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What Skills Are Necessary to Become a Good Host?
My approach to teaching hosting is similar to my work with actors on set and in private coaching. Like acting, your secret weapon and greatest asset as a host is your unique personality. The personality of the actor is nine-tenths of the performance.
Dealing with oneself can be terrifying. Many acting and hosting techniques feed off the need of actors to escape from themselves into something warm and fuzzy, essentially doing everything but the work at hand. I encourage my students to be the creators of their own techniques. Nothing is more attractive, captivating, and relatable than you. I help my clients reflect their own humanity back at their audience, not by playing themselves but by bringing themselves to the role. There's something dangerous and thrilling about jumping into the water without a life raft, not knowing what's going to happen moment by moment. The courage to jump in as yourself is what makes a host compelling. An audience can't take their eyes off that.
This doesn't mean you're just being "you" and playing your everyday self. It's "you" at your best, under the influence of and filled up with deeper, more powerful, and more fun emotions.
I teach my hosting clients to talk to the eyes of an audience, not to their ears or intellect—to illustrate their dialogue by painting a picture, using the whole body. Essentially you're saying, "Let me show you. See what I mean? Now look. Do you get the picture?" We're all physical creatures when we're not acting. It's a bad habit of many actors to drop their natural physicality and start acting from the neck up when performing. You must be as physical in front of the camera as you are in your life.
One of the most important elements of hosting preparation is to target and identify your audience. Once you know who you're talking to, you must pinpoint your emotional relationship—how you specifically feel about them. Not to "act" these choices but to plant seeds of those relationships inside you. You can never "act" your preparation. Any worthwhile preparation should only strengthen and elevate your performance, not take the place of or protect you from it.
My favorite definition of "host": an animal or plant that nourishes and supports a parasite.
People ask me all the time what skills are needed to become a good host. A better question would be not only what skills are needed but what traits. Skills are something that can be taught; traits are qualities a person naturally possesses.
Let's start with the necessary traits. To be a good host, you need to be very comfortable in your own skin. It's vital that you feel confident and comfortable, so that you can then make your audience or on-camera guests feel comfortable as well. They will feed off your energy—or die by it.
Another quality a person must have to be a good host is a natural curiosity. To conduct a good interview, you need to have a genuine interest in talking to people, learning about them, and furthering along the conversation. Interview skills can be taught; curiosity cannot.
As for skills, there is a strong need for the ability to improvise, to think on your feet. The best hosts can get off of scripts and just be in the moment, toss in their own words, and have a good response to unexpected situations.
Technical skills, such as with a teleprompter and IFB (interruptible feedback), give hosts a huge advantage in the competitive hosting marketplace. Those who have good command of the prompter book more, work more, and get paid more. Those who are familiar and comfortable with an IFB can also become skilled working live.
Anything you can do to set yourself apart, make yourself stand out, and make yourself more valuable will give you an edge. Put as many tools in your toolbox as possible, and you will be well on your way to building a solid career.
The best communicators are really the best listeners. Listen closely during interviews with guests, during auditions, when taking direction from producers, directors, casting folks, and clients. During co-hosted segments, man-on-the-street interviews, or in-studio interviews with guests, you must be in the moment and actively listening to what the person you are talking to is saying. So often we are only half listening to people and focusing on what we want to say next.
It's not about you; it's about the viewer. Nobody cares how funny, smart, or charming you are if they get the vibe that it's the "all about you" show. Viewers need to feel that you are there for them, to entertain them, inspire them, help them learn something. No matter what channel or show you're on, your viewer is really tuned into WIIFM—"What's in it for me?" If it's all about you, click, they just changed the channel.
The hosting industry has its own version of the triple threat, where traditional and cutting-edge hosting skills come together: teleprompter skills, ear prompter skills, and thinking on your feet off-script with strong improv skills. I've used all three in the same show and on auditions and have always booked a good number of jobs because I was proficient at all three and could use them when needed.
Have a genuine interest in people. Get good at being able to strike up a conversation with anyone anywhere. Be authentic, conversational, real. Don't play the part of a host. Have a point of view. Bring something to the party. Own it.
Preparation is key. Don't wing it. Those who are really good look like they're winging it, but it's preparation that makes it look so smooth and easy.
Have the right mindset. Once you step in front of the camera, you can't change anything at that point—not your hair, makeup, wardrobe, or preparation. So focus on connecting with your viewers and helping them get whatever message or info you're giving them. This will help keep you from focusing on yourself, which is always a stumbling block that makes us flub and falter.
Be a class act. Anyone can be the in-your-face flavor of the month, but the cream of the crop, those with real longevity, are class acts. Have your own personal standards. There's no such thing as a small job or small show. Each experience builds on the previous. Bring your best work to each project. Make every take count.
In the year 2011, to be a great host you have to have a strong brand, a niche, and a strong point of view. You have to have something that makes you unique and different from everybody else.
Hosting is different than acting. In acting, you are playing a role and becoming a character. Commercially it's different as well. In commercials, you are selling a product. In hosting, you are selling yourself.
A great host is one who can connect to the audience. Great hosts don't make it about them but about their audience having a great experience. Great hosts put the audience before their ego. Great hosts are comfortable in their own skin and maintain a strong sense of self.
There are so many different facets to hosting. It's truly the great balancing act. It's an act that can be 100 percent learned. The great thing about hosting is you don't have to have a lick of talent to do it. But with that strong connection to your audience, you can learn to balance all of the elements of hosting—from the teleprompter to your co-host to the copy.
Good hosts know how to balance all the elements, connect to the audience, and never lose sight of themselves. All of that takes practice. It's a skill that can be 100 percent learned. I have seen people who I thought had a better chance to be struck by lightning than ever make it in front of the camera, but they found their voice, their niche. They learned to balance all the elements and are now making a living as hosts.
Marki Costello will teach the intensive "The World of Hosting: How to Break Into It" at Back Stage's trade show Actorfest LA on Sat., Nov. 5. For more information, visit www.actorfest.com.
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