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Top Billing Magazine Exclusive, Presenter Tips

Presenter Search Advice

On page 44 of the September 2010 issue of Top Billing magazine we share the knowledge of some of our current TV presenters and behind-the-scenes pros on what it takes to be a great TV presenter. Here’s some more of their advice that we didn’t have space for in the magazine.

JOY RIBA, SABC3, Project Manager, Local Programmes

Q: What do you think makes a good presenter?

A: A Top Billing presenter will be someone who epitomizes the good life. A full package of what a good life is. A person who is living a good life – balanced life, looks happy, is intelligent, has a good image (self-confidence), outer and inner beauty, who is content within themselves and who appreciates the finer things in life. Someone with an accessible image (you must not be aloof or snobbish)… a person whom most people admire and look up to: most of our viewers should want to be that person. It must be somebody who is able to represent our brand. The person should basically ‘live’ the brand and also be a good listener as well as comfortable in front of the camera.
Q: What qualities should a presenter have?
A: Soul with substance. Self-confidence. Aesthetically appealing (looks and also be well-presented). Bold. Intelligent. Good sense of humour. Extroverted. Good peoples skills. Someone who lives a ‘Top Billing life’. Listening skills. Good general knowledge. Good command of the English language. What do the SABC viewers want to see in their presenters? A presenter they can look up to. Someone’s whose opinion they can trust on things such as fashion and lifestyle. Role model. Credible. Accessible.
Q: Who are the best presenters the SABC has seen?
A: Basetsana Kumalo – she has amazing cross-over appeal, is aesthetically appealing (good looking and has a good image), she is genuine, she is herself (effortless). Jeannie D – she has a good personality and it’s easy to relate to her. She is fabulous and is convincing that she is living a good life.
Prim Reddy – she is friendly, well-spoken, accessible and professional.
KELLY PARKHURST, Top Billing Presenter Search winner 2007

Q: Tell us about the process of the 2007 Presenter Search. How did you hear about it and get into the final selection?
A: My agent forwarded me the entry form for the competition and I thought: why not? I then got a call telling me about the first round of auditions and practiced the links they sent me for the entire day until I was blue in the face. After that I made myself forget about the competition and I tried to focus on my exams and the other work I was doing - which was no mean feat! Then I got a phone call out of the blue telling me I was in the top 12 and that I needed to do a shoot with the Top Billing team the following week. I was in the middle of the exams and was so excited I could barely concentrate. I don't know how I passed!
Q: What impact did it have on your career?
A: Working at Top Billing taught me how to think on my feet. When you're shooting there's no time for second thoughts or mistakes and, although it was difficult in the beginning, once I honed that skill I felt 10-feet tall. I had no experience whatsoever when I started, so learning on the go toughened me up a lot. Now I know who I am and what I want, and nothing will stop me from trying to achieve it.
Q: Do you have any advice for people to follow who may consider entering a competition like this in the future?
A: Be confident, perfect the 'walk and talk' and, most importantly, be yourself! No-one wants to see a carbon-copy of one of the presenters already on Top Billing… they want to meet someone new and different, who will add to the team. Also remember that what you see on TV is the final product and although the job is glamorous, a lot of hard work goes into it as well!


DR MICHAEL MOL, TV presenter

Q: Top Billing has a lot of presenters who are also doctors. Why do you think this is?
A: It’s because we have Drop Dead Gorgeous presenters... so a medically trained person needs to be on standby for a possible resus!
Q: What do you remember about your own audition to become a Top Billing presenter?
A: I remember standing next to Basetsana at my audition – the closest I’d ever come to a Miss South Africa - and probably the second time I’d ever been on camera. I stood there thinking to myself: I wish someone would collapse with a heart attack now – because I’m trained to deal with that, not this ‘lights, camera, action’ stuff. I started my lines and got them horribly wrong, but instead of excusing myself and starting over, I laughed and just carried on, pretending that it was exactly what I intended to say. Apparently it went down quite well.
Q: Give us your big tip for people to use for their own presenter auditions.
A: Be authentic – we already have a Jeannie / Jo-Ann / Michael etc... so don’t imitate the presenters. Stand out amongst the crowd by being different, and by being you. You might just be the very YOU we’re looking for. Don’t forget that anyone can look good on camera (that’s why we have make-up artists), it’s personality and character that really shine!
JO-ANN STRAUSS, TV presenter

