When Your Job Becomes a TV Show

Watching a screen can be a good experience, think how much time you spend in front of the TV. What would your next Zoom hour look like if it was a TV show? I have learned this year that using TV skills to plan on-screen interactions makes them more productive, more engaging and less exhausting for the audience.

I am a TV producer and that gave me a few advantages when I, like everyone else was forced to pivot into an online working life. Most of my work is now as a business story coach, and pretty much all of that got cancelled in March, however three mornings of story training remained booked in for the summer; Get it on Screen’, for the Heads of Department at Chelsea College of Art. That gave me 4 months to prepare to deliver a quality online training experience.

Even after 25 years working in TV I had to learn a lot very fast – but my experience gave me one advantage – I know that people ENJOY watching a screen in the right circumstances, and what’s more they can CONNECT with the people and stories they watch on screen, The challenge was how do you turn my day job into a TV show people will want to watch?

Learning to deliver to camera; I borrowed a camera, bought some lights and recorded a set of 9 short films on the key story elements that engage an audience. My son shot them and my brother edited them. This took 6 painful weeks where amongst other things I discovered that being in front of the camera turns out to be even more exhausting than being behind it (sorry Carol Smillie for being so mean!) I shared the films on YouTube.

Lessons I learned in front of the camera :-

  • frame my shot: eyes on the top third line of your frame not in the middle
  • light my shot: light balanced on my face
  • pace my delivery: half the speed, double the volume, use pauses to think
  • find my engaging but authentic ‘voice’ to deliver to one person, the viewer

Through the YouTube channel I was approached by ELLE Education, a digital University, who commissioned 3 hours of online lectures The Pillars of a story: Storytelling for Marketeers. This blew my mind – how could I stay interesting on a screen with no interaction with the audience for THREE HOURS?

Now my TV training really started to kick in, I used all the tricks I knew to keep the audience stimulated, interested and wanting more.

TV tricks to keep the audience hooked

  • keep the visual experience enriching and varied: I used a mixture of informative and evocative images, text, Info-grams and short films shot outdoors, as well as me seen full screen (never in a small box)
  • invest in good design: I commissioned a graphic designer to ensure the look and feel was glossy
  • vary the pace of the content: I used films, longer speech sections from me, snappy vox pops and exercises that required students to hit pause
  • use story to bring ideas alive: I told real stories about my clients and their highs and lows
  • offer different viewpoints: I got friends from around the world to record answers to various questions and cut them together into short vox pops
ELLE Education Pillars of a Story

I am proud to say that I also edited it myself. Having worked in TV for 30 years, I finally learned to edit (my brother taught me).

So now, feeling more equipped I started to plan the Chelsea College workshops, Get it on Screen’. The training brief was to get the Heads to learn how to develop TV ideas based on their work and their world. It was part of an overall strategy from the College to make their excellent work more relevant and useful to the mainstream. Spoiler alert, what we discovered by the end of this experience was that the storytelling skills that the attendees learned, changed the way they deliver everything online now.

In the planning for these workshops, my new challenges were that rather than a lecture, these workshops had to be interactive and give attendees the opportunity to work in groups, and also the training had include content out of my area of expertise i.e. information about current TV commissioning.

I was able to meet these challenges by exploiting the new and wonderful possibilities that Zoom offers to extend the TV experience into something even richer.

Using Zoom magic..

  • Breakout rooms are cosy creative spaces: People love to work together in ‘break out’ rooms on tasks, you can drop in and drop out again to facilitate and then regroup. It was a really connecting and incredibly efficient way of running the creative thinking parts of a workshop.
  • Geography does not exist: You can invite anyone anywhere in the world to contribute their viewpoint, their expertise and their story, to the group. We had two guest speakers: one was a director of some of my favourite TV art docs ever and the other one, a very experienced producer who had been a member of the Sky Arts commissioning team. They actually stayed on to facilitate in the break-out rooms section and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
Slide from Get it on Screen

It was a really fantastic experience for all of us, attendees, the guest speakers and me. The attendees told me the time flew by, they couldn’t believe how much they got through and how much they had learned. Mission accomplished!

So the summer taught me that an on-screen Zoom or Teams experience can be a good experience. If people think more TV and storytelling – and less phone-call – it gives them an opportunity to create a more personal and connected relationship with their colleagues, customers, or students. This holds true whether they are running a meeting, pitching for new business, or delivering a lecture, but the skills are different, and a lot of people are doing it badly.

So this is my next venture Get It On Screen workshops and coaching which offer a combination of basic TV skills, storytelling and presentation skills for this new world. I hope you feel inspired to join me on this learning curve, use the tips above in your on-screen planning or get in touch to talk about your online challenges.