I teach a class on hosting from time to time, and I always start by trying to nail down what the term “hosting” means. Everyone seems to have a fairly casual idea of it, but so far none of my students 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.”
Both are true. But as actors we have to recognize that what hosting jobs require is both similar to and different from acting.
1. Most hosting jobs expect you to play yourself.
No one taught 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 needs to get lost in a character, you should examine how comfortable you are being “onstage” as yourself. As insincere as some hosts may seem, 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 feed each other. The “pinch/ouch” of acting in a scene is different from the dispassionate stare of a camera lens. Hosts must be able to 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 flying by on a teleprompter.
That said, hosting jobs call on traits 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 well-suited for hosting jobs because of their already established credentials as performers.
Best yet, hosting job skills can be practiced at home alone. Transcribe a host’s script from a show you like, get a video camera (or even 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 of ActorIntro, which creates video marketing tools for actors. He also trains and coaches actors in on-camera skills. He is a host on the Onion News Network’s parody series “Today Now!” Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.