November 09, 2005
Carren Ziegenfuss Gets It Right On MSNBC: A Reverse Fisk
Project Valour -- IT is raising funds for a worthwhile project. Carren Ziegenfuss, wife of Chuck, decided to accomplish their fund raising mission by going under fire.
Not a drill, no mere live-fire exercise. It is easier to look down an enemy rifled barrel than into a live camera. Carren advanced, made (eye) contact, pushed through enemy fire and took the hill.
She deserves a medal.
A Combat Infantry Badge? Combat Medic Badge? No. Something more demanding: the Combat Media Badge.
How did she do so well? What did she do right?
Your Business Blogger has helped prepare family and friends for hundreds of media appearances. And Carren made it look easy.
But it is not.
Permit me to analyze, to 'reverse fisk' her segment. Here's how she succeeded in ten steps:
1) The Pre-Interview. A producer, like all reporters, will have the story already completed, already written before you are called. You are there merely to provide quotes on air. You are filling a box. Know what this box is. And what, if any box, is on the opposing side. I would wager that Carren did an outstanding job in her box and knew opposing arguments. Remember, mass media is about ratings and revenue. If she was marginal, she would never have been put on air. This is show business: it is brutal.
2) Logistics. Showing up can be more than 80% of success. Ask for a car to move you about. ('Car' is code for 'limo.' Don't say limo.) The producer will not like it, but it is often the only practical way to get bodies around efficiently. You will be stuck in traffic, if you drive yourself.
When in the
limo car, do chat up the driver. Most likely he's a professional -- he won't speak unless spoken to. When in LA ask him who tips. And who doesn't. (Guess which group Bruce Willis falls into.)
If the topic is big, the media outlet might send a camera crew to your house. This is actually more stressful than in studio. A satellite truck in front of your home may not help with property values or the neighbors.
3) Memorize Your Sales Pitch. Warm-up is always the most challenging whether exercising your body or your voice. But not on air. Know your opening paragraph down cold, as Carren did. And rehearse. I strongly recommend memorizing opening remarks; they will change as you start. But memorizing will help you start. This doesn't have to be much -- four sentences, but it will feel like here to eternity.
And practice talking points.
4) Looks Count. Carren's hair was back off her ears, but there didn't seem to be a distracting IFB a-hanging about. The ear device, Internal Feed Back makes all guests look like Secret Service with coiled tubes on their collars.
If you are going to be an 'on air personality' consider getting your own IFB. Cost about $200.
5) The Eyes Have It. Where should a guest look? Carren did this right by looking straight at the camera. And keeping eyes focused only on the camera -- not shifting about. This is hard to do. If on remote, ask for a monitor so you can see the other guests and what the host is up to. But look at the camera.
Except if you are in studio. Look at the host. Or look at the guest you about to
punch out reply to. Here, don't look at the camera, except when being introduced.
Yes, yes, I know, this is confusing. Don't attempt without professional help. Unless you are a natural like Carren.
6) Cover and Concealment. You might have noticed that Carren wore a button-down sweater, which made it easier for the sound guy to mike her up.
Ask about the format -- behind a desk or in a chair or couch. How much leg do you wish to show? If from an open chair, it may well be all that the viewers remember. Your legs.
Don't wear white. No visible logos. No sparkly bling. No dangly off your ears.
And forget the body-piercing jewelry. A bit distracting for every demographic.
Carren did all this right.
7) Tight Shot Group. Carren's segment was done from a remote location, probably an NBC affiliate, where she may or may not have had a professional make-up artist available. These pros make guests look like cheap hookers in person. Glam on air.
In any event Carren pulled it off. Beauty is as beauty does.
8) Command Presence. Dan Rather says that "The Camera Never Blinks." Understand that from the moment you are on set -- you might be on camera. All eyes are on you. Always smile and be friendly. And relax and be good. And forget that any goof will circulate forever as a humiliating outtake to be laughed at for centuries.
On America's Funniest Videos.
9) The Walls Have Ears. The audio capture is always on. "We begin bombing in five minutes," said President Reagan for a routine sound check. The communists believed him, the State Department fainted, normal people smiled and we won the Cold War. Whatever you say from the time you're miked-up until you give him back his equipment -- the tape could be rolling. This would be your chance to make history.
Because Carren was on remote there is no back and forth exchange as in normal conversation because of the second and a half delay.
When not in studio, keep talking until you are rudely interrupted. Then quiet. The delays take some getting used to.
10) Beware Friendly Fire. Talk to the other guests in the Green Room before you are escorted to Make-up. It is surprising that you will soon become the best of friends -- Green Room Alums -- with even enemies.
But not on air. Remember you are there to get your talking points out and to advance your agenda. You will most likely have an adversary, an opposing viewpoint. You do not have friends.
Guests would tell me, "He's so nice before we went on air, but when the show started he turned mean." Welcome to show business. Remember, you do not have friends.
You left them in the Green Room with your entourage. Where all the good gossip is exchanged. (Andrew Dice Clay, famed misogynist, travels with his wife and children; happily married.)
It is normal and customary to bring your posse with you. They will be expected and will be fed. Spouses, children, publicists, consultants, personal assistants, astrologers. Your driver will remain with the car.
I would suppose that Carren would rather be with Chuck. And she made that clear -- which made her human. Goodness, this is hard to do through the camera. And Carren did.
And finally, be prepared for the first question people will ask you when you return to earth: What color is Monica Crowley's hair, really? Everyone will want to know about the host and other celebrity guests. What is she really like? Be prepared with anecdotes. It is expected.
For example: Bob Beckel is actually a nice guy. Off camera. Bob Novak is utterly transparent on or off camera. Tucker Carlson never stops moving or smiling. Bill Maher hates children, but loves the military. Pat Buchanan will send you old campaign t-shirts. Sam Donaldson asks questions and really wants to hear. Chris Matthews is almost 7 feet tall. Well, OK, 6'5".
Carren accomplished her mission.
And Bruce Willis doesn't tip his drivers.
Was this helpful? Do comment.
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Caution! Sales Pitch follows. If you are a MilBlogger about to go on air, email me. I'll give you 20 minutes free consulting, if you are in the good-guy box.
Posted by Jack Yoest at November 9, 2005 01:36 PM
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What made Carren's performance even more impressive is that she had no monitor at all. She was in a room at an NBC affiliate by herself with the camera, had no idea what her lead-in said about the project, and was given about 15 seconds warning that she was going "live."
Great job, Carren!!
Posted by: FbL at November 9, 2005 06:17 PM
FbL, Wow, that is impressive. It is easy to spot a guest on remote with no monitor -- there is nothing to anchor the eyes and keep one focused. The guest's eyes will wander; shifty eyes look, well, shifty.
Without a monitor it is much like talking on the phone -- or a one way webcam -- one forgets the camera is on or where it's pointed.
You're right: this didn't bother Carren. She came across as a pro.
Posted by: Jack Yoest at November 9, 2005 09:00 PM
Saw the MSNBC video online. I thought she did great. Thanks for the reverse fisk -- interesting good-to-know stuff.
Posted by: cranky at November 10, 2005 06:34 AM
cranky, thank you for your kind words and observation.
Carren made her presentation appear effortless.
Public speaking terrifies most of us. And the possiblity of rejection by millions of people.
It was a joy to watch the good guys win.
Posted by: Jack Yoest at November 10, 2005 06:47 AM