One of the major obstacles that journalists find themselves facing is the sense of unease that overwhelms them when a piece goes live. ‘Is everything right?’, ‘Will people hate this?’ and ‘Do I dare look at the comments?’ are all common worries.
This somewhat unique journalistic mental phenomena is exacerbated when the piece you’re putting out includes you.
Broadcast journalism isn’t for the camera shy or the meek of voice. Whether your piece is a breaking news report or a fashion feature, radio or video, coming across as a confident professional is important for, firstly, carving out a name for yourself and, secondly, keeping your audience engaged and of the belief that they should listen and respect what you have to say.
It’s true that some people have an aptitude for broadcast. Some have the confidence to get in front of a camera at a moment’s notice and look like they’ve been doing it all their life. However, for those of us – and I include myself here – who don’t feel part of this lucky number, I promise, there is still hope!
Whether you’re in broadcast now or looking to move into our side of the field, these tips and tricks should be helpful in helping you find your voice and become more confident on camera.
Before you even think of the first words you plan on saying, take a step back and think about who your work is going to be seen by. As my fellow Wannabe, Jenni Graham, touched upon recently, commercial radio has a different target audience and therefore requires a different style of presentation. In much the same way, a video piece for a student-based site might not necessarily need a sombre BBC News at 10-style piece to camera.
It doesn’t take much time, but thinking through how you want to present yourself to a target audience before hitting record or going live is crucial if you want to keep viewers or listeners interested.
Think about both tone and – if TV is your platform – body language and if it’s going to jar with your audience. A TV piece for a football story has got to meet audience expectations (like this piece by my WINOL colleague, Liam Garrahan, demonstrates well) that differ to the expectations of those wanting to watch a 5 minute piece on a regional economy.
A problem that often befalls broadcasters when the red light flicks on is that they panic and speed up. Looking back at the first few radio and video pieces I did, I often finds that there are mumbled words and glottal stops (pronounced “glo-uhl”) that I didn’t remember when I was recording the piece.
Speaking clearly is hugely important. Nothing grates like trying to listen to a reporter speeding through their script and mumbling like Bane with a bad chest infection.
The key is, once again, taking a moment to think about what you’re doing. As my lecturer Angus Scott, a presenter for ITV4 and Al Jazeera Sport, constantly tells me: “Slow down and don’t forget to breathe”.
When you record your piece, talk so it feels a little unnaturally slow – you’ll be talking faster than you realise.
Take breaths between lines and leave time for natural breaks. If your script is well written, you shouldn’t be under any pressure to rush.
Another key point is remembering to project. Recording kits have a habit of dulling down whatever is said. If you’re anxious in front of a mic or camera, there’s a good chance your voice will end up sounding frail and wiry.
So sit/stand up straight, talk from your diaphragm and speak like you’re talking to somebody in the middle distance.
The real key to the above is confidence. Having the air of confidence will make you sit up and speak clearly.
Speaking to Beth Krysta Wilson, a journalism student at Leeds Met and presenter for Met TV, she made the point that confidence also makes interviews a lot less awkward for both participants and, crucially, the audience: “The most essential lesson about presenting I learnt on my very first go at interviewing for my uni’s student led TV station. Given I had never experienced being in front of a camera, I was pretty nervous!
“However, the students I was speaking to were even more apprehensive than I was, which meant (feigned) confidence from me was absolutely essential.”
Having good enunciation, projection and an air of confidence will hook your viewers and listeners like little else.
Always know your stories.
If you’re asked to do an in studio discussion with a presenter or a guest, if you have an interviewee pulled in at the last minute or you’re freely talking about something over the airwaves.
If you mess up on air, the chance that someone will notice is always going to jump up. Murphy’s law says so.
If you know every detail of the story you’re covering, you’ll feel both relaxed and confident which will be picked up by the audience – they’ll see you as a professional.
The best way I can stress the importance of this is a little tale that haunts me to this day:
Our US elections programme is about to go out. The gallery director is counting us down to the second we go live. I’m running on a bowl of cereal and about nine cups of black coffee (perhaps my first mistake) and I have a few minutes until I have to talk to our two in-studio guests. I’m one of two in-studio correspondents and I’m feeling surprisingly confident. I’ve spent months brushing up on American policy, both Republican and Democrat. I know Roe v Wade, gun control, swing state histories, economic plans, foreign policy and more. As we’re about to go live and I’m rehearsing my facts and figures, I wonder if there’s anything I’m unsure on.
There is: colleges and universities policy plans.
‘Never mind,’ I think. ‘We might not cover it, the other expert might get the question.’
We’ve been live for perhaps 15 minutes when our presenter asks something like: “So, George, what comparisons could be made between Republican and Democrat higher education policies compared to those of our own government?”
Murphy’s law in action and in all of its wretched glory.
I stumble, checking my notes and just about manage to make it through without going completely blank.
The whole episode lasts for perhaps a minute or so, but to me it felt like an hour.
