A few years ago, in a bid to recruit new field reporters to the show, we announced that we would be holding open auditions for new presenters in three of the major provinces across South Africa.
The response was overwhelming.
Over a thousand aspiring TV anchors presented themselves at the first round of auditions, where each candidate was carefully screened by a panel of judges. After making it past the first barrage of interviews and live screen tests, the successful applicants then underwent a second round of auditions, this time facing an esteemed panel of judges drawn from the television industry and the channel as they delivered a prepared script. The aim was not to test a candidate’s ability to memorise lines, but rather to see if he or she had the confidence to project their personality and convey a concise message while working under pressure.
While I elected not to be a part of the judging process, I did ask to sit in on the next and final round of auditions – because, after having viewed the raw footage from the previous two stages I couldn’t help but notice that many (if not most) of the interviewees were extremely intimidated by the whole process and so afraid of failing that they simply weren’t feeling safe enough to be themselves. And so, my fellow presenters and I travelled to the three provinces to meet the candidates and try to put them at ease before their next screen test. We attempted to demystify the television industry by swopping anecdotes and sharing our experiences in the field. We offered tips and practical advice and even screened a gag reel of our own outtakes to lighten the mood. Our efforts paid off. The young hopefuls fared much better during this particular round of auditions.
So, what made them better? There were so many valid theories bandied about at subsequent production meetings, but I ascribe the marked improvement in their performances to the following:
Unlike in previous rounds, this time the would-be presenters were permitted to make up their own links to deliver to camera. This made their presentation style more naturalistic – and because they had composed their own links, they had less trouble remembering them. With that pressure off, they exuded more confidence and were more themselves.
Having the show’s “veteran anchors” (as a journalist put it at the time) present to offer guidance and nurturing support further boosted their confidence. And since we took a hands-on approach and interacted with each of the candidates individually, it made them feel valued and important. Affirmation is one of the keys to growing confidence and boosting self-esteem.
Of course, in the stressful and fast-paced ‘real world’ of television, these aspiring presenters wouldn’t be afforded the luxury of so much pre-preparation and play-acting – but the exercise did succeed in loosening them up – and offered the judges a first real glimpse of their personalities and potential.
It also further confirmed what I’ve always held to be true: that what so many people yearn for in this world is the opportunity to be heard, to matter and to be seen to have value. And yes, there are those who crave the attention, validation and approval that stardom promises. This would perhaps explain why so many people are captivated by the idea of being on television…
I’m no longer surprised when individuals approach me – in person or via my website – to solicit advice on how to break into the TV industry. Their misconceptions about how the industry works, however, never cease to fascinate me. It’s as though they’re quoting one-liners from a clichéd Hollywood flick. Phrases like “my lucky break” or “make it big” abound excitedly. One of these impassioned e-mails was even accompanied by a portfolio of (quite titillating) pictures – betraying the sender’s misapprehension that mere good looks and sex-appeal were enough to ensure a career in television.
There’s admittedly a certain naïve charm to it all, but I can’t help but feel a tinge of concern.
It isn’t an easy task presenting young, enthusiastic spirits with the stark truths about a prospective career in the South African broadcasting industry, while still leaving them with their honeyed fantasies still intact. You have to be tactful and mindful not to invalidate their feelings or derail their dreams. But at the same time, I feel a responsibility to not mislead or mollycoddle young people either.
Here’s what I know…
Simply put, there is a dearth of opportunities for TV anchors in South Africa. As a result, it’s a fiercely competitive field to get into. Unless you’re exceedingly talented (or, dare I say, extremely well connected) your chances of getting a leg up are slim at best.
However, should such an opportunity present itself, you’ll want to be prepared…