As a child, did you watch morning talk shows dreaming that someday you would be the one to sit across from movie stars, asking them questions about their latest projects? Did you covet the thought of standing, microphone in hand, introducing the next contestant on a game or competition show? Or maybe you have a longstanding goal to host an entertainment or political talk show.
Becoming a TV host or presenter is an ambition held by many. In this guide, we break down audition prep, putting together your hosting reel, teleprompter skills, and more.
- What does a TV presenter do?
- What skills do I need to become a TV host or presenter?
- How do I become a TV host?
- How do I audition for a TV hosting gig?
- What should I include in my hosting reel?
- What skills do you need to host a TV show?
- How do I work with a teleprompter?
- How much do TV hosts get paid?
- How did famous TV hosts get their start?
The kinds of hosting gigs available vary widely. Here are some of the major categories:
- Game show: This requires a combination of both teleprompter reading and on-your-feet thinking as the game plays out. Examples include “Jeopardy!” “Wheel of Fortune,” and “The Price Is Right.”
- Talk show: There’s pretty minimal teleprompter reading involved in hosting talk shows, with the exception of introductions for segments and guests. The genre does, of course, require carrying on natural-sounding conversations despite the presence of a live audience. Some well-known talk shows are “Live With Kelly and Ryan,” “The View,” “The Talk,” and “The Today Show.”
- Variety show: What you’ll need to host a variety show is right there in the name: a plethora of different skills to ensure that your audience remains entertained. Some recent examples include “Billy on the Street,” “Saturday Night Live,” and “Maya & Marty.”
- Reality or competition show: Similar to game shows, hosting a reality or competition show will likely require teleprompter reading in addition to ongoing communication with competitors. Examples include “The Bachelor,” “The Voice,” “American Idol,” “Survivor,” “Top Chef,” and “So You Think You Can Dance?”
- Travel or food show: In order to successfully host a travel or food show, the most important thing you need is passion for the subject matter. How boring would it be to watch a cooking show hosted by someone who isn’t interested in cooking? Great examples to check out are “Man v. Food,” “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” and “The Chew.”
- Awards show: Hosting an awards show requires lots of tact, since, for the most part, those in the audience are on the edge of their seats wondering if they’ll walk away from the evening as a winner or loser. So in addition to teleprompter reading and stage presence, you’d be wise to dust off your comedic chops. It’s not necessary to be funny, but boy, does it help. Awards shows include the MTV Video Music Awards, the Clio Awards, and the Teen Choice Awards.
- News: News anchoring is probably the single most teleprompter-heavy hosting gig around. If you want to have a chance in hell of getting a job, you’d better make sure you’re an expert prompter reader. You also need to be comfortable speaking directly to camera, as that’s essentially the entire role. Examples include “E! News,” “The Rachel Maddow Show,” “Access Hollywood,” and “Extra.”
You need to have superb diction and projection, but that “it” factor is much harder to define. We spoke with several industry experts who weighed in on the subject.
Suzanne Sena, Emmy-nominated TV host and former national Fox News Channel anchor
“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.”
Patricia Stark, host and anchor of more than 25 TV programs
“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, and real. Don’t play the part of a host. Have a point of view. Bring something to the party. Own it.
“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.”
Marki Costello, president of Creative Management Entertainment Group
“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% 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…. I have seen people who I thought had a better chance [of being] 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.”
It’s a good idea to start with some formal instruction. “Look for an intro to hosting class in your area that covers the basics: on-air delivery, [how to use a] teleprompter, interviewing skills, and writing,” advises professional media coach Nicole Sellars. “All TV hosts will have to, at one time or another, write their own scripts. It’s important to be the full package, especially when you’re starting out.
“Once your training is complete, it’s time to shoot a knockout demo reel to land your first job—or potentially, an interview with an agent. There are production companies that offer demo reel services, which provide scripting, shooting, and editing. The rates can be pricey, but [they are] well worth the investment.”
Sellars also recommends taking the following steps to increase your chances of breaking into the world of hosting:
- Create a marketing plan. Once you’ve decided what kind of jobs you’re going for, it’s time to get your name and brand out there. A broadcasting coach can advise you on how to increase your online presence, build a following, look professional, maintain a clean profile, and keep followers up to date on current projects.
- Seek out critiques. Many clients have no idea what level they’re performing at until an on-air expert observes and offers critiques and advice on how to improve. Whether it’s teleprompter reading, writing news or hosting scripts, voice and diction, or on-air presence, there are so many elements involved in becoming an on-camera superstar that it’s a good idea to have a professional observe and provide feedback.
- Polish your skills. Once clients have been critiqued, it’s time to start working on those skills. Many performers look and sound great on camera but have no idea how to create content or write a pitch—skills that are necessary for any newsroom and other media platforms. Nowadays, it’s crucial to be a jack-of-all-trades when starting out if you want to be a host or news reporter. One must have incredible on-air presence, be a creative and factual writer, a comfortable ad libber, a videographer and editor.
