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“We’re all broadcasters now” is the catchline I came up with when we all moved to virtual working, but it’s in fact been true for some time, hasn’t it?  Every piece of research you read will tell you that it’s videos that catch the eye if you’re trying to get noticed on Linked In, far more than anything (written) like this.  

This gives all of us in business a quick-win opportunity.  

Let’s face it.  There are a lot of really poorly made films splattered across our social media.  And that means it’s easy, with just a little thought and effort, to make yourself stand out with a well made little film.  

So here are five things I’ve learnt in the twenty or so years I’ve been editing my own news reports for the BBC. 


1   Less is More

Anyone who’s joined me for one of my communications masterclasses will know that I bang on about this incessantly.  One key skill for a journalist is, of course, deciding what needs to be included in a news report.  But the other key skill is spotting what can be left out.

I suggest you aim for no more than 2 minutes to get your message across – 90 seconds if possible.  It’s the average length of a TV news report.  

If that short timeframe makes you wince, because there’s so much you want to say in your video, ask yourself: how quickly do I tune out when watching other people’s videos?   

 

2.   Turn your camera around

Here’s the really quick win.  Making your videos look more professional can be as simple as turning your phone on its side.

TVs are landscape (longer at the top).  Laptops are landscape.  Your tablet is landscape.  Yet so many of us still record videos portrait (shorter at the top.)   Filming videos in portrait communicates to your audience that you’re new to this — filming landscape suggests you know what you’re doing.   

Not sure the PM got the memo that videos aren’t portraits

 

3.  Turn the light on

As a reporter on a deadline, I was always in a rush to get my interviews done and dusted when working with a professional cameraman.  I was often frustrated when he’d pause, rub his chin and say “hmm, we need to throw up a light or two here.” 

But he was right, of course.  Lighting is crucial.  And you don’t need fancy lighting gear to do it.  Simply make sure you don’t have a big window behind you, turning you into a silhouette.  And make sure you do have a light source in front of you — a lamp, a window, or the loveliest light source of all, the sunshine. 

The gorilla tripod can also hold a light – this one from a company called Pixel. Both yours for less than £120

4.  Look around you

Your audience will notice what’s around you far sooner than they notice what you are actually saying.  There’s a reason camera-crews take time to frame their interviewees — they’re choosing a background that’s either relevant, or neutral. 

If you’re using Linked In to build your brand, ask yourself:  what message am I sending out by the background I’ve chosen for this message?  Does a scruffy office enhance your credibility?  Is that fancy piece of artwork impressive, or is it a distraction?   

If you want your audience to focus on what you’re actually saying, consider filming in front of a simply patterned wall, or outdoors in a park.   Or if you have your own branding banners, pop them discreetly at your side. 

 

5.  Invest in a tripod

So — your message is simple, your framing is good, the lighting’s perfect and your background is subtle.  What a shame to ruin it all with the most amateur look of all — the wobble.  

For the price of a few bottles of wine, you can pick up a portable tripod (sometimes known as a ‘gorilla’ tripod) which clutches your phone, placed on a table or shelf in front of you.  Spend a bit more, and you can have a lightweight tripod that stands on the floor.  

No fancy attachments require.  Wobble be gone. 

Taller tripod, with attachable camera grip – tripod by VEO, grip by ManFrotto. Yours for less than £120

 

Gorilla Tripod – and Rode mic with extension cable


I may be fighting a losing battle here.  The Prime Minister himself posted a video recently, which broke every single one of the rules I’ve just suggested.  

But maybe he was going for the shabby, on-the-run look.   If you’ve read this far, I suspect you’re not … and hope these tips have helped you realise how very little you need to do to look a lot, lot better on camera. 

 

If you’d like me to film and edit a short video for you, give me a call.  I can help you work out to say, and explain my production thoughts — giving you the confidence to make the next one by yourself. 

It’s been a heartbreaking week for the Royal Family, and a brutal one for the BBC.  I never thought I’d have to do some hard thinking about whether my slogan “30+ YEARS AT THE BBC” is such a pull after all.  

But in this article — longer than most that I write — I share my experience of a career at the BBC, and offer three thoughts that I hope will be helpful for any business leader who may feel the heat of a scandal exploding beneath them.


We all remember where we were when we heard that the Princess of Wales died, and I suspect many of us, too, remember where we were when That Interview with her aired less than two years earlier. 

I had just come off a very full day in the BBC North East newsroom, reporting (during the day) the new phenomenon of School League Tables on BBC Radio Newcastle, Cumbria and Cleveland and then, in the early evening, reporting live for Look North on BBC One.  School League Tables Day was the most important date in the calendar for a regional Education Correspondent like me at the time.

Like so many of the twenty million or so people who tuned in, as I sank into a well earned glass of red wine that wet November evening, I was in awe of the celebrity reporter who had somehow secured this scoop.  

We now all know he had secured it, in part, by deception. 

