In January this year I was lucky enough to be one of 30 women selected to take part in the first of the BBC’s ‘expert women‘ training days. This was followed up in February with an advanced training day. The reasons for the training days have been covered by many different writers, such as here, here and here. Instead of getting into why the training took place, I thought I’d talk about what I did on the days and how it’s helped me since.
The first training day was really about becoming familiar with the process of being on the television and radio. We spent half the day facing down a camera lens. Getting over the fact that it feels a bit uncomfortable to be sharing your enthusiasms with a giant mechanical eye is something that anybody working on TV will have to get used to. I had some previous experience of being a ‘talking head’ which helped, but in that you’re always having a conversation with a real person who’s job is to set you at ease and get the best out of you. The transition during the day was for me to move from feeling like I was talking to a piece of technology, to chatting to somebody sat at home on their sofa. I’ve still got some way to go, but the idea that you’re having a fairly natural conversation seemed a good thing to hold on to. Of course there isn’t much that’s natural about being on camera, but that’s the illusion to convey. We did a similar training session for a radio studio interview. Again the message is quite similar. Once I forgot that there was a microphone in front of me, and concentrated on the conversation going on around me, things became much simpler and much less intimidating. Having said that being natural is important, I’m now going to say something a bit contradictory.
One of the key messages I took home from the advanced training day was about finding the ‘broadcast you’ – the version of yourself that you present when broadcasting. How, I hear you ask, can that be the same as being natural? We spent some time discussing this in a session on voice coaching. The point was made that when we talk to kids, we affect the way we speak. When we arrive at an interview we present ourselves differently to when we’re in the pub with our oldest friends. When we talk to our parents we are different to when we talk to our partners. We (hopefully) still manage to be natural in all these scenarios – so the trick is not to invent a new version of yourself for broadcasting, but to know how to present yourself so you come across best. On the first training day we practiced being ourselves plus 5% when we were in front of a camera. This felt really strange to me, but when I watched myself back it came across much better than when I was not upping my game. I don’t fully understand how this works, but I suppose when we’re flattened out on a TV screen lots of those little cues we give people in everyday conversation are lost to the viewer, so we need to work a bit harder to get them across.
All the stuff I’ve discussed above falls into the ‘practice makes perfect’ camp – I’m sure if I had the opportunity to talk to a camera I would have eventually come to similar conclusions on my own – of course it was great to be fast tracked to those conclusions! However, what the training days did offer that I could not have got any other way was unprecedented access to key players in the broadcasting industry. Through networking sessions, panel discussions and the fantastic opportunity to pitch ideas to producers and commissioners I was in a really privileged position. We were given some hints and tips on pitching ideas by the fantastic Frank Ash before being plunged into action. I had some really great feedback for my idea, and I think some of my fellow experts also had some real interest for theirs too. If I had to choose only one part of the experience to keep it would have to be the opportunity to try out my ideas on such knowledgeable people. I’ll be following up with some of the contacts I made, so hopefully will get to put some ideas into action. Watch this space, there will hopefully be a raft of new female talent appearing on your screens soon.
Following the advice from some of the people I met during the training days, I put together a show reel. Take a look and let me know what you think:
You can see all the auditions from the successful expert women on the BBC’s Expert Women youtube channel.