TV Presenter training – not just for TV presenters

One thing I love about teaching TV presenting is the range of people it attracts. On my last course at The Actors Centre, which was fully booked, there were two Dancing on Ice professional skaters, a Reuters journalist, musical theatre actor, former actor working in events, IT consultant, blogger, and marine engineer. They all had different reasons for attending, with mainstream TV presenting not necessarily being the end goal for all of them.

Certainly, I’ve trained people who’ve gone on to have high profile TV presenting careers including Seema Jaswal Sports presenter BBC and ITV, Julia Chatterley financial reporter/anchor CNBC, Bloomberg and now CNN, David McClelland Tech broadcaster on BBC’s Rip Off Britain and Watchdog, Sita Thomas children’s presenter Channel 5’s Milkshake, Louise Houghton presenter Euromaxx for Deutsche-Welle TV and Marie-Francoise Wolff, Kipling bags brand ambassador QVC.

There are dozens more of my former students who’ve achieved success using their presenting skills online such as Asian Media Awards Finalist presenter/writer Momtaz Begum-Hossain @the_craftcafe, flower expert Rona Wheeldon @flowerona, vegan cook Suzanne Kirlew @kirleysueskitchen, storyteller Lucy Walters at lucywalters.uk.com, Dr Clare Lynch businesss writer, udemy.com and Matthew Bellhouse Civil Engineer, winner Fleming Award for Best Presentation at The Geological Society.

People use TV presenting training in all kinds of ways, not always for TV, to build up their brand, vlog, make marketing videos, create their own content channels, to speak to camera with confidence and understand professional expectations.

TV Presenter training can help launch your media career and enable you to speak to your audience wherever it might be. There are people who are confident enough to start broadcasting to the world from their kitchen table, some with huge success, but for others it feels better to get some expert feedback and learn how to get it right before you do.

Kathryn teaches TV Presenter training in Covent Garden London at The Actors Centre and City Lit, and in North West London for one2ones.

 

 

 

Acting v TV Presenting

Many TV presenters come from an acting background or combine acting careers with presenting. What’s the difference? Acting is taking on a persona, getting under the skin of another character, portraying someone who is not you. TV presenting is being you, don’t try to be someone else or act the role of being a presenter.

Acting for camera teaches ‘Don’t look at the camera (unless a soliloquy)’, but TV presenters should look at the camera to engage with their audience. Actors can have weeks of rehearsal time, TV presenters rehearse just before the recording/transmission. Actors are almost always given a script, presenters may get a script or work from bullet points, research notes, a brief or just ad lib. Actors usually have a wardrobe department, presenters often wear their own, but on some bigger jobs I have known presenters to be given a budget or stylist, it  depends on the production.

There are transferable skills between acting and presenting, similarities and differences but if you are having a bad day in either profession, you will need to draw on your performance skills to keep it professional. Is presenting acting? Well, just a bit …..

More tips in my blog and book

https://www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/so-you-want-to-be-a-tv-presenter

Energy Tips

What kind of energy do you need as a TV presenter? I don’t mean energy to go to the gym, or jog around the park, but on-screen energy.

If TV presenting is being You, then just be your everyday normal self in front of the camera and you’ll be presenting. Right? Well yes, but there is some value in TV presenting as if you are the host of a dinner party, with a bit more oomph than in real life and a twinkle in the eye.

Too little energy, and your performance could be dull; too much energy and you could be OTT (over the top) and irritating to the viewer. So, how do you know what level of energy is right for TV?

You need to use your judgement, because in the world of TV you may not get director’s notes. Prepare beforehand by recording your work to camera and playing it back on a large monitor to evaluate your performance. Does it seem sincere, are you shouting, are you making distracting facial expressions, is the performance engaging, or flat and boring?

Unlike theatre, in TV there is no need for larger than life facial or vocal performance. Unlike public speaking, in TV you should not be casting your gaze around the room. On video/TV you are only speaking to one or two people at a time, via the camera, so speak to them as if they are positioned where the camera is.