One result of this deception, finally acknowledged by the BBC more than a quarter of a century later, is that many people may now have lost faith in the broadcaster they fund with their license fee. 

Taking a break in Kensington Park with the BBC reporting team at the Princess of Wales’ funeral.

 

Another result, less widely noted perhaps in the mainstream media this week, is that BBC staff have been left shattered. 

So what does this sorry story tell us that might help C suite leaders in business today, as they strive to maintain trust and affection from their staff, as well as their customers and clients? 

 

1 — Spot where the real ‘talent’ lies 

Martin Bashir was what is known within the industry as ‘the talent.’ 

It’s a phrase that’s always revolted me, when applied to the highest paid ‘on air’ names and faces, because it’s seemed to me to be a slap in the face of the equally (if not more) talented teams of producers, editors, engineers and assistants who invariably do far more of the work, shoulder far more of the responsibility and are paid far, far, far less while doing much, much, much more than those that appear in front of the camera.

This scandal is perhaps a reminder to business leaders that your ‘talent’ may be more likely to disappoint you than staff further down your management structure.  Pander to ‘the talent’, and watch as the complacency sets in.  

I’ve seen this for myself in BBC training and hospitality suites. 

Twelve years ago, I spent a year on secondment as part of the BBC Academy, training new journalists at the BBC.  Part of my role was to arrange for top presenters to meet them for early evening drinks on the Tuesday of their training week, to share stories and answer questions.  

Many of these guests were charming, gracious storytellers, wanting to help and inspire.  But I was also struck by several who arrived ill prepared, indifferent and vain, with (it struck me) far fewer insights about journalism and reporting than I could have offered them myself, based on my relatively mainstream career in the BBC English Regions.

Having now left the BBC, I have been able to develop my own career as a Speaker (revealing ‘how news works’), and as an MC, at a wide range of events.  

I’ve detected in some fellow speakers the same trend that stems from complacency:  the higher paid the speaker, the more likely they may be to arrive gung-ho, to deliver a stump speech oblivious to the audience’s actual interests and the organiser’s brief.

One speaker, in the £10,000 + bracket, asked me (minutes before we went on stage), to remind her what the title of her speech actually was. 

If you’re a business leader, use the BBC Bashir moment to ask yourself: “where does the ‘talent’ really lie in my business?”  I’d suggest it isn’t always at the top. 

 

2 — Remember that your Staff will be shattered, too 

Across the world this week, it’s not just audiences who appear to have been left open mouthed at the revelation that a BBC reporter behaved in such an underhand way, and then covered it all up. 

BBC Staff have been left open-mouthed, too. 

You will form your own view on whether what I type here is true, but in 31 years in BBC newsrooms I cannot think of a single journalist I worked with who would have behaved in such a way.  Quite the reverse.  

 

BBC North East Newsroom, c. 1997. Books, big computers, and a fax machine.

An entire department, known as Editorial Policy, exists to hold hoops high for reporters and producers to jump through in their journalism.  Many reports I worked on took months to come to air as a result of this scrutiny.  Many are simply shelved because to broadcast them would risk being unfair or inaccurate.  

Each Wednesday during the training week I helped run at the BBC Academy was Editorial Policy Day — consisting of workshops delivered by these brilliant and scrupulously fair minds from the Editorial Policy unit.  They amounted to an internal editorial police force, feared but respected, wise, patient and challenging.

The Bashir debacle will have shattered morale amongst BBC journalists, because they know that he broke the very rules that they so scrupulously follow.  The Editorial Policy unit was in place to uphold them in 1995, and it is there now in 2021. 

If you’re a business leader, use the Bashir moment to ask yourself: how do I demonstrate to my staff that there isn’t one set of rules for some staff, and no set of rules whatsoever for others?

 

3 — If you fail, ‘own it’

Prince Harry, in what struck me as a gracious statement, thanked ‘those who have taken some form of accountability, and owned it.’ 

It’s not a phrase I’m drawn to, but BBC journalists have this week ‘owned’ the story.  Every bulletin has led with the latest twist and turn.  Navels have been examined, swords fallen upon, sackcloth torn, ashes scattered.  Editorial decisions have been taken at the highest level that anything less would compound the original offence. 

No such decision appears to have been taken by Senior Management until today, four days later. 

In what must be one of the most disgraceful decisions of the entire scandal, BBC management consistently turned down requests from journalists of all kind to comment as the story developed.  Yes, the Director General gave an honest interview as the scandal broke on Thursday, but from Friday until today (Monday) — as the Royal Family’s comments raised the story to an even higher level — the line was “nobody is available for interview.”  

This, from a broadcaster who expects governments and organisations to make people available when there are questions to be asked, is dumbfounding.

If you’re a business leader caught in a crisis, use the Bashir moment to remind yourself to tell it like it is.  It’s not enough to leave your staff to do it for you. 


Prince William ended his statement on Thursday evening with the following words: 

“These failings, identified by investigative journalists, not only let my mother down, and my family down; they let the public down too.”

