I teach a class on hosting from time to time, and I always have to start by trying to nail down what the term “hosting” means. Everyone seems to have a fairly casual idea of it, but no one (so far!) has really thought about it much. “It’s where the jobs are!” they say, or “It’s like doing a product pitch in a commercial, but for longer than 30 seconds!”
Okay, both are true. But as actors we have to recognize what the hosting jobs require of us is both similar to and different from acting.
1. Most hosting jobs expect you to play yourself. They didn’t teach us how to do this in our BFA programs, and it’s different from playing a character. Some actors are actors principally because they want the thrill of “being someone else,” and as such may find it difficult to just be themselves. This is not uncommon. Dustin Hoffman once told David Letterman that he didn’t like doing talk shows because he didn’t feel that he, as Dustin, was very interesting. That attitude can get in the way of convincing a producer that you’re the right host for the new travel series. Of course Dustin probably doesn’t need that job.
2. Insincerity is the death knell in both acting and hosting. If you’re an actor who really needs to get lost in a character, you should examine how comfortable you are at being “on stage” as yourself. And, as insincere-seeming as some hosts are, the common thread in successful hosts is that they aren't phony. They may be exaggerated versions of their true selves, but, as in acting, there has to be the presence of truth in the portrayal.
3. Hosts talk to an inanimate object. Actors are trained to live truthfully in moments that are usually affected by other characters. Actors feed each other. The “pinch/ouch” of acting in a scene is different than the dispassionate staring of a camera lens. Hosts must be able to convincingly talk to that piece of glass as if they were talking to a real person, and sometimes with the extra challenge of doing it while reading words as they fly by on a teleprompter.
That said, hosting jobs do call on traits that most actors have, such as no fear of being the focus of attention, excellent speaking ability, talent for commanding attention, and knowing how to move a story along. And the more “real you” you can project, the better. As a lot, actors are very well suited for hosting jobs due to their already established credentials as performers.
Best yet, hosting job skills really can be practiced at home, by yourself. Transcribe a host’s script from a show you like, get a video camera (or even just a mirror), memorize the lines, and go to town! Most actors will not be able to latch on to that “playing myself” business right away, and you should be honest when you watch yourself trying. After a little practice, you might be surprised to realize that you, just being you, can be really compelling video!
Brad Holbrook is the founder, chief cook, and bottle washer of www.ActorIntro.com, a Manhattan studio that creates video marketing tools for actors. He also trains and coaches actors in the skills required for performing on camera, privately and in group classes. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Brad has spent his entire adult life in front of the camera. After getting degrees in theater arts and journalism, he first worked as a reporter in a small Midwestern TV station. That led to a 20+ year career as a reporter, anchor, and host at stations across the country. For the past several years, he has had the chance to scratch that acting itch again, and has worked as an actor on NYC stages, as well as in network TV shows and studio films. Currently he plays a TV host in The Onion News Network’s continuing parody series “Today NOW!”