My mum got very excited when I told her I was interviewing Jedward. Turns out they're one of her favourites ("So charming!"). The last time she got this enthusiastic for a pop act was when she wanted a Lady Gaga CD for her 66th birthday.
But could I handle Jedward? As it turns out, almost not.
When I arrived at the interview venue, the pavement was lined with girls waiting for them to arrive. One mum told me she'd come on the 5.30am coach from Birmingham that morning purely so her teenage daughter could follow Jedward around London.
Sometimes an editor asks you to do something, and inside you scream "Noooooo! How can I posssibly do thaaaaaatttt!!!" but what comes out of your mouth is: "Yes of course, when did you want that for?"
As mentioned previously, at half term we went to a cupcake masterclass in London. And Ready for Ten wanted me to write about it and film a bit of video to accompany the post.
Only problem is, my filming skills are non-existent. In fact more than that, I'm a little bit scared of cameras, an attitude that held me back when I worked in TV. The pressure was on for producers and directors to film their own stuff, but I could never quite work out how to handle the camera and ensure things were in focus. Worse, I didn't want to try.
And in effect this had a negative impact on my career, since it kept me making programmes in studio, where they have professional camera people, rather than out and about making self-shoot documentaries.
These days I am not letting fear of what is basically not that hard to master get in my way.
Plus a lot has changed in terms of how video is created and viewed. First of all, the technology has got simpler and more widely available, the focus takes care of itself and you pretty much only need to press one button.
And the visual landscape has changed. Our eyes are attuned to rough and ready clips we see on YouTube, meaning that video blogs, or vlogs, don't have to look like they were directed by an award-winning pro. It doesn't matter if it was filmed on your phone if the personality and feeling is there.
And aside from that, if you are in the business of providing content to websites, that content is very unlikely to just consist of words - you have to be prepared to find pictures and video as well. Just like your writing style and when and where you use links, moving pictures are part of the language of online writing.
Before we filmed, I read a useful post by Pippa on how to make a video blog. The main challenge when we got to the venue was the fact that it was very crowded and I wanted to avoid filming other people's kids. But because everyone is a film maker these days, there's no real respect for the camera, and random children kept walking past the shot. So I filmed an extra bit on the train on the way home, and this is what we ended up using. It's a bit scrappy, but it's a lot of fun - see what you think. Now I'm itching to do more.
It's all about what to do when you're experiencing pre-show nerves.
What to do if You Feel Nervous About Your TV Interview
Congratulate yourself – you’re a human being with feelings after all. It is absolutely 100% normal to feel a nervous surge of adrenaline before you do a TV interview. Even TV presenters who have appeared on screen every day for years and years still regularly get the jangles.
One of the things that used to amaze me when I was working in TV was seeing some of the most famous faces in the land chain-smoking and practically throwing up with nerves before doing a simple TV appearance to plug their latest venture.
Actors are especially prone to interview nerves, which can be surprising because you’d think that they’re trained to perform. But whilst that’s true, remember that they’re trained to speak other people’s words and can often feel on shaky ground when they’re asked to appear as themselves, with no script.
An actor once told me that daytime talk shows are particularly nerve-wracking for his profession, because that’s what they all watch when they’re ‘resting’ between jobs. He knew all his mates were likely to be scrutinising his performance when he was on This Morning.
Personally, I think it’s kind of comforting to know that even big names get the collywobbles. Think about that the next time you watch someone being interviewed on TV – 5 minutes beforehand they were probably a gibbering wreck in the green room
The kinds of things I’ve seen people use to conquer their TV nerves include: • Alcohol – not as in getting blind drunk, though some do indulge in a discreet tot of brandy from a hip flask. Probably not a good idea for the morning shows though. • Cigarettes • Bach Rescue Remedy • Nail biting • Caffeine • Arguing with partners/agents/production crew • Deep breathing • Repeated visits to the toilet • Illegal Drugs • Walking up and down in the corridor repeatedly • Rehearsing what they want to say
In truth, none of these responses is the definitive one, and I’m certainly not recommending that you take up booze and fags simply to make the passage into TV stardom a little easier. But one of the most useful things you can do to prepare yourself for TV interviews is to take some time now to know yourself and how you best deal with nerves.