Over the years I’ve trained hundreds of different presenters, and have identified two opposites in on-screen energy (as a generalisation of course). Actors from musical theatre often have performances that are too big for TV; they are used to reaching out to their audience, to be seen and heard at the back of the amphitheatre. What works on a musical stage does not necessarily work within the confines of the video screen, and I usually find I ask them to tone it down, to do less.

On the other hand, people from management consultant backgrounds often deliver video performances that are flat – perhaps because they’ve been trained to reduce the emotion in their performance, keep a neutral expression and take the heat out of the situation. Here, I often find myself asking presenters to raise their energy level, to do more.

When practising TV presenting you need to apply the right energy to the situation, for example, Newsreading and Children’s presenting require very different energy levels. But, as a general rule, on TV and video take care not to be too musical theatre or management consultant!

 

 

How to talk to a camera

How can you talk to a camera and make it seem real? A camera is just plastic and electronics on a tripod, so what can you do to make your performance natural? Imagine the camera is a person.

Your job is to connect with the viewer through the lens, so if you imagine the camera is a person, your performance will be sincere.

Who should you imagine? It can be your best friend, your mum, or a typical viewer. If you’re presenting a shopping channel imagine someone at home who is watching the channel, if you’re presenting a pre-school TV show imagine talking to a four year old on the sofa.

How do we watch TV? Usually on our own, or with another person, so when speaking to camera, talk to one or two people max. Even if hundreds, thousands or millions are watching your video, they are in their own space, not all crowded into one room. Make it personal and the viewer will relate to you, they will think you are talking to them individually and you will create a bond through the camera.

The same goes for radio. We tend to listen in the bathroom, in the car, doing the ironing or through headphones … again it’s the same rules as for TV. If you’re presenting a radio show imagine talking to one listener. Some radio presenters place a photo of their mum, boyfriend, or girlfriend by the mic to help them talk to one person they have in mind.

The language you use reflects this approach. If you’re on stage presenting a public event you might say,

‘Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen’.

If you’re hosting a children’s birthday party, you might use,

‘Hello girls and boys’, or ‘Hello everybody’.

But when talking to camera address the individual –

‘Hello and welcome to the show. It’s great to be with you again and I’ve got a fantastic line up of guests for you to enjoy this afternoon.”

It’s about being relatable, connect with the camera so the viewer can connect with you.

TV Presenting Skills Check

TV presenting is a skills-based profession, you will need to prove to your agent, director or producer that you can do it! Your aim is to show employers that you have the skills and personality to handle whatever is asked of you in an audition or screen test. Below are some basic presenter skills that you will need:

Be yourself
Presenting is about being you, it is not acting, or pretending to be a presenter. You should not ‘be in character’ as when acting, but have the confidence to be yourself.

Talk to the camera
Reach your audience through the camera lens, so engage with the viewer by speaking conversationally to the camera.

Perform for video
There is no need to use larger than life expressions or project your voice as the camera and mic will pick it all up – it’s about performing for a screen, which is not the same as public speaking or performing on stage.

Speak to one person
It can be off-putting talking to a camera and trying to make it seem natural, so most presenters imagine the camera is their best friend or one typical viewer.

Relax and smile
Talk to the camera lens without getting a tense face, keep relaxed, smile, and breathe!

Good posture
Good posture gives authority and allows you to take in more air when breathing, which in turn leads to relaxation.

Clear diction
A presenter’s toolbox includes good vocal technique and clear diction. If you are watching a presenter on TV try closing your eyes and see if you enjoy listening to them too.

Ad lib
Presenters need to be able to ad lib (talk off the cuff, not scripted). You may need to fill if the guest is running late or there’s a technical delay, or answer unscripted questions on a live show.

Talking to time
Speaking accurately to time is a skill that’s used particularly on live shows, but you may also need to talk to time in pre-recorded programmes to reduce the amount of editing. The general rule for calculating broadcasted speech is three words a second, so a ten second script has about thirty words and a twenty second script has about sixty words.

Scripting style
TV scripts should be written in a conversational manner, as it’s a spoken medium. Try reading a corporate brochure aloud – would it work on TV? No, it’s a different style.

