Tips for Journalists to Prepare for Time in Front of the Camera

By Chris Adams

Make the most of your 90 seconds. Don’t stare at the table. Don’t fiddle with your pen.

For print or online reporters appearing on television, there are plenty of things to remember while also concentrating on the story they plan to discuss. That’s why it’s important to plan your TV time in advance as much as possible – and to practice good TV techniques before heading to the studio.

In a session at the National Press Foundation, author and producer Heather Dahl gave Paul Miller fellows practical tips and advice on when and how to respond to invitations to appear on television news or interview programs. Dahl (bio, Twitter) is also a board member and former chair of NPF.

Dahl offered tips on how to dress, how to behave at the studio, how to handle the question and answer process, and the best ways to sit, speak and focus when the red light is on.

One of the most important themes: Make the most of your minute and a half on air. While some TV spots will of course be longer than that, oftentimes journalists are there for a quick hit – on and off, seeking to make one simple point or introduce an important finding.

That means starting out with facts – not preambles.

“The audience isn’t here to know you’re thankful for being on (the) show,” Dahl said.

Other tips:

  • Make eye contact with your interviewer – or maybe look to a point just to the left of the interviewer, so it still appears on camera you are looking at them. Don’t look at the table.
  • Ditch the notes.  “How often to you see people on TV actually look at the darn notes?” Dahl said. “It’s your safety blanket.” One exception: If you need to relay specific numbers, such as from a corporate earnings report.
  • Ditch the pen as well. You’ll probably just play with it.
  • If you slip up, keep on going. Don’t stop and restart, drawing more attention to it.
  • Vary your cadence when speaking and adjust your position so you are facing your interviewer, not the table in front of you.
  • Know when to quit. “Sometimes ‘ums’ are secret ways of telling you you should stop,” Dahl said.
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