In so doing, he acknowledged the role of journalists, and reminded us why what they do matters.  They serve a paying audience. 

You’ve read this far because you know how much business matters, too.  Businesses serve an audience: your consumers, your clients and your customers. 

It’s up to all of us not to let our audiences down. 

It’s a bit tatty now, but sitting on my bedside table is my turquoise Five Year Diary.  Each night, just before light’s out, I jot down two or three sentences about the day that’s been.  And I glance back at what I was getting up to 1, 2, 3, 4 years earlier.  

Wednesday 7 April was the anniversary of my first Virtual workshop, and I marked the moment with a modest glass of wine that evening.  That workshop was to become the first of five free ‘pilots’, as I tested the tech and explored the possibilities of delivering meaningful thoughts on crystal clear communications to my clients — down a lens.   Since then, I have delivered 55 more, to paying clients. 

One year on, here are five things I’ve learnt about virtual meetings — that could help you get ahead of your competition, and keep you and your staff happy. 

 

1  It’s a chance to look really smart (while everyone else is just looking scruffy.)  I base all my Newsroom Secrets on what I learnt in my three decades working for BBC News.  A fundamental principal is that when you’re on air, you look the part: lighting, backdrop, clothes.  Yet our new virtual world has revealed CEOs in what looks like a back bedroom, MPs showing off inappropriate artwork, campaigning spokespeople in silhouette.  Investing in a £150 pop up green screen, and downloading a relevant logo or neutral backdrop, could have transformed a badly lit mess into a powerful and professional message. 

2  Thrill your staff by ending your meeting on time (or even early).   Quite a few articles are appearing now about how damaging it can be to have too many back-to-back virtual meetings.  Once they start to over-run, we stumble into a culture of joining late, ending later still and irritating people for whom it’s easier than ever to abandon the meeting altogether.  My Newsroom Secret here may sound a touch uptight, but it works when you’re directing a broadcast news bulletin, and it works in a broadcast meeting.  Be really clear on timings.  Invite participants to take, say,  “30 seconds each” if you’re seeking a range of opinions from a zoom room of 10 people.  If things do slip, as they will, have something at the end that you can always cut back. (In our news bulletins, it’s the live weather forecast.)  Of course, these are basic skills useful for any meeting … but they’re more important than ever when peering down a lens at people who can so easily slip away without anyone noticing. 

3  Your Router is your comfort blanket (and is worth some TLC)  Many years ago, a BBC engineer gently explained to me how the new era of broadcasting (using the internet) would help me get my edited news report on air, without needing a motorbike and despatch rider to speed the tape to the newsroom 35 miles away.  “Basically, John, we get four SIM cards and shove them up the a*se of this rocket fuel router we got in from China” he advised me.   I’ve since discovered, albeit more delicately, that I too can have comfort blanket connectivity by going online and finding a rocket fuel router.  It’s been a tiny bit of hassle, but the peace of mind it gives as I deliver my workshops is worth the investment.   But … 

4  You need a Plan B (because everything can fail sometimes.)  My 54th virtual workshop last week took an unusual turn.  The clients paying me couldn’t see the news clips I was playing them via my shared screen.  My sharing screen had simply frozen.  It’s a very long story, involving a rather stressful afternoon of me testing my monitor, ethernet cable, router, adaptor, laptop, slides and videos.  I resorted to Zoom’s (excellent) customer support.   And I was mightily relieved to discover that it wasn’t my fault — clients have been reporting all sorts of problems with Macs following upgrades to the new Big Sur software.  The solution that saved me (and meant my clients got their workshop, albeit a few minutes late) was this.   Have a spare laptop if you can.  Expensive perhaps, but worth considering next time you upgrade your current one. 

5  Our virtual world is here to stay (and that’s something to celebrate.)  I am looking forward to Friday 23 April, when I am due to deliver a face to face workshop to a client and her team, within the rules, in an office-marquee she’s rigged up in her garden in Sussex.  I can’t wait to pour myself some coffee and watch participants as they reach for the biscuits in a space with chairs and name-badges laid out on a horseshoe table.  But I can also celebrate the fact that without leaving my front door this year, I’ve worked with people from Toronto to Sydney, Lima to Stockholm, Singapore to Istanbul.  That’s good for our planet, and good for my business. 

The journey we’ve all shared this past year, I think, has been the journey just beyond our comfort zones.  We’ve all been at it:  downloading and installing, comparing platforms, sharing our screens again and again and again. 

There’ll be more to learn along the way.  But I’m confident 7 April next year will be another day for a quiet celebration.  More workshops smoothly delivered to help clients smoothly deliver their messages.  Maybe I’ll replace that modest glass of wine with a larger glass of champagne.


If you’d like some to discover how to Make Your Next Virtual Meeting as Professional As A BBC News Broadcast, give me a call on 07850 188620 — or click here to find out more about my range of virtual communications workshops

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