A TV guide for entrepreneurs

A few coaching tips to avoid on-air errors

An appearance on local or national television is a great opportunity for a small business owner to get broad exposure and highlight his or her expertise at no cost. But if something goes wrong, it could cost you as much as what you might gain.

Anything can happen-and often does-when you’re doing a television interview. Although it takes several tries before you really get the hang of facing a television camera, with the proper training you’ll soon learn to “engage and educate an audience with confidence, even though you may only have a few seconds to relay your key messages,” says media consultant Sylvia Cordy, president of Cordy & Co., a public relations and training firm with offices in Denver and Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Media training can range from a list of reminders about what to say, wear and do, to intense role-playing where you are trained to answer likely questions, videotaped and critiqued. The critique involves analysis of your body language, overall appearance and comfort level, as well as the content of your responses.

Renée E. Warren, a partner at Noelle-Elaine, a New York-based media consulting firm that also does event planning, publicity and video production, typically trains her clients in eight hours, but will keep a close eye on them for up to eight weeks if necessary, critiquing their performances and offering guidance along the way.

Cordy and Warren share their tips for polishing your on-air performance:

  • Overcome your nervousness with relaxation techniques such as rolling your neck, swinging your arms and stretching before going on. Learn to breathe deeply, stand or sit naturally and stay loose.
  • Dress conservatively. Select a dark suit with a solid color shirt or blouse. Avoid flashy, noisy jewelry and bulky items in your pockets. A light dusting of powder eliminates shine and 5 o’clock shadow. And make sure your collar, tie, scarf or necklace is straight. (A trick Warren suggests is to sit on the hem of your jacket to keep it from wrinkling or bunching.)
  • Look people in the eye. Avoid shifting your eyes, casting them to the ceiling, closing them or blinking too often. If you’re seated, lean forward. Avoid too many hand movements. Look like you’re concentrating intently on the speaker: don’t smile or laugh inappropriately, or exhibit any other behavior that signals tension.
  • Use the “sound-bite style” (15 seconds or less) of stating, explaining or supporting your position. This way you generate a powerful image and evoke an emotional response that serves your purpose.
  • Connect your messages by using phrases such as “and that is why I think…” to bridge or segue to a point you want to make. Flagging, such as saying, “this is the main point,” lets the interviewer or reporter know that you’re about to make an important statement. Numbering or ranking, “There are three points to remember,” helps ensure all your points are made and used. Hooking with a statement such as “I’d like to explain that point in more detail,” leads the reporter to more fully address your issues.
  • Avoid sounding like
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