Q: What is the question you get asked most frequently?
A: Without a doubt it’s ‘So how does one become a Top Billing presenter?’ And I can understand, because it is without a doubt one of the best jobs in the world! As a woman, I have a dream job – I get dressed up, travel the world and get paid to speak ;-) Okay, maybe it’s not as easy as it looks – I think the roundabout 10 000 hopefuls we had in the last presenter search bear testimony to that. Walking and delivering a line to a camera… that sounds easy, right? Well, not quite!
Q: What has the experience of being a presenter added to your life?
A: My dad always told me, ‘JoJo, the world is your oyster’. Well, back then (I was 12), I had never eaten oysters and I had no idea what he meant. My journey to your living room every Thursday started 10 years ago when I won Miss SA. From there I auditioned for Pasella and presented on that show for about four years. I moved onto Top Billing thereafter and in my first month at Top Billing I traveled to Zimbabwe, Morocco, Qatar and Austria, met Elton John, Heidi Klum and was invited backstage exclusively for a Versace fashion show. Not many jobs that quite measure up to that ;-) And Dad, I now love oysters and understand what you meant! About 5 or 6 years later (I count my time with Top Billing in passports, not years… and I’m on my fourth passport), I can look back at the countless pictures and truly say, ‘I am blessed’. My dad watches the show and wonders when I’m going to get a real job because it does look like we’re on a non-stop fun adventure, but behind the scenes it takes a lot of work to look that way. I’ve been working with an awesome team and am privileged to have worked with such TV production legends. My experience with Top Billing has also helped me to launch my German TV career and I’ve just finished presenting my own segments for the 2010 FIFA World Cup on ZDF (Europe’s biggest TV channel) which was broadcast to about 25 million viewers. And, I presented in German, which took me a couple of months to learn, but the experience I’d gained over the past 10 years helped me tremendously to remain calm. In the end, no matter the language, it all boils down to “Lights, camera, ACTION!!!”

Q: How did you background in modeling help you in the transition to becoming a Top Billing presenter?
A: I left South Africa to study in Belgium and didn’t want to burden my parents... so I started modeling to earn money. Did everything and worked really hard, and practiced more... and soon I managed to build my career up to becoming one of the top models in South Africa. In 2001 I got my big break by featuring in a FANTA commercial that was the biggest campaign of the season and when on to enjoy worldwide usage. These commercials give you the chance to make great bucks... in fact, you make enormous amounts of money for appearing on TV for a few moments.  I have now stopped counting after completing more than 120 TV commercials, not to mention having modelled for the biggest brands in health, beauty, décor and sport.  This experience gave me the invaluable confidence of not being camera shy, although it’s been challenging to start bringing in my voice and personality, which you don’t need to be a success model. I have just learnt to be myself… although I always put 30 percent extra energy on when I’m in front of the camera.  Persistence, hard work and practice is the key to anything
Q: What advice would you give Presenter Search hopefuls?
A: Pretend you are speaking to your mate or friend, relax and always start off with a smile.

Q: Tell us about the process of the first Presenter Search - how did you hear about it and get into the final selection?
A: By good luck I'd say! :) I presented for Eastern Mosaic on a part-time basis after being 1st princess in Miss South Africa in 2004. A friend of mine heard about the Top Billing Presenter Search and called to tell me about it – they told me I should definitely enter! It was really fun for me and I quite enjoyed the whole experience. For the first audition we were given a few links to choose from which we had to prepare. I wasn't sure which one to do so I learnt all five of them!! I was very grateful I did this because the first link I did for the panel was too short so I was asked to do another one :). I was selected as one of the Top 12 and had an awesome time experiencing what a Top Billing shoot was like with the crew (Sunay and Charles were great!).
Q: What impact did it have on your career?
A: Being part of the Top 12 made me realise even more how much I enjoyed television. After graduating with a medical degree from UCT at the end of the same year (2007), I decided to take a break from medicine and see what else the world has to offer me. I started presenting on the show in October 2008 and have loved every minute since!
Q: Do you have any advice for people to follow who may consider entering a competition like this in the future?
A: Be sure that being a presenter is what you really want to do and that it suits your personality. If it is what you want to do and you have the right energy, just enjoy the experience!
LARS SCHWINGES, TV insert director

