posted by Glenn Barton

The Making of a Presenter

We see them on our screens day in and day out.  And there are a lot of them.  But what makes one presenter rise above the masses?  Of course it's very subjective, and a presenter that floats my boat might not float yours.  But I believe there is no doubt the handful of presenters we see on screen and trust, must be made of similar stuff - their makeup contains the same ingredients, just mixed to individual recipes.

The BBC approached us at Sparkly Light, to help train some up-and-coming presenters who were being given the opportunity to report and present coverage from the Invictus Games in Orlando.  A live event, broadcast in the UK at peak-time, transmitted from America in the middle of the day, while sport was going on all around, and stories were developing constantly.  Not a straightforward situation for any of the new presenters to be thrown in to.  So it was crucial we prepared and trained them well.

When I first met them at the BBC Academy in Wood Norton - I could sense their excitement straight away.  I think it might have been the historic location.  Although it feels like a ghost town now, there is no mistaking the aura of history that pervades every building on that site.

On the first day, we gave them classroom exercises on delivery of PTC's, 2-ways, autocue reading, commentary styles - a lot to get their head around.  We also placed them in a studio and by the end of the day they were playing presenter, co-host, interviewee and OB reporter.  Not bad for a first day.

But it was on the second day that we really drilled down into the skills required of a presenter.  The body language, the almost invisible subtleties of performance that can make a presenter look and feel confident, or worse case scenario, panicked.  The language of the studio, the key words in talkback conversation.  As this second day progressed, I began to notice some of our gang were perhaps feeling a little overwhelmed.  Being a presenter can actually be quite hard work!

Over the two days, we were able to focus their minds on what it takes to be a successful presenter.  The great presenters master the scripted language, can tweak and re-write links in the seconds before a VT has run it's course.  They can faultlessly listen to a gallery in their ear, while conducting a conversation with up to 3 studio guests.  They can deal with the unexpected intrusions while on a 2-way live from the middle of a crowded sports venue.  And all the time, they have the ability to look relaxed and confident in their space.  A presenter or reporter who 'owns' their environment and exudes confidence is a presenter that makes a viewer comfortable when watching them.  And a presenter who is able to inject a smattering of personality into their performance, is a presenter who will stand out and be remembered.

The next time I was to see our new presenter recruits would be in Orlando.  I was in the privileged position of editing the ceremonies and highlights of the week, which afforded me the position to observe them at a distance.

Had they remembered any of our training?  I think so.  But of course, the ones that shone were the ones that looked natural to me.  They didn't appear to be trying to hard to deliver the perfect lines while in the studio, or on VT.  Of course, some were better than others, but it's not for me to say who.  After all, whomever I liked most, will no doubt be different to yours.

But the main thing is, all four of them had a great opportunity to shine, and develop in what is often an overlooked art form, the art of performance, the art of presenting.  And amid all the troubles that seem to strangle the BBC, it's worth considering what other broadcaster would have offered that training, and then the opportunity of a lifetime to put it into practice?

But their story didn't end there.  This past weekend Sparkly Light was asked to produce more live training for the same group of presenters.  They were participating at the British Athletics Championships where again their live presenting skills were being tested.  Their story is ongoing, and I hope one day I will be in my rocking chair watching TV with the grandchildren, and be able to say - we helped mould their favourite presenter.