By Joanne Stevens, RTDNA Contributor
I admit I could write volumes about anchoring. But hopefully these initial salvos (see Part 1 of this series on preparing for the role, and Part 2 on specific techniques) will set some heads straight and add further clarity to an often misunderstood role in video journalism.
With this said, let's dig even deeper than the first two parts:
Please think about the fact that being a successful anchor is all about humility, sincerity and connection.
It's NOT about you. Rather, it’s about us. Whom do you imagine to be listening to you? Let's presume it's people who want their news, or perhaps of greater importance, they've taken note of you and you've pulled them in. They will look for you again.
If you're doing your job well, your EYES are also ’speaking’ to us. In fact, some of us think your eyes are saying something along the lines of, "Pinch me! Who thought I’d be sitting here speaking directly to you for an hour instead of just 13 seconds in a standup?" And, "I know you care about keeping your family smart and safe, so this is a news story that my team and I believe you should know." It's all about intimacy. You are talking to one person at a time.
You may go for weeks and weeks without uttering a single ad-lib. That's fine! It is not a regular part of your job. Some of us are more facile with spontaneity. Some of you may be funny. Some may be more sensitive, i.e. "a tough hardship for so many.” But remember that if you are connecting and not 'performing,' your eyes and your natural speaking tone naturally supplant the need for added words. Never ever feel the need to say something. There is no professional obligation and invariably it will sound forced. Except in breaking news, anchoring is not a test of your improv skills.
Confession: Added phrases like 'of course,' or ' as you know,' drive me crazy. You're supposed to be telling me new things. If I'm new in town and you tell me that, "Stop and Shop is, of course, suffering economically," now I feel stupid or like a local interloper if I didn’t know this.
There's always someone out there who can learn something that you think is obvious. And there are others who secretly enjoy corroborating their knowledge. Sometimes fillers come from a false assumption or superciliousness. Avoid the urge.
Pronunciation pronunciation pronunciation!
Don't want to lose face? Your antennae should be madly quivering at all times, particularly if you're a new import. You represent your region and your station. One mispronounced proper name, street, or town, and I'll resent your presence in the seat that I trust. Keep a personal list going. Ask colleagues, new local friends, and anyone you find yourself chatting with how certain local names are pronounced. If something is tough for you to say, that's okay. You can slow it down and do your best. We appreciate that you're trying and not pretending you can speed through it -yet- like a local.
If your challenge is a word such as short-lived (pronounced with a long "I" as in "live," like "five") or harassment (it's HAR-uhs-munt), make sure you politely thank your critics for their feedback, and share that you were using the pronunciation recommended by [your dictionary source]. You're 99.9% sure about the pronunciation of something? Not good enough!
Finally for those of you who are new anchors in town: You have a daunting learning curve.
I'd read archives of local newspapers to give yourself an intellectual/historical perspective as you speak. Keep your foot in reporting. Introduce yourself to your constituency at events, in supermarket chats, and hand out your business cards like candy.
Anchoring: It’s a big responsibility. Keep it genuine.
See you on the set!
News consultant Joanne Stevens has written extensively about broadcast writing, reporting and anchoring, including columns in the former print version of RTDNA's Communicator Magazine, and earlier versions of the RTDNA website. She has taught at Columbia and New York University and serves as a news award judge for the New York Press Club. She has returned to RTDNA.org to offer a new series of News Coach columns with tips, best practices and more. Many of her previous columns are available on her website.