Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

The best anchors in this country do not waltz onto the set and read their scripts cold;

they have spent time writing, re-writing and practicing their scripts.   Here are a few tips on how to make sure you read like a pro when you deliver the news.

--If possible, write your own scripts.  If a student writes the copy, he or she will do it in the natural, conversational way they speak, not the teacher’s voice.  If someone else writes your scripts, make sure you re-write them into your own voice without changing the factual meaning of the story.
For example, have your students re-write this sentence.

“The student council is aspiring to generate funds for a scholarship program for an under-privileged child in the local community. Please give some thoughtful consideration to donating to this philanthropic endeavor and a representative will gather the contributions in the homeroom setting.”

Do you know any young person who talks like that?  Me neither.  Here’s a better way to write that sentence in a way that sounds natural and conversational for a student audience.

“Hey everybody, listen up!  The student council needs your help. We’re trying to raise money for a special scholarship that will help kids in our city who need some help going to college.  A council rep will come to your homerooms tomorrow, so if you can give a few dollars, great.  Thanks.”

Hear the difference?  You can make even boring announcements sound much more interesting to kids.  Broadcast news writing is all about talking to your audience in a clear, concise, conversational manner.  If your students don’t feel comfortable reading the words, they won’t communicate them sincerely.  You can come up with many more examples of writing this way.  Another suggestion is to have the students take an article from a newspaper, and then write it for a television news story. 

--After you’ve written or re-written the copy, READ IT OUT LOUD.  It makes a huge difference when you read news out loud, rather than just in your head.  You will immediately discover what words sound stiff and what words you need to add or subtract.  Some words are just hard for some people to pronounce.  For example, I have always had trouble with certain words because of my Philadelphia accent.  Take the word “important.”  To me, it always sounds pretentious when I try to pronounce it properly, so I try to use “crucial” or some other synonym instead.  Again, it’s a matter of preference, but when students read their scripts, if they stumble on a word or have trouble pronouncing it, change it.  But watch that you don’t change the basic meaning of the story.  One of the best anchors I ever worked with used to say “As long as it’s factually correct, I don’t care how you write it.”

--If you are lucky enough to have a teleprompter, make certain words pop out to you as you read them.  For example, “The football team has won TEN games in a row.”
The word ten in all caps will make you emphasize that word, but try to do so in a natural way.  You hear so many newscasters with that “fake” TV voice, so try to avoid that at all costs, especially when you are talking to other students in your audience.

--If you don’t have a teleprompter, mark your script, by underlining words you’d like to emphasize or “punch.”  And again, read out loud to sound as conversational as possible.

--Remember your audience only gets ONE chance to hear your story.  They don’t have the luxury of going back and re-reading a story in the newspaper, or rewinding the story on TiVo.  You have to make sure they understand it the first time around.  That means, avoid big words that someone would have to look up in the dictionary.  And always keep your sentences short.  That doesn’t mean acting like you are speaking to 5-year-olds, but it does mean keeping thoughts concise, coherent and connected.  When your sentences run on and on and on, they lose their meaning and confuse the heck out of people.

A few more general tips for better writing:

1)  Keep the sentences short!  Avoid run-on sentences, or too many thoughts strung together that are difficult to understand. 

2) Use ACTIVE verbs whenever possible.  Here’s an example:

“The man was taken into custody by police.”
“Police arrested the man.”

Hear the difference?  It just sounds better for TV when you write in the active voice.

3) Don’t use too many numbers that might confuse the audience.  Keep it simple, and always round up numbers for broadcast writing.  Here’s an example.

“The cancer walk raised two-thousand nine hundred-fifty three dollars.”
“The cancer walk raised almost three-thousand dollars.”

4) Do not write too much information that your audience probably doesn’t care about.  For example, if you’re writing a story about one of the football players, we don’t need to know his birthday, his address and his phone number.  You would most likely just tell us his age and maybe what year he’s in.  Or on a more serious story, if you’re writing a story about a robbery, we don’t need to know the suspect was born on July 13, 1968 and lives at 1234 Oak Street.  Just say “the 39-year-old man lives on Oak Street.”

Simple Tips Before, During and After the Big Show

Some of this sounds easy, but many newscasters forget to do a few simple things before going on the air.

--Drink plenty of water.  A lot of news people are literally dehydrated before air time and sound scratchy when delivering the news.  Also try to keep a bottle of water near you on the set to take a sip during breaks.

--RELAX!  Do a few breathing exercises and stretching routines before you go on the air.  You wouldn’t work out at the gym without stretching and your voice and body are no different before you deliver the news.  First start by lifting your arms up and down over your hear two or three times, deeply inhaling and exhaling each time.  Then, roll your shoulders forward a few times, then back.  This will help loosen some natural tension before you start.  If you feel stiff and tense, it will show.

--Open up your mouth and get it going.  It looks silly, but it works.  Say “A-E-I-O-U” several times in a row, over exaggerating your mouth to loosen it up.  Also, hum a little tune to wake up those vocal cords, and then roll your tongue around your mouth several times.  This will get your mouth ready to read, and help you articulate your words better. There’s nothing worse than a mumbler on the news.  Open your mouth wide, project your voice and articulate as much as possible without sounding fake.
--Keep a mirror near you on the set.  That one stray hair will really be distracting if you don’t fix it, so just a quick look before you go on will really help.

--After the newscast, watch the tape!  You will learn so much more when you actually watch yourself, see your mistakes and decide what you need to work on.  Better yet, have your teacher give you honest, constructive criticism.  Believe me, no one wants to hear what they’ve done wrong, but it really will help you get better.