Coaching the “Other” Team

Most guests, like these on CNN, follow the rules: dark suits and ties for men, bold colors for women.

Not all clients of Terry Anzur Coaching Services are journalists! In fact, a growing number of my sessions are for experts in business, politics and public relations. In other words, I coach both offense and defense: asking the questions and answering them. There are two main reasons why spokespersons and analysts come to a talent coach:

  1. They’ve been booked as a guest on a TV or radio show, podcast or webcast.  They want to make the most of the opportunity. Especially if the thought of going live in front of a camera scares them to the core.
  2. They have a message to deliver on their own website, YouTube channel or podcast.

Whatever the reason, here are the main do’s and don’ts:

Eliminate appearance distractions:

For women: Wear solid, bold colors. Avoid patterns and prints, shiny fabrics, and leather. Choose an open neckline that is not too low-cut; v-neck is most flattering — and showing any cleavage may cause the audience to perceive you as unqualified.  Unless you have extremely toned arms, avoid sleeveless; most people look better with at least a small sleeve. Avoid any jewelry that calls attention to itself. Your hairstyle should frame your face and not hide your profile when you turn to the side. If your hair is long enough to hit the microphone clipped to your chest, it’s too long.

For technical reasons, avoid all black or all white. Black causes the camera to iris up, which may wash you out. White has the opposite effect. A fitted black jacket might be OK if you show a pop of color underneath. A skirt or slacks waistband will give you a place to hang the battery pack for a microphone. If you wear a one-piece dress, you may need to invest in a concealed strap for the microphone’s battery pack; some ladies clip it onto the rear elastic of their bra. Learn how to put on your own microphone and hide the wire in the dressing room so that you won’t have technicians sticking their hands into your clothing.

For men: The guys used to have it easy: the TV uniform has long been a dark suit, solid white or light-color shirt, and a bold tie. However, the more accessible world of the internet has launched a more casual trend. Many gentlemen are losing the tie, only to end up looking like they’ve spent the night in jail. Make sure your collar is neatly starched so that it crisply stands up.  Only ONE thing should have a pattern or stripe; if the tie is striped the shirt should be solid, or vice versa. For technical reasons, avoid tiny patterns (which create those annoying rainbows), and don’t wear a white shirt if you think you might need to take your jacket off. Make sure your clothes really fit; alterations make a difference with today’s slimmer-cut suits. Only a few movie stars can pull off the unshaven look; any facial hair must be neatly trimmed.

Make a Strong Impression in the First Thirty Seconds:

In a visual medium, the audience may judge you before you even open your mouth. Practice active listening while the host is reading your introduction: interested eyes, open body language and a pleasant but neutral facial expression. Be the player who can’t wait to get into the game! A good host will state your name and qualifications in two sentences or less and go straight to the first question. Answer it. Do NOT slow down the show with irrelevant banter like “Thank you for having me.” If the host does initiate this type of banter, acknowledge it very briefly with a genuine smile and a thank you.

Don’t Worry About the Camera:

If you are in the studio, just engage in normal eye contact with the host and other guests,  letting the camera find you. If you are doing a remote appearance, just look straight into the camera as if talking to the host. In talent coaching, however, we teach clients how to manage the three-way conversation that includes not only the guest and host but also engages the unseen participant — the audience.

Know Your Story:

No one ever says “tell me a topic” or “tell me a product.” You must have a story that engages the audience with your message. A talent coach can help you define your story with a beginning, middle and end, or crisis, conflict and resolution. Many spokespersons make the mistake of starting out with the resolution, as in: “My product (or viewpoint) is great!” No one will care unless you first establish your relevance to the crisis facing the audience, or the problem to be solved. Then, explore the various aspects of the conflict before arriving at the resolution.

Prepare Your Sound Bites: 

Knowing your story does not mean that you should perform a monologue to tell the whole story from the beginning. During an interview or panel discussion, it should unfold as a series of soundbites. A wise man once said, “Does anyone have questions for my answers?” Stay on top of your message by having some prepared sound bites that are no more than two sentences long and are memorable. Soundbites should convey opinion or emotion. Resist the temptation to launch into a long background explanation of your years of training and details of research. Stay focused on what the audience needs to understand right now.

Anticipate Difficult Questions:

If you are prepared, you will be able to respond a difficult or uncomfortable question. Acknowledge the question that was asked and be honest about the reason you are unable to respond before going on to a relevant soundbite that makes YOUR point. Example: “That’s a great question, but it’s our policy not to comment on an ongoing investigation. What I can tell you is this.” In talent coaching, we also prepare clients to deal with inexperienced or unprepared hosts by knowing how to interview themselves.

Get Feedback:

A talent coach can help you prepare for the “enlarged conversation” of mass media. It’s a tricky balance: technology sucks out a certain amount of the emotion and energy you are putting into your performance. This means that most people need to go a little bit “over the top” to achieve the right energy in front of the camera. On the other hand, there’s no need to shout. The microphone is only 10 inches away from your mouth! And any robotic gestures or verbal tics will be, like, even more annoying, um, on camera than they, you know, are in person. Get feedback in the privacy of coaching and fix the problems before you are in front of a live camera in a real interview.

The Bottom Line:

The best time to get talent coaching is before you need it. One weak appearance can be enough to get you banned from the booker’s guest list forever. With a little bit of preparation, almost anyone can be the engaging guest that every host is eager to book.

To read more about talent coaching for experts and spokespersons, click here. And if you’d like to learn more about my 100% confidential customized coaching sessions for individuals and groups, please get in touch!