Posted by JC on August 10th, 2010
I’ve met many brave men and women in my life. People who have battled with pain with courage, handled crises with strength, face death with dignity. The bravest were those who were afraid, because that brings its own special battle.
In our work we deal almost daily with people who fight fear of quite a different kind – fear of the microphone, fear of the camera, fear of the studio. We watch them go pale or mottled, struggle for breath, try to perform with hearts pounding so loudly they can barely hear. That fear is just as real – and sometimes so intense it’s paralysing.
Most people are nervous in front of the camera. In fact, most broadcasters will admit to occasional ‘nerves’. The difference is that broadcasters welcome them; that’s what gives them the edge, the heightened performance they want.
The trick is that they know how to control nerves and how to use them. Broadcasters, actors, public speakers and performers can convert that energy into excitement, into a high that carries them through their performance and can leave them exhilarated at the end of it.
Most people who appear on camera can be taught how to do the same. Part of it is psychological, but the vital component is learning and practising the techniques that give you the physical control to beat that fear into submission.
I spend quite a lot of time working on these techniques with our clients: the psychological tricks, the exercises, the physical control. It’s not an overnight fix. Like any technique it requires practice. But it can be done, and reasonably quickly – by most people.
I say most people, because there are just a few who will never be able to face the media. Communications staff often recognise this, but have difficulty breaking the bad news to their bosses. We don’t have any difficulty with this, because we know that for people with paralysing nerves it’s actually often the good news! They know they can never give a credible performance, and when we sympathise and confirm this, they are invariably relieved and delighted to appoint a more relaxed spokesperson.
Sometimes the Big Cheese is happy to be a mouse when it comes to the media.
I used to be a wreck when I had to get up in front of people and speak at them. That’s not true – I felt like a wreck. What actually happened, and it took some time for me to notice, that it was all internal. The audience always thought I was doing fine. But I never liked it.
But as a musician I also have to get up and sing at people. And I did it more and more, and although I’m never going to win the Lexus (I’m too old, for one thing!), I make a good fist/gob of it. The first few times I did a solo in a big venue my left leg got the shakes, but from the waist up I was fine. I asked my wife afterwards, and she said that she didn’t notice. Lightbulb time!
The audience, unless you’re being formally examined, isn’t there to criticise you. They expect you to do well, and generally you do.
It’s very hard to convince people of that. It was hard to convince me, but now I know.
This isn’t your main point but it is implicit and something which helps fuel my irritation with journalists and broadcasters. Yes you are trained and appear regularly. Your victims on the other hand appear occsionally and as you say are frequently very nervous. For many broadcasters that just contributes to the orgasmic thrill to be derived from putting them through the mincer. The point after all is less about elicting information than about creating news by creating drama; whether it be by way of humiliation, indignation or, very rarely, the clash of ideas.
Yes you are trained and appear regularly. Your victims on the other hand appear occsionally and as you say are frequently very nervous.
And this is why interviewees often need help and training. You wouldn’t step onto a tennis court and play against Federer (or even Billy Jean King!) without taking a tennis lesson.
Why would you put your reputation and organisation at risk by ignoring the fact that you’re an amateur up against a professional – and one who is not on your side?
A well-written article and precisely articulated, so that you get the message without any kind of preachiness.
Fear of the camera, does give one a heighten sense of awareness and consciousness. Too much fear can be debilitating and confidence-robbing. On the other side of the equation, over- confidence results in self-immersion, over-
familiarity, conceit and indulgence. It’s determining the correct calculus by getting a balanced amalgam from both sides of the equation.
Confidence and Humility need not only to be adaptive, but also inter-configured when the occasion calls for it. (Such as, an interviewer being sensitive to an interviewee’s changing demeanour during the course of an interview etc).
Personally, I find that taking deep breaths before getting ready to speak helps. And keeping sentences a bit shorter than in a normal conversation helps as well.
I’m not an expert but I am in front of the camera a lot.
I remember reading a (most uncharacteristic) rant by John Campbell, in a magazine article a few years ago, in which he sounded off against the practise of media training. He said it gave interviewees an unfair advantage (or words to that effect). I remember thinking: It’s okay for you, John, as sitting in front of live TV cameras is just “another day at the office” for you – but for your interviewees, it is often a first or occasional appearance, and their entire career may be on the line depending on how they come across.