I'm sure many of you are acutely aware of the need to perform well under pressure. In my former business of selling news – editors and presenters thrive under pressure particularly as a big story breaks when you are presenting live on air. Most of the time and I repeat most of the time – all is well and you sail through like the proverbial swan – calm and serene on the top and paddling like hell underneath. But sometimes and they always seem to be on big nights – nights where we got several million viewers – things don’t follow the plan. One night – I was presenting from another studio as ours was being redecorated. It was 10pm and the first night that Five was to announce the winning lottery numbers – we were told the big cheeses would be watching.
We did a quick rehearsal and everything went fine – then at 30 seconds to air the lights started to dim, the autocue showed complete tosh and to top it all I couldn’t hear the director unless she shouted very loudly– which she promptly did to ask Five if they could run something else. They said “no" and started counting down from 10. At times like these – the adrenaline kicks in and you start to think about self preservation – you might not mind looking an idiot in front of a few of your best mates but in front of 2 million television viewers it starts to look positively ( as one of my editors says “CAREER LIMITING”).
At times like these printed scripts are useful. I just went for it and kept reading (slowly) everything I had because we also didn’t have any pictures or any interviews that would play! The studio lights took some time to totally go out but I understand that at the end of the 3 minute bulletin I could just be seen in silhouette. "That's it from all the team - hope you'll be able to see us tomorrow" - my sign off. It wasn’t my finest broadcasting moment but one that many people delight in reminding me of. The next day, we found out the ITV News Channel had flicked a switch that had taken over all the controls for pictures, autocue and lights. Heads rolled. And my presenting skills got better.
I now help Exec's to deal with the pressure of presenting and often advise them to "roll with it". If something goes wrong - make a virtue out of it. Make 'em laugh. They will remember how you dealt with it and THAT is the key factor.
Take a leaf out of Sir Trevor McDonald's presenting technique. His coolness when he muddled the two words “Kent Countryside” is now legendary.