Handy things the BBC taught me

Sophie Harman

Newsreading

I don’t know if you saw the email in January from the BBC looking for ‘Expert Women.’ It was unfortunately worded, as if the BBC could make women experts or that somehow women needed help being experts. Aside from the wording the intent was good: most experts on TV and radio are men and the BBC have recognised this and decided to do something about it. I applied and was accepted. I also found the day to be brilliant and very helpful. I thought it would be worth sharing some of the things I found out for four reasons. First, some of my friends were one of the 400+ women who applied. The demand or need for such knowledge is clearly there. Second, you may be like me and think TV or radio is not for you. I thought this and then after the day changed my mind. Apparently this is what a lot of women think. Third, according to research from City University London the ratio of male/female experts in Politics is 10/1 and foreign affairs 5/1. In the long list we were shown at the beginning of the day, Politics was the worst of all academic disciplines. I see this as a discipline fail. Finally, it is an opportunity for me to share a picture of me presenting the news (I am taking a call from a foreign correspondent on the line) in my Mum’s kitchen. Once male/female ratios are equal I’ll post the full video complete with thrilling guided tour of my home town of Chesham. I can’t add you to a BBC database (which is half the problem) but some of these points may help you go for it should you get the call.

  1. Um, well, so – are all acceptable words to use in a TV or radio interview. Don’t stress about them. We all use them in everyday speech. Think about how often you use um, like, well, so when talking in the pub/coffee shop/on the phone. Always.
  2. If you dry up/go blank presenters will help you. Professional presenters or interviewers know what to do: this is their job, they will therefore pick you up, prompt you and get you back on track if you forget your name. So don’t worry about blanking.
  3. Breathe through your mouth. This was a big reveal for me as years of yoga mean I always think breathing through your nose is best. Big mistake! Yawning is also good as it relaxes your jaw and wakes up your brain.
  4. Who cares if you get high pitched when you’re nervous? You are not Thatcher and this is not the 80s, women don’t have to moderate their voices anymore. Having an annoying voice has not stopped Robert Peston.
  5. If you flush/go red – no-one can see if you’re on radio and it is not clear on telly.
  6. Never read. You may want notes as a crutch but reading from them will make you sound and look rubbish. They will also make you more nervous.
  7. TV studios (well the BBC ones) are like the university seminar rooms you to try to change – in the basement, windowless, in odd corridors – with added cameras. So nothing to fear there.
  8. Examples to illustrate your point are big. They are effective at communicating and impacting with people listening/watching.
  9. Pivoting – talk about what you want. If you listen to the radio/watch TV you’ll see this all the time. ‘That’s an interesting question, but the real issue is…’
  10. Take your bangles off if on radio (I sadly abandoned wearing bangles everyday years ago because of keyboard bashing but I salute those of you who remain committed to the bangle) – the mega mics pick up everything.
  11. Because no-one can see you on radio you can raise your hand to the presenter if you have a point to make and they’re ignoring you
  12. Be easy – if they call and you can do it, turn up and do it: no drama.
  13. Have a back up list of excellent women – this is a big one. If we want to get more women on the radio and TV we’ve got to help each other. If you get the call and cant make it, have a go-to list ready to refer another woman. If anyone wants to be added to my global health women expert list let me know!
  14. Contact editors/producers if something newsworthy happens in your area. E.g. if you’re an expert in Milton Keynes and there’s a local government coup – let them know! Also update your linkedin (apparently a search tool for journalists – who knew?). You can contact them by Twitter or emailing them (all BBC addresss seem to be in the format of harman@bbc.co.uk)
  15. What to wear: no stripes, no white, if on radio less jewellery the better. Apparently there is a secret society led by Susannah Reid of dresses that look good and fit mics on telly but I am not privy to that information. When I am I’ll break the Reid omerta and share.
  16. Do some homework on the show you’re on. The Today Programme has a different style to PM to Woman’s Hour. Still be yourself but get a sense of the pace and tone.
  17. Fun Fact! Impersonating the accent of the person talking to you is not insulting – it is called ‘code switching’ and (correct me if I’m wrong linguists) is something women predominantly do to communicate effectively.

This may be all self-evident to anyone who has gone on media training. However training always seems to tell you how to be when the BBC seemed to stress over and over how it is best to just be yourself. Top thing I learned, give it a go, and if you don’t like it don’t do it again. Mumbling on radio 4 won’t end your career. You’ve got nothing to lose.

2 thoughts on “Handy things the BBC taught me

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s