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Television Interviews - It's all in the preparation!

by Merry Bruns
CASC Director

Television appearances can strike terror into the heart of even the most seasoned veteran. Whether live or taped, being "on camera" gives a sense of the immediate like no other medium. Awareness that the camera's "rolling" starts a body-clock ticking that surrounds everythings with a sense of urgency - even if the show is taped, and could easily be reshot.

It's a world of its own, with rules and conventions much like any world's, and its strangest limitations are often technical. Time constraints, commercial breaks, multiple guests on a show, all contribute to the sense of urgency, and demand total preparation by the participants.

If you have the fortune (or misfortune!) to appear on a television talk show, come prepared.

Before the TV session-

  • Get directions beforehand for when and where you will show up for the show.

  • Allow plenty of time-never let yourself arrive ruffled! Arrive in time to be briefed on what will be happening on the show.

  • Always ask immediately whom you're to talk with on the set - there might not always be someone there to meet you when you arrive.

  • Be extremely punctual.

Preparation

You are there because you're known to be an "expert" in some area.

It's expected that you'll know your subject well enough to present it in the simplest way possible.

For preparation, this could mean outlining your main points on index cards, stating what you know in one sentence, if possible. If you're asked a question, you'll be prepared with a quick answer - on your terms.

Television interviewers often delight in trick questions-and the power to control your answers lies in your preparation.Think up examples that illustrate your main points briefly and succinctly-you will often be asked to "tell us what you mean by that"- be ready!

What do I wear??

Wear clothes that make you feel professional, comfortable, and friendly. Find out in advance (ask!) what colors they'd like you to wear or avoid.

Avoid black, red, and white, or loud/big prints, as many TV monitors don't handle these well.

Don't be afraid to help the makeup/hair person who prepares you to go on-camera; let them know what makes you feel comfortable, but accept the fact that they know what works best under TV lights, and just go with it.

And Now??

You've prepared your thoughts, you know your main points - and you can state what you want to say concisely and interestingly.

Talk with the interviewer if possible and try to get a feel for the direction they wish to take .

Take control by learning as much as you can beforehand so that you have a general sense of what to expect.

It's so tense!

Television's atmosphere is "hurry up and wait". No matter how much lead time there is before taping/broadcast, the tension and sense of urgency can throw you.

Stay calm-go where you're directed-never be afraid to ask questions. Watch closely, pay attention.

About books...

If you're talking about a book you've written, always bring a copy with you-never assume anyone has read it beforehand, even if they should have!

Always mention the title of your book at some point during the interview-the interviewer might not remember to.

The key is, be prepared.
Helen Fisher, who brings years of experience on-camera to her work as a physical anthropologist, stresses over and over the value of knowing how to state what you want to say in simple terms, with great impact.

You'll be memorable, and viewers will feel you know your subject.

It's another culture - with its own standards and rules - but you can work with it by:

  • knowing your subject well enough to state it simply and jargon-free

  • enjoying your subject enough to have fun with it, and the interviewer, on-camera

  • and above all, preparation in advance.
And have a great time!

Merry Bruns spent many years as a TV actress in NYC, and finds adapting the needs of television to the special requirements of anthropology a great challenge.

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Email: Merry Bruns, Dir.
Washington, DC

Copyright 1998.CASC.
Merry P. Bruns
Washington DC
All Rights Reserved.
Feb .1998