How to Avoid Wardrobe Malfunctions and Other Live TV ‘Oops!’

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Article at a glance:

  • Even the pros occasionally stumble on live TV
  • If it happens to you, smile and keep talking.
  • Be conscious of your body movements.

It’s bad enough when you stick your foot in your mouth at a dinner party or walk out of the office bathroom with the back of your dress tucked into your underwear (no that wasn’t me, thank goodness). It’s a whole lot worse when your red-faced moment is beamed to thousands – or millions – of television viewers.

I’m sure Janet Jackson never intended to bust out of her bustier during the Super Bowl halftime show in 2004. Talk about a shot heard ‘round the world! More recently, President Obama demonstrated that even the leader of the free world is not immune from the live slip-up when he was caught on a hot mic asking Russian President Medvedev to wait until after he’s re-elected to talk missiles.

Less memorable – but preserved on the Internet for all the world to share – are the TV anchors and show hosts who forget the cameras are rolling, drop four-letter words or explode in giggles.

You can avoid the “oops,” though, by keeping these don’ts in mind:

  • Don’t look at the monitor: The first thing you’ll notice when you take a seat on the TV set are monitors showing all the camera angles, cameramen (or robots!) rolling the cameras to different positions and producers darting around the set. Forget them. Look at the person interviewing you, as if the two of you were at your kitchen table having a cup of coffee.
  • Don’t let a stumble stop the interview. Most interviews are either live or “live to tape,” meaning they’re taped but not edited. In either case, whatever happens during the interview, mistakes and all, is what they run. If you stumble over your words, cough or accidentally spit out the gum in your mouth (which, by the way, you should have spit out before the interview), you just have to smile and keep going. In most cases, you’ll get just one take. Don’t stop and say, “Cut, can we do this again please?” because that is what will air.
  • Don’t do your “elevator pitch.” Pay close attention to the host’s questions, so you can answer them directly; don’t go into your stock pitch right off the bat! That will annoy almost any host and prompt them to repeat the question, which will make you look a bit foolish. If you’re concerned about getting a question for which you’re unprepared, try to talk to the producer in advance about what you’ll be asked. If the producer is vague, or doesn’t give you the exact questions, prepare the best you can. If you don’t know the answer to a question, be honest and tell the host, “I don’t know because it’s not my area of expertise.” Don’t wait for the host to respond; instead, immediately move on to your talking points.
  • Don’t distract with movements. A news segment is not Dancing with the Stars, so don’t wiggle around while you’re being interviewed. If you naturally gesture when you talk, then gesture, but be conscious of it. Sweeping hand gestures are distracting. If you’re standing during the interview, try to stand still. Place your feet at shoulder width for good balance. Bobbing, weaving, pacing or other nervous movements are distracting. Moreover, if you’re sitting, don’t bounce your knee – we can get away with it in meetings when we’re sitting around a table, but there’s no table on TV and the camera will pick it up. Remember, being stationary and relaxed will help you exude confidence on camera.
  • Don’t wear clothing that may slip to reveal undergarments – or more. Janet Jackson had help from Justin Timberlake during her wardrobe malfunction, but believe me, it can happen all by itself! Don’t wear clothes that you know have a tendency to slip, slide or bunch up.

The main “don’t,” however, is don’t try to perform. Be yourself and represent your book, product or company professionally. Allow the expert in you to rise to the surface.

Take it from me – you’ll receive few opportunities as valuable to your marketing as a TV appearance, so it’s important to be a success. If you ace your interview, not only are you more likely to be invited back, but when other TV producers Google you, they’ll find that clip of your informative and entertaining guest spot and be interested in getting you on their own show.

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