14 November 2012

Uganda: A Journo's Peppered Manual

As mass communication comes of age in Uganda, with an ever-increasing number of media outlets, especially radio and television, the demand for quality personnel is on the rise.

Because all media have to compete for the small market available! In the same breath, we have seen an increase in the demand for public speakers - and these mellow fellows have to compete, too. Indeed, several books have been produced to help new and old hands get to the top of the game. I have read a good number. But for the first time, I am meeting a book that speaks directly and more convincingly. Own the Spotlights is somewhat scientific (I mean, every tip will seem to bear scientific precision, especially to those who have tried the business). It is simple and straightforward - dealing with and re-explaining seemingly small details that journos and public speakers are wont to dismiss as commonplace and inconsequential. Perhaps this is because the author is an old hand in the industry.

Farah's tips are premised on three rather simple realities: Sometimes, presenters do know their stuff, but do not have the requisite skills to have it delivered to their audience in the best way; some other times, presenters are fresh from school and timid - not very sure of the content, and equally have not the confidence to "own the spotlight." The other reality is being with no knowledge of content, but great presentation skill. From all these three angles, Farah gives a sumptuous package: tips on presentation, finding and owning content, and improving that, which is already possessed. Interestingly, all end in being steady, creative, natural and simple - and at the end of this book, it would be clear that majority media people have an illusion of what is right.

Concerned with fine-tuning public speakers, radio and television presenters, Farah provides tips that range from how to exploit dress and makeup, use of body and equipment, to preparation and mode or style of engagement - with both audience and guests. Many people would pay attention to only the time when they are on or getting ready for the job. In other words, people do not prepare early enough. Farah pushes this a little further suggesting that public speakers and media persons ought to make their professions their lives. Take for example, how and the amount of time one sleeps; the food one eats; the people one relates with - are factors that will all conspire to spoil the performance if not well managed - they ought to be integrated into the lives professionals live. Farah suggests, for instance, that failure to avoid flu-infected friends could spoil ones voice! In short, the job becomes part of the person and the person becomes the job. As she has suggested at the start of the book, presenters represent their media houses.

As the cliché goes, "practice makes perfect," Farah also suggests constantly training ones personality, voice and dress as great trick for great performances. Researching and intimately studying topics so as not to sound off-key in the course of either the interview or the presentation, is a very helpful strategy. "Any topic, if well presented and properly explored can get most of the audience interested," she concludes, adding that sufficient research is a shield against the unexpected from either an audience or a guest.

With special emphasis on TV presenters and anchors, the tips are even more detailed. It is clear that this is where the author spent most of her time. From cloth, she suggests finding "a signature look" - one that is natural, simple and neutral. To the guest, there is a fully section on inviting, engaging and guiding your interviewee (and yourself) throughout the interview, and also ensuring to sound sure and confident to your audience. On voice for example, we have heard audience comment, or the speaker is so deafening on the microphone. Farah suggests, "don't make your voice sound deeper, the way public speakers usually sound. You do not have to worry about that; microphones and sound equipment will give your voice that depth that makes it sound musical and warm."

Indeed, this is a wonderful manual for a great career, in TV, radio and public speaking. The tips are many and they are easy to understand. There are several sample interview guides on different subject, which have made this little book rich and unavoidable. It is so painful that the print quality is low, yet holds great content.

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