When you see someone like Oprah or Anderson Cooper on television, it's easy to think that they're naturally talented speakers and interviewers. After all, the ease with which they interact with their guests, and share ideas on stage, is rare. But what if it's not all talent? What if the real secret to being that comfortable comes down to learning the right techniques and practicing them over and over?
Emmy nominated TV producer Rachel Hanfling has worked with some of the biggest names in television. She has spent 20 years finding and nurturing guests, from survivors of domestic violence to power players like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Julia Roberts, Vera Wang and Ryan Seacrest. And in that 20 years, she's learned that it's never just talent that makes you a great guest. There's a formula.
What's the secret to acing a TV interview? Hanfling shares her best TV tips with us.
What is the one thing that most people get wrong when preparing for a TV appearance?
There are many factors, but if I had to pick one, it's that people don’t realize how much the right kind of preparation will serve them. It is not about memorizing lines. It's about becoming so comfortable with your message that you're able to relax and engage in the moment—that’s when you are a great guest.
What advice can you give a small-business owner who wants to get on a local or regional TV programs?
I have what I call the "5 Ps" of building a media presence:
1. Prepare. Become the #1 expert on how you present your message. Ask yourself what’s authentically most promotable about you. How are you different? How can viewers benefit from your expertise? How’s your pitch relevant?
2. Practice. Rehearse your delivery. The more you practice, the more you’ll be able to relax and be real when your moment arrives.
3. Persistence. Creating a media presence is both a sprint and a marathon. Rejection is part of the journey. Don’t be discouraged.
4. Positivity. Be your #1 cheerleader—enthusiasm is attractive.
5. Presence. Trust your preparation and practice—then let it go when the camera turns on. The best guests are present in the moment.
You have worked with some amazing people who have famously great TV presences. What was one thing you learned from watching them prepare or deliver great performances that surprised you?
What people don’t realize is that while natural ability is clearly a factor in success, so are years of preparation. Knowing that should be a huge relief and inspiration to anyone looking to build a TV presence. You can significantly improve with the right training and practice. Of course, you must have the credibility to back up your expertise. You can’t skip that.
One of the things you do amazingly well is help narrow down a message into a more simplified form. What's your advice for a small-business owner who wants to simplify his or her message, but doesn't want to lose its meaning or "dumb it down"?
This is my favorite question. When you share your message, your goal should be to connect with your audience—and that’s the same if your audience is one person or millions. You have a short time to capture an audience’s attention. In order to take them where you want them to go, you must meet them where they are. You don’t need to share every nuance—that’s for later. Initially, you want to share the right information to resonate with your audience. That’s not dumbing anything down. That’s the smartest approach possible. If you focus on learning this skill, over time it becomes instinctive.
Lots of people have theories on this one, but I'd love to hear your take on it ... what makes Oprah so good on television, and what can anyone learn from her?
Authenticity! Oprah connects so strongly to her audience because we sense she is giving her true self. If you want to develop a successful and sustained media presence, you must learn how to best present your own authentic self and brand.
Read more articles on marketing.