How to be a TV talking head
I’ve spent half my adult life appearing as a talking head on various TV channels, so by now I have the art of on-camera gabbing down to a T and know just what to do, what to avoid, and whether to watch the clip afterwards with one eye covered.
Live appearances on cable news are way different than pre-taped ones (like “101 Celebrity Meltdowns” or “The Fab Times of Lindsay”), so I’ll separate them in offering my unsolicited but extremely useful advice to anyone brazen enough to want to join the unpaid talking head population.
For live shows:
*Have your first answer ready. The worst thing imaginable on live TV is dead air, so you want to avoid ever pausing to think or stammering stuff like “Um, uh…” If your first answer doesn’t match the first question, then say it anyway—and make it match the question.
*Speak in four or five sentences at a time, trailing off when you’ve sensed that you’ve had your say on that particular subject and it’s time for someone—anyone–else to speak. Don’t be a monosyllabic caveman, but don’t monopolize the whole show either. Find a happy medium.
*Be peppy, but not perky; animated, but not obnoxious. Be a brighter, livelier version of yourself—but still be yourself and not some phony android that’s sucked out your soul. Got that?
*And don’t interrupt the host–ever. They won’t have you back. I swear.
For pre-taped shows:
*Keep up the energy the whole time, even if they grill you for 90 minutes. (And they do.) You never know which bites they’ll end up using, so you have to make sure every one of them is good enough to air, just in case. This is a psychological nightmare, but if you can’t deal with it, they’ll gladly get someone else.
*Incorporate the question into the answer. If they ask, “Why is Lindsay still fabulous?” don’t say “Because she’s a terrific actress.” Say “Lindsay is still fabulous because she’s a terrific actress.” The interviewer won’t be heard in the final show, so you have to present fully rounded thoughts that can stand alone. Again, it’s a ‘mare, but it’s part of your (again, nonpaying) job. And when they flinch at that answer, just keep going.
* Feel free to ask “Can I try that one again?” or to say “I’d rather skip that question since I don’t really know much about the subject.” The glory of pre-taping is that you can actually negotiate stuff like that, whereas on live TV, it would be instant ratings death and career suicide.
* Oh, and whether it was pre-taped or live, do watch yourself with both eyes afterwards. You’ll learn from it.