Everyone gets 15 minutes of fame in a lifetime (some more minutes than others). To appear on TV and radio, especially “live” recordings, can be daunting to many.

My first live TV interview was in 1996. I remembered vividly that we just launched the first classroom-based Internet training primer for busy executives, and a morning program producer found it pioneering, since the Internet was only commercialized in 1996. I was shown into a sitting room-like studio, and the male host was very friendly, immediately easing half of my jitters in my first-ever appearance. Fortunately, I was able to breeze through all the questions, and the interview was very well received. Right after the TV interview, many people turned up for our public training programs.

What I realized then was that everyone tends to be nervous in the first few seconds PRIOR to going live (and that goes for public speaking as well). But when you have to deliver the goods during the interview, you immerse yourself in focusing on answering questions, and the jitters disappear.

Actions: Preparation and body language tips

Before you turn up for a TV or radio interview, you need to prepare yourself.

Prepare a full media kit, preferably with VNR (for TV) and ANR (for radio). Have someone deliver the media kit and the video or audio news releases to the station a couple of days before the recording, so that the producer can prepare the footage to decide if they can use it.

If the recording is done at your office, tidy up the location, and make the location look as natural as possible. Some people would intentionally put up blatant corporate posters and banners, thinking that a recording is a good excuse to “advertise”. Never do that! Even if you try, the producer and crew will likely remove them for you just before the recording. Do ask the producer and crew if they like some company signage, and back off if they say no.

If you have to go to the TV studio for recording, ask the producer beforehand if the studio is a virtual set. A virtual set makes use of chromakey backdrops (blue or green screen), where graphics are then laid in to create the illusion of a physical environment. Some studios are still real, but progressively, due to budget constraints, many studios have switched to virtual sets so that they can change the look-and-feel at the flick of a button. If you are going to a virtual set, ask if they are using blue or green screen, and AVOID WEARING THAT COLOR! If you do, you will have an invisible torso on air! Digital studio cameras provide “cleaner” color fidelity than older analog cameras, although not all studios have switched to digital versions. To be on the safe side, avoid wearing clothes with busy patterns, or overly bright colors (such as bright red, yellow, orange, lime green, or even white). Muted colors such as dark gray for suits are fine.

Once you are on air, how you behave will make or break your public image. Some people, especially when they are nervous, gesture wildly and look fidgety or exasperated. In our media training courses, we advise clients to adopt the “executive pose”, which is a rather calm and knowing posture. If you must gesture with your hands, use gentle gestures, and keep your palms open to give an impression of openness. Novice interviewees stare into the studio camera, rather than look at the interviewer. Think of the studio session as a chat with a friend, and focus your attention on your host. When it is not your turn to speak, maintain a pleasant light smile, because the entire attention of the audience is still on you. Try not to laugh loudly. From the body language perspective, do not rub your nose or your chin, since it may imply that you are lying. Do not fold your arms tightly together, which gives the impression that you are indifferent or arrogant (when in fact you may just be cold or nervous).

Many people imagine that because TV and radio reaches out to millions, the medium is the same as speaking on stage. Therefore, they will gesture wildly, talk loudly, and become “larger” personalities than their natural selves. However, the right way to talk and behave is to imagine that you are chatting with a friend in a small cozy room – no need for loud voices and wild gestures, since your friend, merely 2 feet away, can hear and see you very well. Bring the audience into your personal space, rather than attempting to project yourself outwards, and you may be pleasantly surprised by how successful you may become on screen.

These are some writings we did in 2003 (published as “DotZen”, a paperback book that was widely publicized), and we extracted some which are still relevant today, in the areas of branding, marketing, sales, publicity, and business improvement. If we find some time outside that of helping our clients grow and taking a rest, we will try to write some more.

Copyright©2003 Seamus Phan & Ter Hui Peng. All rights reserved.