Q: What makes a great Top Billing presenter?
A: To me the best presenters are those who understand that presenting is not about looking pretty and simply being fed questions. A true presenter takes ownership of the story. That means being informed and researching each story themselves so that they know the subject matter of the insert intimately. This is to ensure that the interview can happen in a spontaneous and fluid way, with the presenter asking informed and intelligent questions. They also need to have a good short-term memory, so that they can competently ask the 'reversals' (when the camera turns around and we shoot the presenter actually asking the questions, that were already asked whilst we were filming the guest). A great presenter also manages to exude a friendly and bubbly personality on screen. This means giving about 10% more energy than normal and working their face and body to look best on camera. Plus, it helps if they have the people skills to make the guest/subject feel at ease before an interview. As a presenter's job is to share experiences with viewers, he or she must also be open to anything and everything. That means sometimes tasting food that might not be everyone's cup of tea, or doing an action activity that might be frightening. There is no place for divas on shoot!
Q: Give it to us in bullet point form please.
A: It’ll be my pleasure. A great presenter:
- Is prepared to research and prepare.

- Has a good short-term memory.
- Makes guests feel comfortable.
- Be able to give the right amount of energy on screen.
- Is open to all experiences and not say 'no'.

Q: As someone who is literally on the other side of the camera, what are you looking for in a great presenter?
A: We want confident, well-spoken, sharp-thinking people who are engaging. They need to be able to lead a conversation and ask questions but still listen and follow the conversation while presenting. From a technical perspective, a presenter need stop be able to hit their marks - they need to be able to walk from one spot to the next, confidently and land in the right spot first time. Be like Ursula - she can hit a mark perfectly, it’s amazing! Obviously the more you practice hitting your mark the better you will become. A presenter also needs to be a team player, not a diva. My favourite presenter to work with is Janez - he’s fun, he gets the job done and he’s willing to try new things. He’s not afraid to put himself out there, which is so important. He’s adventurous and really wants to be there, and that makes the workdays fun for us and he makes the most boring stories come to life.


Q: What characteristics are required in terms of working with the crew on set?
A: Presenters are part of the crew so the more involved they can get, the more they can help if changes come up and we have to move certain things. It is a really big help to the directors if the presenters can fit in and roll with what’s happening. Professionalism is also important. If we interview a bigger name than the presenter, they have to be able to maintain an objective perspective and not ask the questions they have been dying to ask that the rest of the public isn’t interested in. If a presenter can build an easy rapport with the people they meet and interview then it makes the whole job easier for everyone.

BUDDY GAYLARD, TV insert director

Q: What characteristics make the biggest impact for you when it comes to the presenter you work with on location?
A: Personality – it’s all about personality and having a brain. We work with small crews and work hard day in and day out, so everyone has to be able to help out and be passionate about the story/insert. The good presenters are the ones who are just as committed as the directors to a story and want to help make the best story, not just participate in it. Wanting to do research and read info prior to a shoot so they are educated on the matter and can approach a situation with that knowledge rather than leave it only to the director to feed them questions.
Q: What else is important in terms of the presenter’s approach?
A: Someone who listens, not only to direction from the directors, but also to what the interviewee is saying and therefore has the ability to feed on those answers and prompt further questions. Someone who is focused and not easily distracted – this is a difficult balance for presenters to strike as they also have to have lots of energy and so they need to keep their minds busy the whole time through what can sometimes be a slow process of setting up and filming. Also vital is that they are someone that can interact with and connect with others.
Q: It might be a stereotypical question, but what looks work best on TV?
A: Obviously beautiful people are better for camera. In general it is skinnier people as the camera otherwise makes people look flat and 2D. On that same note it is usually people with more defined features, like chiseled jaw lines and a prominent chin etc that look good on camera, although this is not always the case. But there are many really successful presenters around the world who break this mould - which proves that it is a mix of looks and personality that combine to create a successful presenter.
Q: Janez told us that he had to work hard on his voice and pitch compared to his work as a model.
A: Voice training is particularly important for Top Billing as you cannot talk too fast or neither must you sound too intelligent – you don’t want viewers to think you are above them or inaccessible. We do not want overboard fake British accents, but the voice needs to be trained and elegant.
Q: Describe your working relationship with the presenters.
A: We work very closely with the presenters. A new presenter coming in needs to understand that everyone’s job is equally important on set. Without the Director there is not story; without the cameraman, no shots; without the soundman… well, no sound; and without the presenter there’s no face. So you really need a sense of humour, some wit and a willingness to work hard. A sense of style in the way they carry themselves as well as in the way they dress. And, speaking personally, I like to work with someone who wants to just have fun and have a drink with the crew once the shoot is done. I really do think that friendship is key, especially in our company where we travel together and can end up spending every minute together with the crew for weeks on end.