6 Rules for Acing Your First TV Appearance
Get it right the first time and you won't need luck to get invited back.
Finally, all the PR efforts have started to pay off. Either that overpriced agency you hired finally delivered, or you’ve been wise in your use of Help a Reporter Out. Either way, at the top of your inbox is an email from a show producer, asking if you’re free to come on and discuss your entrepreneurial lifeblood sometime on Thursday. (It’s now Tuesday at 4pm.)
Here’s a roadmap of what to do, from the second you open that email, until you get the “and you’re clear” signal in your on-air earpiece.
These tips come from over 20 years of “on-air” experience, from major cable news outlets to national 11pm nightly newscasts, to everything from The Today Show, Fox and Friends, The CBS Early Show, CNN’s New Day, to Good Morning America, to breaking news on stations across the country to around the world. I go on TV around twice a week, and I truly enjoy it.
Here’s how I do it, and how I consistently get called to do it again.
Rule One: You have a new top priority.
The second you get that email, nothing is more important in your life until the segment is complete.
If you want to get on TV, more important than knowing your content, is proving to the show producer that you can be trusted because 99 percent of the time, this is live television. You know what doesn’t work in live television? Being late. Subway delays? Mistaken schedules? None of that. There is nothing more frustrating for a producer than confirming a segment with a guest who is unable to show.
Want to be invited back? Show up early. I get to any segment on average, an hour in advance. Ever try to get checked in through FOX News Security in under 10 minutes? Good luck. Show up early. Check in, get through security, get into makeup, then take the last half hour to get centered, go over your talking points and breathe deeply.
Already got plans for when they want you on air? Reschedule them. If you say "no" to the media, the chances of them calling you again drop massively. Besides, if you’ve never postponed a meeting with the line “I need to postpone our meeting, CNN just called me to go live in two hours,” you have no idea how great that is to say.
Rule Two: On TV, shorter is better.
No matter how long you think you have on television, trust me -- you have less.
Television news is about short, quick bursts of information. Yes, the soundbite. Your job is to get your message across in quick, understandable bites. How to do that? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall, my friends… Practice, practice, practice. You should start preparing as soon as you decide you want to go on TV. Prepare with friends, prepare with co-workers, prepare in the mirror. You need to have your talking points down so well that you could say them upside down in a vat of beer, and still be 100 percent on message.
Take an improv or an acting class. It’s worth every penny. Remember that in the end, you can say as much as you can, but only in the time you’re given. Do the homework and make each word that comes out of your mouth count.
Rule Three: Never deviate from your talking points.
Whether you’re being called on to talk about your own company, or being called upon as an expert on an industry, your job is to provide information. An easy way to never get called back is to not know that information.
Be as informed as possible, no matter what you’re talking about. Spend the last half hour before you go on doing a quick scan for any breaking news that could affect your talking points. When they call you in, double check that your ear-piece (IFB) is working, and that it’s secure. I can’t tell you how many times an earpiece that felt secure immediately comes out the second you start talking on air. Push that sucker in there.
Make sure your phone is off. Not just silenced, but off. The ones who have their phones on vibrate always look like they’re having little seizures as they’re being interviewed.
Rule 3.9: This is live and don't forget it.
The mic is always hot, the camera is always on and the is never, ever, ever, any “off the record.” Don’t believe me? You don’t have to. Here’s former President Reagan to prove my point for me.
Rule Four: Whatever they ask, answer with your talking points.
No matter how far off center the conversation may go, or how obtuse the questions seem, you can always bring it back to your talking points with one simple trick: The transfer. Essentially, you’re transferring whatever question they ask you to the answer you want to give. Here’s how it works:
“So, Mr. TV Guest, your product is a month late to market. How are you planning on appeasing the thousands of pre-order customers before Christmas?
“Well, Mr. News Person, the key here is trust. Our customers put their hard-earned money into trusting our product. What kind of a CEO would I be, and what kind of company would I be running, if we were to ship an inferior product? The ProductMaster 5000, which will be shipping in 45 days, has been factory proven to have the best thingamabobs, the best whooziwhatsis, all with the fastest chipset the industry has ever seen. It will literally be like nothing else that exists on the market today. We choose to reward the trust of our early supporters with a product that will make them the envy of anyone who has ever listened to music.”
In three sentences, the story was transferred from “our problem is this,” to “our solution is this with the best product in history.” Instead of focusing on the negatives, the story transferred to the positives, and that’s how the question was answered. More importantly, that’s the soundbite that’s going to stick in the minds of the listeners and viewers.
Rule Five: Remember your manners.
As soon as the segment is over, and you’ve been cleared to stop smiling, wait for someone to come up and disconnect you. Once the microphone is off your jacket, and the earpiece is no longer connected to your collar, you’re free to grab your stuff and leave. Before you do, though, thank your host for having you on. If you see your producer, thank them as well. If you don’t, email them as soon as you’re able and thank them, as well as reminding them that you’re always available for them, and hope to be back.
Corrolary to the rule: Before you go on air, feel free to tweet and post about your upcoming segment, tagging the channel, host, or show. The social directors for the news media watch and notice these things. If you have an audience, it’ll help bring you back, as well.
Oh, remember to take off the makeup.
Rule Six: Critique and improve.
Watch the segment with your PR team, your marketing person -- or even an unbiased friend -- to figure out what you do well and practice doing more of it, and figure out what you didn’t do well, and practice improving at it. Those who keep getting invited back are those who practice and improve.
The media loves trusted sources, people on whom they can rely and guests who say the right things. Go on TV once, do well, and you’ll be added to their Rolodex. Repeat the process a few times, and you’ll enter the lexicon of guests who get called over and over.
And that’s the best part of this whole thing.
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