On-camera tips for journalists and communications pros

On-camera tips for journalists and communications pros

Editor's note: Earlier this week, Amanda Kane shared five reasons why media training is still relevant and worth the investment. To continue the media training conversation, Scott Maucione shares detailed tips for journalists, PR pros and spokespeople preparing for TV interviews. Enjoy!

Ever tuned into a news channel and found a guest’s television presence is so bad you can’t look past the awkwardness of the situation to listen to what he has to say? Usually his suit is a little ruffled, he keeps looking everywhere except where he is supposed to be looking and he is stumbling over his words like a toddler in an obstacle course.

In the 21st century, journalists and communications professionals need to be apt at more than just writing. The demands of new media expect a certain level of acumen online, when appearing on television and speaking on the radio.

Below is a list of tips that will keep you from looking like this guy when on the air. Remember, practice makes perfect and a few minutes in front of the mirror before a shoot can build mountains of confidence.

1. Smile. You’re on Camera. When we are not speaking, we relax our faces. However, the camera tends to make faces look more dour than usual in their natural state. Try using a little half-smile when not speaking to keep you from looking like a Debbie Downer. The smile should be just enough to keep the sides of your mouth from drooping downward in a frown. It may look silly in person, but when on television you’ll come off completely normal and not like a scowling grump.  

2. Sit on it. This tip pertains mostly to men, but if women are wearing jackets they should take heed as well. When you sit down, your suit jacket has a tendency to ride up in the back. The effect is you look like Quasimodo on his way to ring the bells at Notre Dame. To save yourself the embarrassment when you sit down, pull the bottom of your jacket downward and sit on the tail. This keeps the suit jacket from riding up to begin with and will keep it from doing so as you move around in your chair.

3. You put your right hand down. It’s completely natural to use your hands when you speak. In fact, our body language plays a large role in the way we communicate.The problem is when you are on news shows, you are usually shown from the chest up. When you move your hands in a chest-up shot, it looks like your hands are flying in and out of nowhere. As hard as it may be, it’s best to keep those hands in your lap unless you are certain the camera is panned out enough. Otherwise it will look like Thing from the Addams Family is making a cameo during your spot.

4. To err is human. We all make mistakes, but on television, as in life, it’s best not to dwell on them. You only have a limited amount of time to make your point. If you find yourself mixing up some numbers or saying the wrong name just apologize, correct yourself and move on. Don’t ask if you can start over, don’t stop, just say, “I’m sorry, I mean X” and keep going.

5. Take time to think. Occasionally, a question will catch you off guard. Sometimes an anchor is taking you down a certain line of questioning and then, bam, a curveball. Don’t sweat it. A good way to buy a few extra seconds to compose yourself is to compliment the anchor. Say something like, “That’s a great question.” You’ve probably noticed the pros saying something to this tune to buy some extra time.

Have other on-camera tips and tricks? Share them in the comments below!

Scott Maucione is a Pentagon reporter for Inside Defense, a division of Inside Washington Publishers. He has been published twice in The Washington Post. He graduated from the University of Maryland in 2011 with a degree in journalism and political science. He also received a Master’s in applied politics from American University in 2013.  

Photo: Video camera via Shutterstock

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