I have a theory about people who are strong on-camera communicators.
If you are one of these people: I can dip you head to toe in plaster- with your arms at your side- cut a few holes for your eyes.. nostrils.. and mouth.. then wheel you vertically balanced on a dolly to face a camera. If you're using the right skills you can rivet your viewers as you share the news with them. Reporting.. anchoring.. it’s all the same. The innate skill they have- or that they’ve learned- are based on 2 mindsets:
The Twinkle of Recognition. It's that warm but strong eye contact that each of us thinks is aimed directly at us. When I watch you on my TV or laptop, I find it hard to believe that you're also speaking to a person down the block.. in a condo in Seattle.. or on a houseboat off the Florida Keys. If we had a focus group of 8 smart people and asked them 'What do you think [the journalist] is really saying? ' - their answers could be as varied as
'Hey- I'm glad you got that haircut.' 'I know Jimmy's expecting to drive alone for the first time today- but it's pretty treacherous out there and you'll have to tell him he can't take the car. ' 'Yes- it's the area your cousin is moving to.' As you're getting ready to speak: you should take a nanosecond to remind yourself of the purpose of your job. You want to share information with people who want their news- and they are choosing at this point in time to get it from a person – vs. from a newspaper or from newsfeeds on a computer screen. It's not about you. It's about us. We're talking back to you.. groaning.. nodding.. calling someone to share something you just told us. We are there and responding.
I remember working with someone who was already terrific at his job- but felt he needed a checkup despite my protests. He nailed his first anchor block- but frowned and shook his head. When I asked what the problem was he said 'I forget why I'm doing this.. I forget who's out there".
House-Popping. It's a subtle thing. It's not about how you're sitting. It's not about what you're doing with your arms or hands.. or how confidently you stare into the camera. It's bearing in mind that each reported street name.. each town.. every crime or accomplishment.. each struggle- hits home for someone or is significant to someone they know. Are they finally fixing those potholes? Is this volunteer job one that your friend might like? Is it sad but lucky that this company is the one you rejected because of the commute? Is this new medical news pertinent to your mom's neighbor? You are House-Popping: Popping in and out of doors- speaking to one person at a time.
So remember: you are not addressing an impressive swath of viewers. You're just having an intimate chat with me.
Previously featured on the Radio Television Digital News Association as the News Coach blog series.