Look Ma! I was on TV! (Please don't watch.)

So I had my first real live TV interview this past week.  Randall Mark (aka Peg Peters, who taught philosophy at TWU for many years) had me on to do a few short interview segments about digital culture and religion on his new show Perspectives at JoyTV10 (formerly OMNI).  So I'm a media prof.  I teach "TV and Culture."  I taught video production and TV studio production at various times in the past.  So this should be no problem, right?

Ah, life.  A mysterious thing happens when you step in front of a camera.  If you know anything about how TV works, you suddenly become aware of the power of

  • recording
  • broadcasting

Yup.  Everything you say can and will be preserved.  And not only that, it will be demonstrated to many people.  The challenges presented by this were magnified (in my mind, anyway) by the format.  It was a live-to-tape freeflow talk show.  In other words, although the show is not broadcast live (it can be edited and packaged) it is taped as if it is live.  And rather than being given a pre-set list of questions, I got a general topic statement a few days in advance (digital culture and religion) and then just a few minutes before, Peg talked over a few talking points in more detail.  In other words, I had to come up with stuff on the fly.  (By the way, for the record: Peg was great.  He was really nice, moved the conversation along well.  I can see why he's now in the media profession.  Very talented professional.)

Things you can do in the classroom, you can't do on camera.  When a student asks a good, challenging thoughtful question, I can pause, look at the ceiling, shuffle my feet, and do a lot of "umm-ing" and "ah-ing."  I know that that doesn't make for a polished performance, but I don't really care, because I'm actually engaged in thoughtful dialogue.  That doesn't work on TV: however irritated you might be with a person doing all those presentation tics in person, you simply won't tolerate it on TV.  We're used to polish in even little interactions on TV.

In other words, I have a whole new respect for talking heads.  I already did hold them in pretty high regard, to be honest, but the experience reinforced just how challenging it is to simultaneously think about detailed aspects of speech presentation and come up with intelligent statements.  In other words, it's hard to talk well and think well at the same time.  At least, it is for me.

To be honest, I think I did okay.  I haven't seen it yet, but in the moment, I felt like I at least didn't make any huge presentation gaffes.  I believe I didn't do much of my typical verbal tics: "um," "ah," "right?" "ok?"  I think I managed to keep eye contact appropriately and didn't look at my feet or the ground or outer space too much.  I think my posture was alright (not as sure about that one--the chairs were weird and I don't have the greatest posture to start with) and my body movement appropriate--not too animated, not too still.  I hope I don't watch the tape and find I was wrong on any of those.  Because to be honest, the content of my speaking wasn't anything to write home about.

I suddenly realized why people often say stupid things on TV.  Keep the lips moving, idiot!  Who cares how smart it is!  There were three segments.  I'm pretty sure that I didn't say anything of value in the first one.  I had a few good ideas and lines in the next two segments.  But my brain felt like it was constantly flailing.  So many mental resources were focused on looking and sounding okay that there was only a minimum of intelligence left to craft statements of some value.  I'm sincerely hoping that when I do watch it, I'll think I was worrying for nothing--but I'm not expecting that.

Anyway, it was a great lesson.  I hope to try it again before too long.  I think that a lot of it has to do with starting to feel comfortable.  Once I do, I won't have to think so much about presentation.  In the meantime, let me share a few of the lessons I've learned:

  1. Start with your summary statement and then elaborate.  If you start with an elaborate thought, you may get cut off before you're done (especially if you're a windy professor) and you'll end up either sounding stupid or sounding like you said something you didn't mean.  This will explain my weird comment about fundamentalist terrorism on the web.
  2. Always have a few bits prepared in advance.  If you've got some smart-sounding lines into the conversation, it bolsters confidence and makes it easier to think.
  3. Practice.  Few people walk straight into broadcasting without a hitch.  The Boom-goes-the-dynamite guy got a job as a sportscaster (and is probably fine at it!) in spite of his famously bad first try.

Oh, and mom, if you're reading this, you really don't need to try and find a tape of my interview.  It's okay if you miss this one...

Last updated Oct. 28th, 2008 at 7:25pm by Kevin Schut