Feeling comfortable on television is the first step toward appearing relaxed and in control. Here are some tips that will help.

When you take your seat on the set, check the chair or sofa they offer you. Ask for a cushion to sit on or place behind you if it will make you more comfortable. Does the chair rock, roll or swivel? If it does, you could be in trouble. If nervous energy is transmitted through any of these three motions, you will not look good, and by your rocking and rolling, the audience could become “seasick” or at least distracted. Sit on the front part of the chair, without cutting the circulation behind your knees. Then avoiding the “Lincoln Memorial” position, turn your body about 45 degrees off center, facing toward the interviewer. This will serve to drop your arms to your lap, where they can be used positively for gesturing, instead of white-knuckling the chair. It will also provide a more interesting camera angle for the director to use.

If you were to lean back in the “comfortable” position you might assume at home or in your own office, the effect transmitted to viewers would be one of retreat, withdrawal or boredom. Remember, television magnifies and distorts — partly because of its flat, two-dimensional nature. Leaning slightly forward, toward the interviewer, on the other hand, shows interest and involvement. It says to the home viewer that you can meet the interviewer eye to eye. From a technical viewpoint, it helps the director get a tighter shot when they send your picture over the air. This contributes to a more visually interesting program for the audience.

Also adding to visual interest will be your non-verbaI communication, your body language, your gestures. Nearly everyone gestures in normal conversation. But when they go in front of an audience or a television camera, people tend to diminish gestures to the point where audiences or viewers are left with nothing but talking heads. This is not very interesting for them. Gesturing helps you to avoid channeling nervous energy in other, less attractive ways, such as twisting a ring on your finger, pulling your earlobe, or picking your nails.

Gestures are constructive and communicative. They serve to lubricate your voice and make you more interesting to listen to. Leave your hands lightly, loosely, on your legs with palms turned slightly up so that they are free to gesture when and if you need then to. Hands that grip chair arms or knees, hands that lock together too tightly, hands that anchor one another down, or hands that unscrew rings from fingers, are hands that are not working for you. Tension must be released somewhere. Let it be released constructively, through gestures. You, the program, and the audience will all benefit. Gesturing also allows you to bring your own personality into the interview.

Another point to keep in mind when considering gestures is that the audience at home, looking for something interesting to watch, is not your typical audience, particularly during the daytime. The daytime audience consists largely of shift workers, house workers, pensioners, vacationers and sick people. Television is a visual medium. If all you provide is a talking head, they are likely to switch channels. Before the interviewer will allow that to happen, however, he or she may be forced to use techniques that will unlock your body language.

Source of this material: The Executive Television Workshop, lnc., 36 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036

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