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Help! I'm Going to Be on TV!
by Barbara Florio Graham

Return to Public Speaking · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

The "free" in freelance is one of the most attractive aspects of being a writer. When you work from home, you can sit at the computer in sweat pants, a t-shirt and your bunny slippers. You don't have to worry about how you look, and if the words don't come easily and quickly, you can take your time to find just the right expression.

So panic is common when writers are asked to appear on an arts segment of a local television program, or to be interviewed in connection with a new book or a conference they're helping to organize.

After many years as a PR consultant, I find that writers tend to fall into one of two categories:

There are the writers who proclaim that they are free spirits, not constrained by other people's rules. These are the poets who appear at public readings with scraggly hair, bare toe poking out of sandals, faded jeans with fashionable tears at the knees. No wonder the public doesn't take them seriously as professionals deserving of proper payment for their work!

The other group are more common. Finally liberated from an office environment, they obsess about the fact that they no longer fit the stereotype. "Do I have to wear a tie?" the men ask. "My old office clothes no longer fit!" exclaim the women.

Often, the focus is on how you look rather than what you're planning to say.

Words Are More Important than Clothes

So let's take first things first. You need to prepare a "script." It's absolutely essential to prepare some key remarks, and rehearse them thoroughly.

If you don't have an agent, enlist a colleague or close friend who admires your work, and ask them to describe what sets you apart from others in the field. Skim through favorable reviews of your work for additional statements. Don't be afraid to describe yourself in positive terms; the most glaring mistake most individuals in the arts make in introducing themselves is to undervalue their importance. Remember that the first few seconds make the most lasting impression. For that reason, you must have a clear, positive statement to make right away, followed with your most engaging smile.

If you begin with an apology, make some kind of excuse for why you "don't belong" on the program, or claim that your work is less than wonderful, the audience will be turned off before you get a chance to show them what you're capable of.

But Clothes Are Important Too...

Because another person, usually the host, another guest or a news segment, will be the focus of attention at the beginning of the program, the first impression you make on the audience will be primarily visual. For this reason, you must give a lot of thought to dress and body language.

Artistic individuals tend to extremes of dress. Either they pay little attention to their clothing, dressing in all black or in jeans and a T-shirt, or they lean in the opposite direction, towards unusual and elaborate costumes. Neither of these present you at your best on television.

If your "working uniform" tends to be jeans or drab colors, you should invest in one or two special pieces to wear just in case a TV producer calls. They needn't be expensive. In fact, no audience, whether on TV or at a distance from the stage, can tell if you're wearing silk, wool or polyester. What they will notice is its color, whether it fits you properly, and if it appears rumpled.

A man who is thin will look great in a solid-color long- sleeved shirt and dark pants, either with a tie in a solid shade close to the shirt color, or no tie and just the top button open. Avoid the polo shirt or t-shirt, but if you want to express your creative inclinations, an attractive vest can be a great accent.

The heavier you are (male or female) the more you need a long jacket. Whatever you wear underneath will fade into the background, particularly if it's dark.

Because TV lights are hot, and nervousness makes most of us perspire, select a light-weight jacket in a fabric that doesn't wrinkle, and wear something under it that is cool and absorbent.

Women can express artistic flair in bright colors, unusual color combinations, or a single accessory or piece of jewelry. Make sure your shoes are polished (avoid running shoes) and match sox or hose to your slacks or skirt.

Before deciding to wear a skirt, consider the view the audience will have of your lower body. Do you want your legs to be a focal point? Maybe you do, but more likely you be more comfortable in a longer, fuller skirt that doesn't need to be tugged and tucked in place!

Women should only wear boots with slacks long enough to cover all but the toes and heels, or with a mid-calf skirt. A man in boots looks ridiculous on TV unless the boots are the same, dark color as his pants.

Colors for both sexes to avoid include bright red (unless you have an excellent complexion), white (which creates too much contrast for TV cameras), and "muddy" colors, such as khaki, mustard, avocado green, and brown.

Women have more choice of color than men. Most shades of blue are flattering to everyone. Other good choices include coral and aqua. Those with dark hair look good in bright green, deep burgundy, and bright purple. Blondes can look wonderful in gold or rust. Grey hair requires a strong focal color that isn't too harsh: medium blue, violet, soft rose, and turquoise work well.

Don't refuse TV make-up. The brights lights wash out facial color, and make even the healthiest person look pale and ill. On a small local or cable TV station (where make-up is usually not provided), women should use a foundation make-up in a neutral shade, blusher, clear red lipstick, a matte grey or taupe eyeshadow, and mascara. Men should shave with a blade, apply after-shave (which removes excess oil), and consider a light application of pressed powder in a neutral shade to oily areas of the face, as well as to high foreheads and any bald spots.

In addition to what you say, and how you dress, don't forget body language. The best way to avoid distracting movement is to sit well back in your chair, cross one leg over the other (at the knee or at the ankle, not one ankle over the opposite knee), and rest your arms either on the arms of the chair or on a table. If your hands tend to move nervously to your face, hair, or pockets, give them something to do. Take a "prop" with you to hold: a book, notebook and pen, meaningful object relating to your work, or something to show the audience. Remove all temptation from your grasp: rings you tend to twirl, bracelets, change from your pockets, dangling necklaces.

Just before you "go on," stretch your neck toward the ceiling, open your mouth in a big yawn, and consciously lower your shoulders. This will relax you, open your throat, and help you appear composed.

Then, smile!

Find Out More...

Getting on the Air - Brian Jud

Handling TV Interviews, by Vera Marie Badertscher

How to Appear Your Best on TV, by Brian Jud

The Seven C's of Media Appearances - Brian Jud

Copyright © 2001 Barbara Florio Graham
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Barbara Florio Graham has won awards for fiction, non-fiction, humor and poetry in contests in the U.S. and Canada, and has written hundreds of articles for magazines and newspapers across North American and abroad. The author of Five Fast Steps to Better Writing, Five Fast Steps to Low-Cost Publicity and Mewsings/Musings (co-authored with her celebrity cat, Simon Teakettle), Barbara has also contributed to 21 anthologies in four countries. Barbara's popular online course, Tapping Your Innate Creativity, is given once a year. FInd out more at her website, http://www.SimonTeakettle.com.


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