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.

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