I didn’t say anything wrong but, looking back at my expression on the raw footage, it would have been clear to everyone that I was almost stumped.
Always know your stories.
For someone born and raised in Cornwall – tractor country – I’m always surprised I’ve never really picked up an accent.
This never bothered me until I began working as a broadcast journalist. I began to question what my voice should sound like.
The days of received pronunciation (RP, or the Queen’s English) are almost gone. It still lives to an extent in the veterans of broadcast; David Dimbleby, Alastair Stewart, Fiona Bruce, Mark Austin, Emily Maitlis and George Alagiah all possess a certain regal style of voice – any regional tones and cadences are faint or non-existent. Now be this through practise or a naturally given skill, I don’t know.
Regardless, there is something which makes RP attractive to a broadcaster.
However, regional accents are becoming more and more common in broadcast. Sport, features and, of course, regional outlets all lend themselves to a faint accent.
Perhaps it is that it helps the audience connect and relate more to the presenter or that regional accents are less intimidating.
An aspect of this debate comes down, once again, to audience. The veterans previously mentioned normally front hard-hitting news programmes and stories. While their voice may suit this, they may appear out of place presenting a Newsround or a regional afternoon news radio show.
Speaking to fellow broadcast Wannabe Hack and Scot, Jenni, about whether accents are a help or hinderance, she said: “I think having an accent can be a bit of both. I’ve always been aware of mine – as a kid I went to dance classes in a rough area and was mocked for my ‘posh’ voice; when I moved to London for my undergrad a few English mates commented on my accent and said that all my vowel sounds sounded the same.
“I got involved in student radio in my second year and, ever since then, I’ve found my accent mellow out. Glasgow actually has lots of different accent variations – I’ve always had quite a soft West of Scotland accent.”
As for tips on working with an accent, Jenni said: “My advice to people who are conscious of their accent would be to work on their diction and practice pronouncing, i.e. enunciating. You feel a bit silly initially but it does help.”
So don’t feel pressured to lose an accent. After all, nothing is going to throw an audience like hearing their sports news roundup presented by a character from Downton Abbey.
Confidence on camera or in a radio booth are skills and, like most others (writing a news article, for example), the way they are improved is regular practise.
Only a select few are happy with the sound of their own voice when it’s played back to them. It seems alien to most – “I don’t really sound like that, do I?”
How you hear yourself speak is different to how other people hear you. I’m not sure on the scientific fact behind this but my radio tutor told me that when you’re speaking out loud, you’re hearing your own voice as it sounds coming through your jawbone – facial acoustics, if you will. This has an effect on what you hear as opposed to what everyone else hears.
The way to get rid of the pain and grimacing that comes with watching or listening to yourself is to do it more often.
The more you listen to your voice, the more you get used to it. From there, you can work out what you need to improve on.
So go through your old stories and programmes and listen carefully for words you mumble, awkward pauses and unusual cadences.
If you have a script, read it out loud a few times or, if you’re in to video, film yourself on a webcam.
It’s a really easy thing to do but it helps a great deal: you’ll quickly learn your areas for improvement.
A trick that I’ve found helps is to find the reports you wish you could have done and voice it yourself.
YouTube offers an almost complete archive of memorable stories, both video and radio, so pick a selection (feature pieces, sports, news) and write the scripts down. You could also use YouTube’s new transcript feature, but I wouldn’t count on it being 100% accurate!
For TV journalists, this technique is really useful because it gives you the chance to learn from those you admire. Not just their voicing but their scripting, presentation and interview styles too.
Record yourself and then play back the two. Look for areas you need to work on, but also look at what the original did and see whether you would have done it differently – personal style is very important in developing a type of rapport with your audience.
After this piece was published, I spoke to Rebecca Pearce for her best bits of advice. Rebecca has worked across BBC in both radio and TV and now lectures at London’s College of Communication.
“Remember you are telling a story. If you are reading a bulletin, each story should be distinct and your voice act as a guide to the listener.
“In simple terms, that means lowering your voice for gravitas if it’s a sad story, smile if it’s a happy one.
“Really think about the meaning of each story – it shouldn’t just sound as if you’re reading a list.”
“Most first-time broadcasters need to slow down and deepen their voice slightly. This doesn’t mean adopting a James Earl Jones bass tone – especially if you’re female! Just use your full, natural range.
“We all get in the habit of talking at a certain pitch. Practise bringing it down a notch.”
“TV reporters have to look straight at the camera and discuss a story with a presenter while receiving instructions from the gallery in their ear. If you want to get into TV, practise talking into the mirror as if it were a camera.
“If possible, get someone else to time you and give you a countdown while you talk for a minute or so about a news item. Try to do it without looking down at notes, or away from the ‘camera’.
“Note any nervous movements you tend to make, like rocking back on your feet, and try to stop them. That will all help if you get the chance of a screen test.”
What tips or tricks would you share with wannabe broadcasters? Do you agree with the above? What broadcast stories or experiences would you like to tell? Let us know! Tweet us @WannabeHacks or comment below!
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