So You Want to be on TV?

Have you ever watched someone interviewed on television and thought YOU could do a better job? Have you ever fantasized about five minutes of fame on prime-time TV?

Most people who don’t deal with the media on a daily basis don’t realize that it’s actually not that hard to be on television. Like newspapers and magazine editors, television producers are always looking for content.

They need people to profile, they need experts who are outspoken and articulate.

I’ve appeared live on prime-time TV in Paris, France (France 3), hosted a local round-table discussion on TV in Greenfield, Massachusetts, produced my own television show for local TV (also in Greenfield, Massachusetts) when my book, Toddler: Real-Life Stories of Those Fickle, Irrational, Urgent, Tiny People We Love, came out; and most recently been front and center on a PBS FRONTLINE documentary, “The Vaccine War.”


The good news is you CAN be on television. It’s easier than you think to have five minutes of fame.

Sometimes it takes a bit of luck. You need to be in the right place at the right time. And it always takes a bit of work: you need to send out press releases, contact local networks, keep abreast of the news, network, and respond to requests from Help a Reporter Out and other similar outlets.

The not-as-good news is that most people who do land a spot on television often feel duped or disappointed by how they are portrayed, how the footage is edited, or how they come across.

That’s the thing about television–unless the show is LIVE (and even if it is), you really have no control over the final product.

If you do find yourself on the cusp of being in the limelight, some media training with a professional can be invaluable.

Tips that a media professional will teach you about being on TV:

1) WEAR MAKE-UP: You need make-up on TV whether you are male or female. If you’re female and you wear make-up anyway, wear a lot more than you normally would. Consider having someone do it for you if you are completely make-up incompetent like me. While the national networks will have someone make you up, you do it yourself for local television. You especially need FOUNDATION on TV because the camera will really wash you out otherwise.

2) SPEAK IN FULL SENTENCES AND MAKE SURE THE ANTECEDENT IS CLEAR: Don’t say “I think it’s fine,” say “I think letting children roam alone is fine for some parents but I am a worrier and tend to helicopter.” Don’t answer simply “Yes” or “No.” The editors need a full sentence in order to use what you say.

3) REMEMBER THE CAMERAS ARE ALWAYS ROLLING. This is especially true if a film crew comes to your house but it is also true if you go to a studio. Think of all the political scandals that have resulted from politicians thinking the camera and the mic were turned off. The minute you put your guard down is the quote the TV producers will use. EVERY SINGLE TIME.

Moral of the story: Don’t put your guard down. Ever.

4) WEAR SOLID COLORS BUT AVOID BLACK AND WHITE. STRIPES don’t work on TV. Neither does BLACK. Or WHITE.

5) Be friendly and yourself but ALWAYS REMEMBER the camera crew is in it for the STORY not for you or your family.

6) ACT AS NATURAL AND RELAXED AS YOU CAN. If you are too deer-in-headlights they might not use what they film. (Easy to advise, difficult to do…Have a glass of wine or smell lavender or something if you need to before the film crew shows up).

7) HAVE FUN AND KEEP A SENSE OF HUMOR: Look engaged (be engaged). Sit forward and speak with enthusiasm. Don’t be afraid to crack jokes, to make fun of yourself (or the anchorman), to be witty, or to enjoy yourself. If you’re enjoying yourself, the viewers will too. If the interviewer is on screen with you, use his or her name, refer to something he said (“That’s a great point, Jack”) or even ask him a question. It’s good to shake things up a bit and show that you are relaxed. A good spontaneous interview will get you invited back.

Categories: media training.

13 Responses to So You Want to be on TV?

  • Alisa Bowman
    August 3, 2010

    Great tips! I talk with my hands when I’m on TV mostly to help transfer out some of my nervous energy. I also try to make solid eye contact with the host–that way it feels like a conversation and not like I’m on TV.

