Make the information personal
Tim Knight’s series of Master Classes
This column is part of Tim Knight’s series of Master Classes on the craft of Broadcast Journalism. Knight is an Emmy-winning former head of TV journalism training at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.
So you’re a TV journalist.
Your face is seen, your voice heard on TV.
So you’ve got lots of teeth and great hair and diction.
So you can read aloud and fit words into 15-second gaps on video tape without screwing up.
So the producer says your performance ”looks great leaving here.”
None of that counts.
It doesn’t matter how it looks leaving the studio.
All that matters is how it feels when it gets to the viewer.
All that matters is whether you efficiently pass information and understanding to the viewer.
All that matters is whether you pass understandable, accessible, retainable information to the viewer.
The art of efficiently passing on information to another person — one of the greatest of all human skills — is truly rare in our profession of TV journalism.
In fact, we often don’t communicate at all.
The lights may be on, but there’s nobody home!
TV is an intimate, personal medium. Viewers watch it in living rooms and bedrooms.
An uninvolved person reading loud and fast at innocent people in their own living rooms is very Animus. And entirely inappropriate. To say nothing of rude.
An uninvolved person reading loud and fast at people in their own bedrooms is even less appropriate. And even ruder.
People don’t like it.
If you don’t believe me, try it some time.
So why do we do it?
Why do uninvolved TV journalists read loud and fast at innocent people in their living rooms and bedrooms?
Before you can make the viewer see and feel the information you — the performer — have to see and feel it. So your ability to communicate on TV, just as in life, depends first on:
And so will your viewer.
But if the information has no real and human meaning for you — if it’s just words and facts neither tapping into nor triggering your own emotions — you will be no more than a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.
Noise without meaning.
You have to be involved, your emotions have to be involved or you’ll have nothing of value to give to the viewer.
You have to make the information in the script personal. So when the time comes to go on camera, you own something of value. Something that is yours. Something you can then give to the viewer.
But you can’t give something you don’t own.
So process and absorb the information, take ownership, make it personal.
Now you have a priceless gift to give away.
And once the memory is triggered, the information will be effortlessly received absorbed and retained by the viewer.
Knowledge is based on recognising and retaining facts so as to make connections among them (wisdom is another matter). Knowledge, in this sense, is memory.
Memory is the mind’s strongest element. Everything we are and most of what we do depends on memory. Facts, information, data have no meaning, no relevance, unless they find connections in the viewer’s memory.
When we’re told something on TV (or in real life), the only way we can understand it is by putting it into our own context, connecting it to something we already know. Something already sitting there in memory.
That’s why the information has to be first processed by the performer. So it’s delivered in a form compatible with the viewer’s memory. The viewer’s memory has to click in, recognise the information, categorise it, find its relevance, place it in context. Only then can the viewer process it, find its meaning.
Some more problems with reading aloud at the viewer:
When you read aloud you automatically leave out pauses for thought. You don’t provide those natural pauses within sentences which are so much part of human communication. You give no pauses at the ends of thoughts, except when a sentence ends.
But your viewer needs those pauses to process, consider and assess the information. To check it against memory, personal knowledge, biases, likes and dislikes.
Every scene in your script has a different emotional meaning. So your viewer needs you to change the emotional tone of the performance from one scene to the next.
In the end, there’s really not much point in simply reading aloud at the viewer.
Because it doesn’t work.
It doesn’t communicate information to the viewer.
And communicating information to the viewer — the bringing of understanding — is supposed to be our job.
This column is adapted from Tim Knight’s book, Storytelling and the Anima Factor, now in its second edition on Amazon and lulu.com.
It’s the eleventh instalment in Knight’s Master Classes for The Journalist on the craft of broadcast journalism. Earlier columns were The Business of Social Journalism, How to Interview (parts 1 and 2), The Unknown SABC Story (parts 1, 2 and 3), Storytelling Is Magic, Screw The Inverted Pyramid and The Curse of the MAMCWWM.
Next week in this series, Knight writes Part 2 of Why You Should Expose Yourself on TV with practical examples and a written guarantee that his system works.