One great book that will help you with this is Susan Jeffers’ classic Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway – I recommend reading this book if nerves are the only thing stopping you from going for TV success. And even if you never read it, the title alone is a great mantra to carry with you.
Remember that your nerves will always be more apparent to you than anyone else. They will see a gliding swan, no matter how madly the legs are kicking underneath.
(c) Joanne Mallon 2008
This article is extracted from The Beginner's Guide To TV Interviews. The full ebook can be ordered via this page.
Some thrills and spills today. As we have discussed before, doing something that scares you a little is A Good Thing. And thus I found myself on the scary high waterslide**at the swimming pool today, queueing with the seven year olds. Almost bottled it, then slid off into the unknown. Four times. Back to sedate granny-lengths of the pool next time methinks.
Also quite exciting today to find yours truly quoted in the August issue of Red magazine (the one with the snazzy free beachbag). It's a feature about the benefits of portfolio careers, where you have a variety of jobs throughout your life. As opposed to the same job from 18 till eternity. It's the future, I tell ya. "Zenployment" is apparently the official term, though I can't see that catching on. Mighty Morphin' Career Rangers - that's more like it.
**PS Of course this link doesn't show the actual waterslide I went down. Mine was way steeper. At least it felt like it.
Ah yes, public speaking, the topic, along with driving, which is virtually guaranteed to give me the willies.
A while ago I started a thread on Ecademy about public speaking nerves. I was surprised that after about four years of speaking professionally to groups, I still get a minor case of the heebeejeebees before almost every event. The replies were interesting - many people thought that pre-performance nerves were an essential part of being a good speaker, but some felt that getting nervous was the preserve of the big fat girlie wuss who should just clear off and leave it to the professionals. Though they did put it a lot more politely than that.
Years ago I used to work on This Morning, a UK TV chat show beloved of actors with a project to plug. It was surprising to see many of the most famous faces on TV absolutely crippled with nerves before an interview. Some of the most apparently-confident performers you will ever see may well have been throwing up in a bucket just minutes before going on air. So maybe nerves can be OK sometimes - part of the process of getting your energy going.
This week's speaking engagement also had the distinction of being preceded by a nightmare drive to the venue. Just as I had got up to speed on a fast road, biblical quantities of rain started pouring on to the car. Wow - Driving fast in the rain - well that's gonna feel easy to a nervous novice driver. Thanks a lot, clouds.
Then I got stuck behind a truck which had obviously come straight from the set of Looney Tunes. It was loaded with 20 foot pieces of wood, slimmer logs at the bottom, great big fark-orf redwoods at the top, no discernible ropes keeping it all together. I fully expected to see Wile E Coyote in the driving seat. Imagine being stuck behind that lot in a mini.
I realised we were approaching a hill and my brain started clocking through 'Logs...unattached...slope..slide off...squashed Joanne' . However, all was not lost, because as well as various irrational fears, I also have quite a strong Ridiculo-Magnet and have a history of attracting ridiculous situations. So whilst I was scared of the Looney Tune log lorry, I wasn't exactly surprised at its appearance. And of course everything was fine in the end, as it generally is. Mr Coyote turned left, I turned right, everybody happy.
I have written before about comfort zones, and the importance of challenging yourself in order to grow as a person. That's basically the reason why I put myself in situations like this that scare me. It's good to do something scary. We find out more about ourselves in uncomfortable situations. It shows us that we can do more than we thought we could. And that we're not neccessarily going to get squished by a big log. Not today anyway.
When I worked in TV, I had a run of shockingly bad job interviews. There was the one with the scary BBC lady, whose ultra-assertive hair intimidated me into silence. When she asked a fairly strightforward question about what stories I'd noticed in that day's papers, al I could do was open and close my mouth like the Face of Boe on an off day.
