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

Do You Have the Right Personality for TV Presenting?

Whilst TV presenting is perceived as a glamorous profession, the reality is somewhat different. Of course, being in the industry has fantastic moments, from being on the red carpet to interviewing high profile guests in fabulous locations, but the reality is that TV presenting requires a huge amount of energy, commitment and preparation. Do you have the right personality to cope with the rigours of the job?

Start by thinking about you. Consider your character, temperament and qualities. Recognise your strengths and weaknesses. Try to evaluate objectively how you come across and realise how others see you.

One of the first questions I ask presenting students is, ‘Why do you want to be a TV presenter?’ This is not a trick question, it could come up in a job interview in almost any field – (celebrity, glamour, wealth are probably not the right answers here!).

What motivates you to present? It could be that you want to communicate to a larger audience, you enjoy interviewing and finding out about other people, there is an issue you want to promote, you have role models who are TV presenters, or you want more variety and challenge in the workplace. It might be that you are already writing, producing or broadcasting, in TV, radio, print or online, and you want to be more mainstream or high profile. Alternatively, you could be someone who has watched from the sidelines or from your sofa, and you’ve been thinking – ‘I could do that!’

Most TV presenters are freelance and motivation is a key quality to possess, so ask yourself if you really have the personality to go for it – it is a competitive business, and you will need to convince others that you’re really keen and committed.

Are you a self-starter, happy to contact people you don’t know and ask them to employ you? Do you enjoy meeting new people, would you be able to work alongside a myriad of different colleagues and technicians?

Do you display initiative or do you prefer to be given instructions at each stage? Do you work well in a team or do you like to work independently? Are you persistent and tenacious or do you give up at the first round? Are you fairly thick-skinned or do you take rejection personally?

Can you think on your feet? How well would you cope if the top news story were replaced as you are live on air reading from a different script? You can train for breaking news, so don’t panic, but it is worth bearing in mind that some people can work better under pressure than others.

Are you good at researching a topic, becoming an instant ‘expert’ in a wide variety of discussion points to put to the viewer or interviewee? Can you digest technical information and deliver it to the viewer in easy bite-sized chunks? Are you confident, with a friendly manner, do you possess good communications skills? How is your personal grooming!

Be honest with yourself and take a cold hard look at whether you’re in the right place. Take advantage of online personality tests – they can be very revealing, with questionnaires that can help you to assess your qualities and priorities.

To do list
List your strengths and weaknesses
Evaluate presenter qualities and match them to your own
Analyse your personal motivation and abilities
Explore online personality tests

Click, read, discover
Online personality tests & career advice
https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/tools/skillshealthcheck/Pages/default.aspx
http://www.profilingforsuccess.com/profile-yourself.php
http://prospects.ac.uk

Interview advice
http://careers.theguardian.com/careers-blog/star-technique-competency-based-interview

US
http://career-advice.monster.com/
http://www.careercc.org/

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

5 top tips for your TV presenting career

It’s been a while – I’ve been busy writing my second book – and I’m thrilled to say it’s just been published! The TV Presenter’s Career Handbook by Focal Press is out now. It’s packed full with advice and interviews with TV presenters, agents and TV producers on how to carve a TV presenting career. Here are my 5 top tips.

Be yourself

You are unique so don’t try to copy other presenters. Create your own showreel material with content that shows your own personality and style. Producers want to find new talent, not poor versions of existing personalities.

Use your expertise

Do you have specialised knowledge or qualifications? Whether it’s finance or cookery, music or sport, interior decoration or wine tasting your expertise can open doors. Be the guest expert, the interviewee or presenter who has credibility in a subject and you’ll more employable.

Take control

No need to wait for job adverts, start presenting. Upload to YouTube, be the face of the company you work for, or add videos to your website. As camera equipment and editing software becomes less expensive and more accessible it’s easier than ever before to start presenting from home.

Create a digital footprint

Use social media but have something to say. Join sites that promote your skills, be visible and contactable. Seek opportunities to raise your profile, you can be the interviewee not necessarily the presenter and still make a splash. Producers are increasingly searching online to find new faces.

Get some professional training

There are plenty of short courses out there, and a few Universities teach TV Presenting. Find out what the industry expectations are by training with experts. Go for the courses that really teach you the skills.

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.

Once a children’s TV presenter, always a children’s TV presenter?

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?’

I received an enquiry this week from a presenter asking if she pursued her love of children’s TV presenting would she always be labelled as a children’s presenter? As a director on many children’s TV programmes, including Tweenies, Teletubbies, Record Breakers, Jackanory and Playschool, I’ve worked with many of our best loved children’s presenters. Some spend a long career in children’s programmes, some pass through, and like Phillip Schofield, leave the ‘broom cupboard’ behind them ….

Holly Willoughby

Fearne Cotton

Andi Peters

Ortis Deley

Jake Humphrey

Chris Tarrant

Konnie Huq

Matt Baker

Becky Jago

Noel Edmonds

John Craven

Maggie Philbin

You can try being a children’s TV presenter for a day.  See Children’s TV Presenting Course, City Lit, Sunday 17th October 2010.