If you are preparing to speak to 2 or 2000 people in the coming days you will almost certainly be experiencing some apprehension.
Bit imagine you were going to speak live to 9.4 million people? How would you feel then? A million times worse?
In about 1980, in the days when there were 3 TV channels in the UK, Tomorrow’s World transmitted a standard, weekly show to 9.4 million people (17% of the population).
Nowadays, if it had survived, you would expect 2-3 million. The highest rating show in the US last year, American Idol got 18 million – that’s just 6% of the population.
The show was presented by Judith Hann, Howard Stableford, Peter McCann and Magie Philbin and everyone at the time watched partly because there were only 3 channels and there was nothing else worth watching and partly because it was live and things went wrong, properly wrong.
I had Peter McCann on the roof of TV centre receiving the first sat-phone text-to-printer.
As I said to someone during rehearsal, “We can cope with anything except a real downpour at 5 minutes to air.” You can guess the rest. Note: a printer does not work well under water. Peter, who is a lovely man, actually laughed as he tried to pluck paper pulp from the misfiring jaws of the printer.
So is the presenters’ ability to keep calm under stress something special, or is it something you can learn?
What makes a TV presenter?
There are 2 aspects to being a successful TV presenter, the first you might call simply competence. How many presenters have you seen in the last year? Hundreds? With a very few exceptions, everyone you’ve seen on telly in competent. Things do go wrong, but they are rare.
Poor Ortis Deley failed publiclly on Channel 4’s athletics coverage and was “replaced” but while some are dull, most don’t fall over or swear or freeze. It would be cruel to name the Newsround presenter who was inserting live into the show and when the camera went on, stared at the camera mute for 15 seconds and said “Back to the studio.”
The second, and for many, heartbreaking aspect is star-quality. Heartbreaking for those that don’t have it because, while a few do acquire it, most are born with it or without it.
It’s not my place to make TV presenters feel bad so I won’t name those who don’t have star quality, it’s much quicker to name a sample of those we’ve worked with who do.
Now while Carol Vorderman is simply the best I ever worked with, and Jeremy Paxman is a master, some of the others aren’t as, to put it bluntly, competent as them. Trouble is, that doesn’t matter. This is what is heartbreaking for the 90% of TV presenters who are competent but unmemorable.
If you want to see “it” personified then watch Brian Cox “sitting on a mountain, smiling at the sky” as he so self-deprecatingly put it. (Note: you may not like Brian Cox, but that doesn’t matter. I don’t like Madonna or Lady Gaga but that doesn’t mean they haven’t got “it”.)
How does that help you?
I don’t want to hurt your feelings but I’m going to assume you haven’t got “it”. Don’t feel bad. I haven’t. My wife hasn’t. Bill Turnbull hasn’t.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t make a living as a TV presenter. And more seriously, doesn’t mean you can’t be fantastically good a presenting ideas in your business life.
Because the good news is that you are just like the 90% of competent TV presenters currently on your TV’s.
In the current world they may have other qualities than their ability to speak.
Here is what Google returns for “Sky Sports Presenters”
So one of the selection criteria appears to be being young, attractive and probably female. So if the criteria were, middle-aged, not terribly attractive and male I would have a shot!
To return to where I began, the difference between what you do and they do is numbers. They talk to millions, you talk to handfuls. How do they manage that if talking to 6 people in a conference room in Barnsley makes me nervous?
The answer is, they follow the exact same process we do for creating any speech or presentation. They, or more likely the production team, work very hard on the concept. They work hard on the ideas. They struggle with the structure. They write scripts. They rewrite scripts. They get scripts rewritten by the boss. They rewrite the rewritten script. They bin that script and start again. They then rehearse. Then rehearse some more and if there’s time rehearse again.
I’m working on an Australian TV series which I won’t name (later when it comes out) but is in the territory of Who Do You Think You Are.
These are scripts which include a huge amount of dialogue which ordinary human beings will say some weeks from now. This is not because we know exactly what they are going to say, but it is vital to understand what they might say so the whole thing can be clearly plotted and structured.
These scripts are being worked on by the Director, the Series Producer, an Executive from the Network and me.
That’s before anyone picks up a camera.
So when a TV presenter stands in front of the camera they are pretty sure that what they are about to do is the result of a lot of people thinking hard.
And you can do that.
Just to be clear. This is how a Tomorrow’s World script arrived on air.
3 minute studio Item. Live text-printer from QE2
I (as Producer) research and write – several days.
First script meeting with Show Producer (30 minutes – 1 hour) Re-write
Second script meeting with Show Producer. 30 mins. Re-write
Script meeting with Editor. (10 mins – 1 hour) Re-write
Script run through with Presenter (20 mins) Re-write
Rehearsal 1 Re-write
Rehearsal 2 Re-write
Rehearsal 3 (if time) Re-write
Dress rehearsal Re-write – yes even after the dress rehearsal….
And to be honest, we didn’t spend enough time considering what would happen if it rained 5 minutes before we went live….
Now as a TV presenter you need to have your wits about you, although I did work with one who seemed totally oblivious (not in a good way) to the danger of being live before millions, but look at the time that has gone into preparation.
What that gives is profound sense that what we are doing is good, that it makes sense, that it delivers on what the audience might want.
Imagine you did that for a presentation.
Finally, to return to star quality. It seems generally it’s something you are born with. But some do seem to creep up on it.
Alan Titchmarsh? How do you explain that?