- Educate yourself. Broadcasting coaches pride themselves on having previous extensive experience in the field of television. Over the years, they collect a wealth of information, such as how to find legitimate talent agents, reputable TV and news networks, national media companies searching for fresh talent, web designers, and video producers to help with demo reels. It would take years for a newcomer to collect these reputable contacts on their own.
To find casting calls for hosts or presenters, search our listings by entering “host” or “presenter” into the keyword field. The audition process for hosting a TV show is not as uniform as those for booking a traditional acting gig, however. The experience is “subjective to what you’re auditioning for,” says Patrick Lambert, a talent development executive for 44 Blue Productions and former daytime talent executive and booker for ABC and Fox.
“If someone is transitioning into it, the majority of what they’ll have to go through is a chemistry test,” he continues. “Normally, a chem test is a process of switching people into different seats and asking them to talk about general stuff together. If it’s a heavier show, you want to test people’s ability with the ‘hot seat’ and questions that would take a level of skill to answer. But the majority of a chem test is exactly what it says: It’s chemistry. You can pretty quickly tell how people dance together. It’s how they ‘play tennis.’ ”
Hosting hopefuls should do their homework prior to auditioning—which, in this case, could just mean chatting someone up. “Whenever any of the newscasters or hosts I know are nervous to do their show, I say, ‘Hey, remember why you got cast in this,’ ” Lambert says. “Go talk to the doorman and the person at Starbucks and ‘warm up’ with them—because you’re a charmer and you’re good at what you do, and that’s why you got this job. They put you on camera, and you charm people. If you’re comfortable in your skin and have the ability to work any room, that’s the best audition preparation.
“Improv is a really good tool—even if [the performer is] not funny—if they want to become a host,” Lambert advises. “If you’re doing a live show, you’re going to be improvising the whole time, and you have to be comfortable with how your mind thinks.”
To apply for hosting gigs, you will need many of the same materials that you use for acting jobs—including, of course, a headshot and résumé. Your reel, however, should be very different from your standard acting reel—that is, if you even have one. Brad Holbrook, the founder of ActorInfo, a Manhattan studio that creates video marketing tools for performers, has some advice.
“To make a great hosting reel, you don’t need many of the things that make showing your acting talent so difficult to do, like other actors, a theater, or a film crew—not to mention a good script that features you doing the kind of character you do best,” he says.
“You only need yourself and some basic professional video equipment. I tell my hosting class students, ‘If you don’t have a hosting demo reel, it can only be because you really don’t want one.’ It's really that easy.”
Holbrook also emphasizes the importance of quality when it comes to both image and sound. “Find someone with video equipment. I’m not talking about a smartphone, but it doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive, either,” he says. “The major requirement is that it captures audio from a microphone that the talent—that’s you—has pinned to their body or that they can hold in front of their mouth, like a reporter. Bad audio, i.e., audio recorded from the camera's self-contained mic, is the equivalent of shooting blurry video, or maybe worse. Nothing says ‘just kidding’ like a demo reel with crappy audio.”
Finally, you need to choose the right location, which, per Holbrook, can be as simple as you want it to be. “All you need to do is find locations that suit the scripts you’ve cobbled together, or a green background, which can be as simple as a bedsheet hung on a wall or a commercially available product made for photography; several inexpensive ones can be found easily,” he explains. “A green screen, which has been used in movies and TV for many years, is your best option because it gives you the ability to edit in any picture or video footage you have, as if you were really there. Apple’s user-friendly iMovie app does this remarkably well, and there are [also] a lot of other options.”
- Speaking: You need to be able to recite clean, confident dialogue. This also means you need great diction and a neutral dialect, so you can easily be understood by viewers from multiple regions.
- Reading: You need to be able to read a teleprompter and cue cards, ideally while appearing as though you are speaking off-the-cuff and not reciting from a script.
- Confidence: A TV host needs to appear self-assured—the operative word here being “appear.” It doesn’t really matter how genuinely confident you are, as long as you project it.
- Sociability: It’s right there in the job title: Talk show hosts talk. While a feigned interest in others may get you started, a genuine enjoyment of talking to people from all walks of life will be palpable to viewers.
- Research skills: The more successful you are as a talk show host, the more likely you are to have producers and a team of writers to help you out with research. But when you’re starting out, knowing how to dig into information about your guests or subject matter is crucial.
- Memorization: While you never want to appear overly rehearsed, memorizing a basic outline of what you’re going to discuss on-air or basic facts to relay to the audience is necessary. Holding note cards is fine to use as a reminder, but the last thing you want to do is stare at them during an entire segment or interview.
- Flexibility: They don’t call it live TV for nothing. As a host, it’s your job to keep up with your guest, no matter where the conversation leads you. Have an outline of talking points, but also be prepared to carry on a relaxed, informed, unscripted conversation.
