Going on TV Can Be Fun, Nerve-Wracking – and a Minefield for Mistakes

By Chris Adams

Just because somebody invites you on their TV show doesn’t mean they’re rooting for you to succeed.

Instead, they’re rooting for themselves – and for good TV. Your role in it could be incidental to the TV show’s own success.

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.

She offered practical tips on clothing and manners, the question and answer process, and the bad posture and verbal tics people might not realize they have.

But the most important thing Dahl emphasized is for journalists to remember that success is all on them. The TV show may have invited them – but it wants information on its terms, not the reporter’s.

“No matter what they tell you, this not a conversation – this is a deliberate dialog,” she said.

Some other tips:

__On your first question, don’t blow it all. Give a concise answer and know when to stop. “You’ve got to get to your point right away,” she said. “Go long enough to get them to ask the next question.”

__Rehearse what you’re going to say. If there are challenging names – such as those of foreign leaders – practice saying them out loud.

__Clothing counts. “It’s the difference between distinguishing yourself as a professional and somebody whose journalism is just a hobby,” she said. You need simple clothing – nothing too bold, no jangling bracelets, no cardigans.

“To wear the watch or to not wear the watch?” she asked. “Don’t wear the watch.”

__Be prepared for last-minute TV invitations by having clothing and makeup at your office, ready to deploy.

__Remember your manners – and remember that everything you do or say could be picked up by a microphone or studio staff. “From the time you walk into that building, just consider yourself on mic,” Dahl said.

__Once on set, sit on the edge of the chair – but don’t swivel it. Sit on your upper thighs, feeling the weight of your feet; if your feet are dangling, lower your seat or ask for a stool to rest your feet on.

__Limit paper on set – only bring it if you need to report precise numbers.

__Finally, be aware of and avoid your verbal ticks, such as starting sentences with “So …” or dropping “like” into sentences.

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