Training Bible is available from Amazon here and for the Kindle here. For other eBook formats and to read free sample lessons, click here.


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Television: Know Your Background (Thanksgiving Edition)

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 21, 2012 – 6:02 am

What will show up behind you when you appear on television?

That decision is usually left up to television producers when interviews are held at their studios—but you may have significant control over your background for interviews conducted in the field, at your home, or at your office.

A thoughtfully selected background can enhance and reinforce your words, while a carelessly selected one can thoroughly undermine your message.

Politicians are among the most image-conscious, often conducting interviews and delivering speeches in front of a row of flags, banners bearing a campaign slogan (“For a Brighter Future,” “Lower Taxes”), or iconic landmarks.

Nonpoliticians should apply the same degree of thought by choosing backgrounds that reinforce their spoken messages.

Company representatives might stand on a bustling factory floor to show their business’s vitality. Marine biologists might remove their shoes and deliver an interview from the water’s edge. A health expert discussing the seriousness of diabetes might choose to do an interview from a local hospital’s emergency room.

Your background is even more important during a crisis. As a general rule of thumb, don’t display your logo during a crisis. Why help the audience remember that your brand is associated with bad news? That means you shouldn’t stand in front of any signs, buildings, or awnings that feature your company’s symbol. Also avoid wearing any clothing, caps, or pins that bear your company’s name.

Case Study: Sarah Palin’s Bloody Thanksgiving

After losing her bid for the vice presidency in 2008, Sarah Palin returned to Alaska to continue serving her term as governor.

As one of her ceremonial duties that November, she visited a local farm to pardon a turkey for Thanksgiving.

But when she gave a lighthearted interview to a local television station, she failed to check her background. Behind her, a man covered in blood was slaughtering turkeys by placing them into a killing cone.

The media loved the gruesome video—some of which was too graphic to show on television—and played the clip for days. The coverage reinforced the media’s narrative (fairly or not) of a politician unprepared for the national limelight.

Editor’s note: I’m taking a long weekend to celebrate Thanksgiving. I wish you and yours a great holiday, and will see you back here on Monday morning!


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Five Tips To Help Your Next TV Appearance Run Smoothly

Written by Christina Mozaffari (@PMRChristina) on February 15, 2012 – 6:14 am

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Christina Mozaffari, our firm’s senior media trainer. She was previously a producer for NBC News, where she produced stories for Nightly News with Brian Williams, The Today Show, and Hardball with Chris Matthews, among others.

When I was a producer for NBC News, part of my job was to consider not only what interviewees said but also the pictures that accompanied their remarks. The spokespersons who considered a few “small” logistical issues made the process run a lot more smoothly for the news crews –  and for themselves, in the long run.

Here are five logistical tips to remember when you’re working with television crews:

1. Remember Who Makes You Look Good: The first and golden rule. The reporter and producer are not the only people involved in this process. Be courteous to the camera crew and any engineers involved. They are the ones who will make sure your shot is well lit and flattering. Plus, it simply shows good manners.

2. Allow Time For Set Up: When doing a sit-down interview, allow up to an hour for the crew to set up. Many crews and producers will carefully light the shot and move items on the set (be it in your office, a conference room, or someplace else) to make the shot look more interesting. They’ll also test the microphones. The more time you give them to make adjustments, the better your shot will look and sound.

3. Consider The Location: Think about where the interview is taking place. If you’re working with a local crew, a lot of times, you’ll be standing up and the interview will be done fairly quickly without much setup. So consider your background. Offer them a location that says something about your organization.

For example, if you work in education, suggest doing the interview with a school-themed backdrop, like a classroom or a hallway with lockers. Not only does it make for a more interesting picture, it gives you an opportunity to tell more of your story visually in addition to using your words. Crews that have the time to more carefully set up an interview will appreciate this too.

Women know they need makeup before going on TV. But men need it too.

4. Wear Makeup: Speaking of the picture, do wear some makeup. Ladies, as you read this, I’m guessing you’re shouting “Duh!” right now. This is more a warning for the men. Most of the male anchors and reporters on television wear makeup to reduce shininess and even out their complexions.

Gentlemen, do yourselves a favor and keep a powder in your shade handy if you plan to do interviews regularly. They’re relatively inexpensive – a MAC pressed powder (one of the most commonly used brands of makeup for television folks) will run you around $30 but will last you years. If you are “follically challenged,” remember that camera lights can make your head appear shiny. A little powder will go a long way toward removing a possible distraction from your interview.