Memorising scripts
You will need to be able to remember scripts and repeat them accurately (or near enough!)

Working with a prompter
The trick with reading from a prompter is to speak to the viewer, not read to them. Remember the camera is behind the words, so look through the words to the lens.

Walking and talking
Walking and talking – it doesn’t sound too tricky to do both at once – but it’s funny how some presenters forget how to walk normally because they are busy concentrating on talking, or vice-versa!

Vox pops
Vox pops can feature in TV or radio, (also popular for show reels) and it requires the presenter/reporter to approach members of the public to get a quick straw pole reaction to an issue.

Interviewing
Central to being a good interviewer are the skills of research and listening. Although you do not need to be a qualified journalist to present (unless it’s News), some journalistic approaches are needed in interviewing.

The demo
If you want to work in shopping channels then your essential skill is the demo, or demo combined with an interview. Demo (short for demonstration) means showing how a piece of household, technical or sports equipment works, or selling jewellery, cosmetics, fashion or other products.

The make
Makes – ‘Here is one I made earlier’ are found in children’s and arts and crafts programmes. Try it out first, prepare!

Appearance
Finally, don’t forget personal grooming. What do your clothes, hair, make-up say about you? Are you projecting the image you’d like to?

To do list
Research TV presenter training courses
Start training or top up existing skills
Watch TV – analyse TV presenter skills and performance
Attend TV recordings

Edited extract from The TV Presenter’s Career Handbook by Kathryn Wolfe, published by Focal Press 2015

Reading from a prompt

A couple of lucky presenters I’m training at the moment are working in TV production and able to practise reading from a prompt as part of their work experience. However, most presenters are expected to know how to read from a prompt before the audition or job. The screen test is not the place to reveal that you have never done this before, and time is too precious on a shoot to receive on the spot training.

What is a prompt? It is a device that scrolls the script in front of the camera lens enabling the presenter to read rather than having to memorise the words. When the camera is placed behind the prompt and the presenter’s eyeline is direct to the lens it should not look any different to presenting without a prompt. The words are visible on a screen that the presenter can see but the viewer cannot. Mrs Smith watching at home shouldn’t realise you are using a prompt, so allow your delivery to be as natural as possible. Whether the screen is a few feet or 30 feet away from you, if you have small head movements and are relating to the viewer they won’t be aware of your eyes scanning the words.

Prompting screens can also be mounted above the camera, usually during location shoots, or on a moving camera; this does not give such a direct eyeline from the presenter to the viewer, but with the right shot the viewer may not notice the difference.

Although prompts are often referred to as Autocue there are other companies that provide prompting equipment, such as Autoscript, Portaprompt and First-Take. Prompts can fit almost any size of camera from small semi-professional to large TV studio cameras. Screen sizes range from mini 3.5”, 5.6”, 8” or 9” screens for location use to typical studio screen sizes of 12”, 15”, 17”, 19” to huge, such as on ITV’s ‘Dancing on Ice’ where the studio is the size of a small aircraft hangar!  Recent updates include bright LED screens, PC and Mac versions, and even a spell-check variety.

Presenters unfamiliar with using a prompt often worry that it will go too fast for them to read comfortably. That shouldn’t happen – the prompt operator has to follow your reading.  So if you find the prompt is going too quickly what should you do – speed up to match the pace or slow down? Think about it!

Alternatively you may find that you are the controller – using a handheld wireless remote or a foot pedal under the presenting desk. The latest technology is voice activated, no foot or hand controls, with the prompt following the spoken word of the presenter.

How can you practise at home without access to a prompting screen? A basic exercise is to read aloud. We normally read in our heads but by reading aloud you can develop your sight-reading, voice and breathing techniques. When you see a comma, pause, when you see a full stop – stop! Don’t forget to breathe! Have a good reservoir of breath by using your abdomen. Find a balance between a pace that the viewer can follow, while keeping up a good energy.

There is a great resource www.cueprompter.com – a free online teleprompter. You can type in or copy and paste some written material into the window, set the scroll speed and start to read from a moving script! It has a maximum of 2000 characters and it’s fun to experiment with the different speed settings. You could record yourself using a webcam, which although not directly in your eyeline, will give you an idea of how you look and sound when reading.