But the most grimly embarassing interview when I professed a passion for a programme broadcast by the TV station who were hiring. Only trouble was, I hadn't watched that particular programme for about 5 years and had just put it down to look good on the application form. I then found myself in the interview praising a presenter who hadn't hosted the show for about 3 years. In fact I believe he may have died. The interviewing panel picked their jaws up off the floor and asked me what kind of TV I didn't like. I casually slagged off the current host of the aforementioned show. And to complete the hat trick, as I was leaving I walked into a stationery cupboard. A job offer was not forthcoming.
Thankfully all of that is a long time ago and these days I prefer to help coaching clients become stonking good interviewees instead. Just think of it as me making a right old pig's ear of interviews so you don't have to.
Here's a great exercise to boost your confidence in interviews. It's similar to the exercise for dealing with fear of pitching. You can deal with just about any fear if you follow it to its logical conclusion. Make it real rather than vague and you can form a plan to deal with it rather than be its victim.
1. Ask yourself - What do I least want to be asked about in this interview? What am I afraid that the interviewer might say? Then write down your 5 nightmare questions (or more if you can think of them. But not less than 5 - it's the magic number*).
2. Next prepare answers to these questions. Write them down. It will help enormously if you can practise this out loud and get someone else to ask the questions. Get your coach, friend or local hoodlum to roleplay the tough interviewer and actually ask you the questions you most dread. This forces you to come up with answers in a safer and more confident space than a real interview.
What this does is convince your subconscious that you can handle whatever questions are chucked at you. Chanes are you won't be asked the questions you most fear. But if you do, you've got a plan and an answer prepared.
* Ok so it's not really magic. That would be 23, but nobody's got 23 most feared questions. If you do, it's probably best to become self-employed.
You will often hear the term 'Comfort Zone' bandied about by personal development types, usually with the implication that staying within your comfort zone is very definitely Not A Good Thing. The theory goes that in order to grow and stretch as a person, you need to step outside your safe zone and face up to your fears. And don't be fooled by the name, a comfort zone doesn't neccessarily have to be a comfortable place, it's just the place or behaviour you habitually retreat to. So this could include negative, self-sabotaging behaviour. On the surface you may not like it, but it's what you know so you keep doing it.
Stepping beyond your comfort zone can be scary, but also immensely rewarding. We find out most about ourselves from unfamiliar situations, when we have to draw on resources we never knew we had. So if you're thinking 'I'm not the sort of person to do X', then probably one of the most useful things you can do is to go and give X a try.
When I am coaching journalists and PRs, one topic which comes up fairly regularly is a fear of pitching to editors, and especially of picking up the phone and *GASP* actually speaking to an editor. The best way to nail down a fear is to take it to its logical conclusion, so in this situation I would ask
1. What are you secifically afraid of that might happen when you call? What's your worst case scenario? How would you deal with that?
2. And what is your best case scenario? How would you deal with that? (People often have unacknowledged fears around success - that they might have to take a risk and actually prove they can do the job)
The point of approaching the situation like this is that whatever transpires is highly unlikely to be the worst or best case scenario - more likely it'll be any one of a million other scenarios in between. But when you have mentally prepared yourself for the two scariest options, it will boost your confidence and convince your subconscious that you can deal with whatever happens. You've already faced up to the worst.
Of course, you can never be 100% prepared for every conceivable outcome, and in any case you don't need to be. It's not always a bad thing to take a flying leap before you've grown your wings. Sometimes in life you have to just go for it regardless of the ultimate outcome. I am tending to think more and more that life is often about the ride rather than the destination.
One point that can emerge from the journalists who fear pitching is that often their worst option is that they will get a 'no' from the editor. But by not asking in the first place, effectively they've already got a 'no' - an editor can't say yes to you if you've never approached them in the first place. So you may be dealing with your worst case scenario already, without even knowing it.
Doing something a little bit scary to challenge yourself every day is probably the best way to keep growing and learning. Speaking of which, I'm off for a drive. Stay indoors for the next half an hour, people of Brighton.