5. Repeat The Question Back: If yours is a sound bites interview, meaning the interview is not live and the reporter will use only a part of what you say in his or her story, repeat the question back in your answer. This gives the reporter a complete sound bite on tape and ensures that the answers you give are usable. For example, if a reporter asks a question like, “Why did you decide to go with Plan A instead of Plan B?” you would say, “We decided to go with Plan A because…”

Doing so increases the chances of getting your complete, concise message into the story. But one huge caveat: Do not repeat negative language. If the reporter asks you a loaded question or a question that insinuates your organization has done something wrong, you do not want yourself repeating that idea back to him or her on tape.

Is your executive team or board of directors long overdue for a media training session? Please contact us to learn more about our customized media training workshops.


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Happy Thanksgiving (Look Out Behind You, Sarah Palin!)

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 23, 2011 – 9:08 pm

For this long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I offer you one of my favorite video clips.

Shortly after returning to Alaska following her defeat in the 2008 general election, then-Governor Sarah Palin visited a local turkey farm to pardon a turkey.

She was totally oblivious to the bloody turkey slaughter occurring over her shoulder.

I suggest you watch the entire clip – the final sentence is a gem.

It’s hard to know whether the camera operator who set up that interview did so on purpose. But it’s the job of a spokesperson – or a spokesperson’s staffers – to ensure that the background doesn’t detract from the message.

Although Ms. Palin’s gaffe makes for a compelling video, she’s far from alone in failing to check her background.

When launching his network’s new brand last year, MSNBC head Phil Griffin shot a promo – with CNN playing in the background:

So remember this Thanksgiving lesson: If you’re about to do a television interview, look behind you to see what the audience will see. If it’s something potentially embarrassing, ask the producer to change the shot or allow you to stand somewhere else. And if you’re ever engulfed in a crisis, don’t stand anywhere near your company’s logo; if you do, you’ll only reinforce visually that your brand is connected to an unfortunate scandal.

I wish you and your family a happy, healthy, and restorative Thanksgiving weekend! See you back here on Monday, November 28th. And thank you, as always, for visiting the blog.

Don’t click away quite yet! Why not take a moment to follow our latest stories on Twitter here and on Facebook here?


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Seven Things You Need To Know Before Going On TV

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on August 25, 2011 – 6:31 am

A few years ago, I accompanied one of our clients to CNN’s Washington, DC bureau for a live interview on Lou Dobbs Tonight. Since I had worked at that bureau for a couple of years in the late 1990s and knew it well, I was able to tell her exactly what she could expect.

But it turned out I was totally wrong. In the years since I’d left, CNN had built a new “studio,” which was nothing more than a converted coat closet. My client had to sit on a stool in that tiny, closet-sized booth, and had to speak to a camera operated by a technician hundreds of miles away.

Television is a strange medium. This post will help strip away some of television’s mystery by arming you with seven logistical and technical details you’ll need to know to succeed in your next television interview.

1. Makeup: Most major networks and some larger local stations provide a makeup artist. Ask in advance whether you will have access to one, but bring your own makeup and hair products just to be safe. If you won’t have access to an artist, this makeup guide will help.

2. Microphones and Ear Pieces: You will often wear a lapel microphone during your interview. The wires should be hidden – women can run the cord beneath their tops, and men should tape the cord to the back of their tie. Make sure the microphone isn’t brushing up against clothing or jewelry, which will make you sound muffled. You may also be fitted with an ear piece, also known as an IFB. Test the audio before your interview begins and tell the crew immediately if the volume isn’t quite right.

3. Turn The Monitor Off: Television monitors often show a feed that is delayed by a fraction of a second. That can be extremely distracting, so ask the crew to turn off the studio monitors. This article explains more about the downsides of monitors.

4. Split Screen: In some formats, you will appear on-camera even when you’re not speaking. “Split screen” shots show you and at least one other person at the same time, and “reaction” shots show your reaction to another guest’s comments. Act as if you’re always on, and be careful not to wipe your face, adjust your hair, or fix your outfit during your segment.

5. Nodding: It’s normal to nod when listening to someone else, but that nodding can send the wrong message if you disagree with the premise of someone’s question or comment. Listen attentively, but don’t nod along with an incorrect premise.

6. Props: We’ve all seen that television guest who holds up a piece of paper or newspaper article during a television appearance. It’s usually a bad idea. Few people know how to position an item properly for cameras to pick it up, so it usually ends up distracting the audience. If you want to show something during your interview, talk to the producer first. The producer can help the crew prepare for the shot in advance.

7. Stay Where You Are: Avoid the temptation to flee your chair the moment your segment ends. Maintain your pose for a few seconds and stay seated until a member of the crew tells you you’re clear.

Do you want to become a better public speaker and media spokesperson? Follow our tweets to  follow the latest! We’re at @MrMediaTraining or www.Twitter.com/MrMediaTraining.

Related: How to Dress For A Television Appearance

Related: Nine Things Inexperienced Media Spokespersons Need to Know

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

    Brad Phillips

    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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