One common pitfall is that the expression can become ‘frozen’ and the eyes can look ‘glazed’. Do your best to relax the face and eyes, maintaining a conversational delivery. Read with interest, using good modulation and intonation.

Prompting software has a range of font sizes, inverse, underline, bold, italic, different foreground/background colours, so if you are short-sighted and your co-presenter is long-sighted or even dyslexic, the script appearance can be tailored to your preferences. Some presenters write words phonetically to aid pronunciation, or use capitals for emphasis. When writing scripts for a prompt keep them simple, especially as the entire sentence may not be visible at once on the prompting screen.

You can customise your script to assist your performance. As a Director I added helpful instructions to the prompt, such as ‘Turn to camera 3’ – you could include a note to self, for example, ‘Breathe’, ‘Pause’, ‘Smile!’

If you want to take it further you could explore various prompting websites to familiarise yourself with the equipment. Perhaps you could get together with like-minded friends/presenters and hire the kit for half a day, which would cost in the region of £225 including all prompting equipment and an operator. Prices vary, and check whether travel and VAT are included.

Putting all technology aside for a moment, the main aim is to be a winning presenter, so look through the words to the lens behind the prompt. Remember Mrs. Smith? She wants to feel that you are talking to her, not reading to her, and that is the key to reading from a prompt successfully.

You read it here first!

In ear talk back

Advice from Kathryn Wolfe, Course Leader TV Production, Senior Lecturer Media Performance University of Bedfordshire, Pukka Presenting trainer and author ‘So You Want to be a TV Presenter?’

One of the many enquiries I received recently was on the topic of in-ear talkback. Using in-ear talkback initially can seem like you are hearing voices in your head and if you are recording a screen test using it for the first time your performance can suffer – that was the experience of this particular presenter who was not familiar with in-ear talkback and didn’t know what to expect.

In-ear talkback is a device that enables Producers/Directors/Production Assistants to talk directly to the presenter, to inform them about editorial issues, camera directions and timings. It can be used in the studio or on location. Although some information can go via a Floor Manager, not all recorded situations use a Floor Manager nowadays; whereas some commands such as timings can be delivered visually, other more complex instructions such as ‘When did the private papers go missing?’ or ‘How long is the battery life of this product?’ are better conveyed straight to the presenter.

Talkback consists of a silicon or foam bud that sits just inside the left or right ear, attached to a curly or straight acoustic tube that goes around and behind the ear, then down the back of the neck. There is an optional collar clip to hold the cable in place, and hair/clothing can be used to hide the kit as much as possible. You can adjust the volume of the speech coming through the earpiece, so it’s a good idea to check this before you are on air!

Working with talkback is a case of getting used to talking while listening to instructions, without revealing to the viewer that you are hearing information from someone else who is out of vision. It’s not as hard as it sounds. Think of all the occasions when you are multi-tasking without problem. Do you work on the laptop while watching TV, conducting a conversation and eating a snack? Have you had a chat on the phone while listening to a speech radio programme?

It is unlikely that you will be able to practise using talkback equipment unless in a professional TV environment, but you can prepare for the situation. Perform a script to a camera and ask a friend with a stopwatch to give you verbal timings, such as “30 seconds left on show”, and they should count down the time, saying “20 seconds, 15 seconds, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0”. When they say “zero” you should have stopped talking! Check your recording back to see if your facial expressions revealed that you were receiving instructions. Did you falter or fluff, aquire a furrowed brow, look distracted, or did you carry on performing without making it known to the viewer?

You could purchase some inexpensive ear buds of your own to take to jobs, see http://www.enhancedlistening.co.uk or http://www.canford.co.uk

If you want to go that step further, it is possible to obtain moulded earpieces custom made to fit your own ears – less likely to be visible or, worse still, to fall out at a crucial moment! See http://presenterpromotions.com/services/earpieces/earpieces.html or http://nickway.co.uk

Remember, you heard it here first.