  • Stephanie - Wasabimon
    August 3, 2010

    Great tips! And you’ve guaranteed I’ll never, ever agree to be on TV. Scary! ;)

  • Kristen
    August 3, 2010

    Good for you, Jennifer–like Stephanie, I think I’d be a little wary of letting producers cut and snip a day of tape down to 3 minutes. So is it okay to talk with your hands? I’m a hand talker too.

  • Sheryl
    August 3, 2010

    These are great tips, Jennifer. I doubt I’d ever be on TV, but if the opportunity arises, I’ll know where to go for advice.

  • I learned so much from this post – thanks, Jennifer. I’m bookmarking it right now.

  • Donna Hull
    August 4, 2010

    Great tips, Jennifer. They also apply to bloggers making videos to include in their posts. Now, if I could just get rid of my stiff mouth. Any tips on relaxing to relax lips?

  • Ruth Pennebaker
    August 4, 2010

    Excellent advice. It’s so easy to come across as a dithering idiot on TV — and this is quite helpful.

  • Alexandra
    August 11, 2010

    I do not think I will ever be on television and have no desire to be on television, but if I am wrong and I come to be on television some day, I will know who to turn to for advice!

  • Sue McCarthy
    August 14, 2010

    My entry into being the Fox News Channel 2 St Louis “Travel Expert” began 1-1/2 years ago when I was a seminar speaker at a travel show talking about “Travel Tips.” Channel 2 asked me to come to promote the travel show. Since then I am a regular with 3 minute live segments two times a month. My topics are news-related travel and travel deals.

    The only scary part for me is seeing myself looking heavier than I want to look. So, I have learned to wear a jacket to hide what I don’t want to show. I hope to expand this segment to travel destinations in the future and travel products.

  • sarah henry
    August 22, 2010

    I have gone to great lengths over the years –even suggesting other reporters to take my place — to avoid TV appearances at all costs.

    Not that anyone has asked lately, but I think I’d have an anxiety attack if they did!

  • Joan Watt
    September 20, 2011

    I recently watched the Frontline vaccine episode and must say that you are much too self-conscious about your appearance. Believe me – your on-camera self was better than you portray. It’s what you said that horrified me. As a physically disfigured polio victim, I hope that someday we who have experienced polio and other preventable diseases get a similar opportunity to show people why vaccination may be a good idea.

    It’s hard to believe that someone as educated and well-traveled as yourself does not recognize the danger your children face from our global environment. In Chicago, we see many people from Pakistan, China, and Africa who are visiting or have recently emigrated. Who knows what they have been exposed to or what they are carrying?

    • Jennifer Margulis
      September 21, 2011

      Thank you for your feedback. Polio is an awful disease and I am sorry you suffered from it. It is not something to be taken lightly. I have lived in a country where polio is still endemic and this was a vaccine my children received. (I am not sure what version you watched but the original episode misidentified me in a slanderous way as someone who does not vaccinate.) That said, the chances of any American child getting polio are “unquantifiable,” according to the CDC’s vaccine experts. You may not be aware that until America switched from the live polio vaccine to the attenuated virus eight children a year were actually being paralyzed by the vaccine. What do we say to the parents of those children? The American vaccine schedule is the most aggressive in the industrialized world. We also have one of the highest rates of infant mortality of any industrialized country. If we could put our efforts behind supporting and helping women to exclusively breastfeed for at least six months the health of our nation would improve dramatically. I believe that the polio vaccine was once a very useful tool. I also suspect that it has become obsolete for most American children. In the absence of any quantifiable risk or medical indication, continuing to use a vaccine makes no sense. Yes, polio “could” come back. If it does I will be the first person to suggest we start using it again. In the meantime our time and resources would be better spent on encouraging breastfeeding than taking legal action against parents who choose not to inject their children with a pharmaceutical product intramuscularly. (Interestingly, in countries like Iceland and Norway where they have much better health outcomes and compliance rates, vaccines are in no way mandatory.

  • Kimberly Ford
    November 2, 2011

    Super helpful tips!

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