- Technical skills: While it’s not mandatory, many talk show hosts get their start in the broadcast industry and know their way around a newsroom. Having the skills to use rudimentary equipment and software while compiling a story can set you apart from the competition.
“It's not rocket science, but there are some things that you need to know,” says Holbrook. “All of them fall under the heading: ‘Talk to the camera as if you’re talking to a person.’ Anything you do or don’t do when talking to a real person about something that you find interesting should be reflected in how you talk to the camera. Tone, inflection, fluidity, sincerity—the list can go on and on.
“This is true for all ‘direct-address’ jobs, but it requires a little more effort when a prompter is added to the mix,” he adds. “Some people really do, as the cliche has it, look like a deer in the headlights when they try to read a prompter.”
Holbrook says that the best course of action for anyone hoping to up their prompter game is to simply observe how others do it. “Watch those who do it best, and try to notice how they go about it,” he advises. “And also, of course, study those who aren’t so good at it to identify why they aren’t. Just as with great acting—you can never catch [good performers] ‘acting’—great direct-address prompter delivery never hints that there’s anything between the speaker and the audience except a natural, sincere connection.”
Salaries vary vastly depending on experience, the project you’re hosting, and whether you’re already known as a TV personality. According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary for talk show hosts in the United States is $114,692 per year; for TV announcers and hosts, the average annual income is $110,982.
That said, if you start out as an unknown, you will fall on the lower end of that spectrum—which starts at $17,500 for talk show hosts and $15,000 for TV hosts. As you gain experience and move on to bigger opportunities, your compensation will grow considerably. (According to PureWow, “Live” host Kelly Ripa, for instance, makes around $22 million annually.)
Today’s most prominent hosts began their careers in various sectors of the entertainment industry, from acting to comedy to culinary studies. Check out some of their humble beginnings:
- Alex Trebek: The late Trebek was in the hosting game long before his legendary run on “Jeopardy!” He emceed a Canadian music program back in 1963 called “Music Hop,” followed by a stint on a high school quiz show called “Reach for the Top” from 1966–1973. He hosted “Jeopardy!” from its first episode in 1984 all the way up until 10 days before his death in 2020.
- David Letterman: Before he began his astounding 33-year tenure as a late-night host, Letterman used his talents on a radio show—which he was eventually fired from due to his disdain for classical music—as well as in a weatherman post.
- Stephen Colbert: Perhaps no other host on this list has imbued his work with more acting than Colbert. After studying dramatic acting at Northwestern University, he performed at Chicago’s ImprovOlympic before becoming a member of the celebrated Second City. His work on “Strangers With Candy” and “The Daily Show” ultimately led him to 2005’s “The Colbert Report,” a show which he hosted as a Bill O’Reilly–esque character for nine years.
- Samantha Bee: Before she got her own show, “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee,” Bee’s first foray into show business was a touring production of “Sailor Moon” in Canada, in which she played the title role. She became a correspondent on “The Daily Show” in 2003, leaving to host “Full Frontal” in 2015.
- Chris Harrison: Prior to his universally known role as the master of rose ceremonies for the “Bachelor” franchise, Harrison worked as a sports reporter for a CBS affiliate in Oklahoma City, as well as on the horse-racing channel TVG Network.
- Ryan Seacrest: Seacrest rivals the entire industry for most prolific hosting duties. He became a superstar emcee during his tenure of “American Idol,” while simultaneously hosting “E! News.” Now, Seacrest is still on “Idol” while also co-hosting “Live with Kelly and Ryan” with Ripa. His career began in 1993 on the first season of ESPN’s “Radical Outdoor Challenge.” He also hosted various childrens’ game shows throughout the ’90s.
- Kelly Ripa: Now the perkiest person on morning television, Ripa first rose through the ranks playing a troubled party girl on the long-running soap opera “All My Children.” She concluded her 12-year stint on the series in 2002, one year after she officially joined the late Regis Philbin as his “Live” co-host.
- Anthony Bourdain: Bourdain’s success as a host was an example of passion forging opportunity. The late travel and food expert dropped out of Vassar to attend the Culinary Institute of America, and he wrote his first book, “Kitchen Confidential,” in 2000. The powers that be took notice, and the Food Network gave him his own show, “A Cook’s Tour,” in 2002.
- James Corden: Corden was originally a theater and TV actor. He starred on British TV comedies “Gavin & Stacey” in 2007 and “The Wrong Mans” in 2014, and won a Tony Award in 2012 for the Broadway run of “One Man, Two Guvnors.” He was tapped to fill the later slot of CBS’ evening lineup, debuting “The Late Late Show with James Corden” in 2014. He also hosted the Tony Awards in 2016, and regularly appears in movie musicals, including “Into the Woods,” “Cats,” and “The Prom.”
Looking to get cast? Apply to casting calls on Backstage.