Ed Leigh Shares his Presenting Tips
Date Posted: 23/02/2011
How did you become involved in presenting?
I got into TV through MC’ing, which in turn I got involved with through journalism. I was the editor of White Lines snowboard magazine between 1998 and 2002 and under that guise I had been going to all the snowboard events. I turned up to Board X in Battersea park in 1998 and my very good friend and king of freesports TV at the time, Christian Stevenson had been double booked. The producer handed me a mic and told me to keep spouting rubbish. After what turned out to be a blink and you’ll miss it appearance on MTV Snowball I naively believed the offers would start rolling in. I didn’t get a sniff until the next Board X a year later when the organisers asked me to front a half hour TV show and do the MC’ing. From there it was another four years before I had generated enough guaranteed work to give up the day jobs and focus full time on TV work.
What was your first ever presenting job?
My first proper regular TV job after the Board X shows was for a new channel called CNX. A good friend of Christian and myself had watched us doing our by now very slick but none the less stupid MC’ing double act under the title Laughing Gear and decided that our immature humour would be perfect for the channels nightly ident show. Sadly it only lasted nine months but the up shot was that it gave me some very valuable time in front of a camera. This is the single most important thing about becoming a presenter. No matter how natural you are, no matter how confident, you need to spend time in front of camera just engaging it and becoming yourself or at least a projection of yourself.
The summer before in I took that job in 2001 I’d met some guys from a production company called Boomerang in Wales. I met Gareth and Gryf at a friends birthday and by the end of the night they had asked me and a friend if we wanted to travel to France and Mexico as the subjects of a surfing documentary. We got on well and made a great hour long doc and had a lot of fun. The next summer CNX had shut up shop but fortuitously the Boomerang crew had developed a relationship with Channel 4 and had got a commission for the first Freesports on 4 series and because they had seen me working hard at CNX they had the confidence to take me on as one of the presenters.
That was my big break and it will be the chicken and egg scenario for any young presenters out there. Very few people will take you on without any experience, but where are you supposed to get that from? The key is to network and get yourself out there, send your show reels out to every production company whose work you admire and if they are looking for fresh young talent then you have the golden wonka ticket. Production companies like to develop talent so once you find a good home try to repay that belief they have in you. As soon as I got onboard with Boomerang they invested in me and nurtured me. Without their support I wouldn’t be where I am now.
What do you think makes a presenter stand out from other presenters?
Personally I like presenters who are themselves, who are genuine on screen and look like they’re enjoying themselves. And the best of these are the one’s who make it look easy, because while there’s so much to remember and you’re thinking on your feet you have to remain relaxed otherwise people will pick up that you’re not having fun and it becomes uncomfortable to watch.
As I said passion and intelligence for what ever you’re presenting are the key. If you are excited and amped about something then it is contagious. Think about the great presenters at the moment Kevin Mcleod on Grand Designs, Attenborough on anything, Davina McCall on Big Brother, James May on Top Gear (he is the best by the way). No matter what you think of the shows they all have a passion and interest in what they’re presenting and it makes them watchable.
Did you have a style of presenting when you started or is something that just develops the more you do it?
I definitely didn’t have a style when I started presenting, I just had a lot of bad habits that I have had to iron out over time. I knew from the start that I wanted to be myself because when you’re thinking on your feet you want to be able to come out with the first thing that pops into your head whether it’s right or wrong. Personally I wouldn’t want to be second guessing myself having created a persona. But that’s my opinion and preference for some people that might work.
The worst habit I had was pausing to remember the next line of my links and as I did I would let the tone of my voice rise at the end of each sentence. It was really hard to get to grips with as it was a natural reaction, but as I was given a lot of time to practice I was able to shake this and train my brain to remember links.
Are there any techniques that you use to help you remember what you’ve got to say?
Remembering links can be really hard to start with and it is one of the things I take for granted now because in 8 years it has thankfully become second nature. I really struggled to start with because I tried to remember what people had written for me word for word. But as I worked with Boomerang more and more I realised that they would encourage me to put whatever they had written into my own words. This made it easier for me to remember and ad lib if I got lost anywhere. Not all directors will let you do this, some get really funny about saying exactly what they have written down. But in my experience it will all flow a lot better if you’re comfortable with how you’re explaining something.
The way I now remember stuff is just to bullet point the link, so i know what each sentence or paragragh is roughly about so I know I have to say for example where we are, why we’re their and how great it’s going to be and if I’ve read the link ten times then it’ll usually come out pretty close to that. The key is to work hard and prepare on the links so you know them. Take your time and if the director will let you, re write the links to suit you the night before.
Do you ever get nervous, if so, how do you overcome your nerves?
I have always believed that anyone can be a TV presenter because I found it so easy. But having tried to help and coach friends I have realised that nerves and being self conscious will kill people in front of the camera. It is a blessing for me that I very rarely get nervous or embarrassed. The last time I was nervous was before a live MC’ing gig at Leeds festival in front of a mosh pit of about 2000 people bottle fighting. I was so sure that the moment we opened our mouths they would just turn on us. But they didn’t and we ended up having one of the best gigs we’ve ever done.
Do you ever practice presenting in front of the mirror?
No, it’s a waste of time. There is no substitute for a camera, in front of a mirror you’re alone and are performing for yourself, you need to be able to do this in front of a lot of people, under pressure and so the more people you can practice in front of the better.
How can budding presenters get themselves seen and heard?
Right first of all I feel I should say this. There are two ways to get into TV, one is to set out your stall and say come hell or high water I want to be on TV, I don’t care what for I just want to be on TV. I call this ‘eyes and teeth’ presenting because no matter how good looking or cool you are, you are effectively just a mouth piece and sadly in this game there will always be Big Brother left overs who simply because of celebrity will get a job before you. The other way is to have as I have already said twice, passion and intelligence for a subject. This means that you instantly put yourself in a position where you have knowledge and ultimately some control of what you are saying and reporting on. In the long term the latter path is a lot better for your sanity and integrity, because by and large dignity and TV presenting are not best friends. The catch 22 here is that TV demands mainstream compromise so you have to know your subject, but equally you have to know how to sell that and make it interesting to your gran.
You also need to get your name out there, the first thing you need is a show reel. This is 3-4 minute tape showing what you’re capable of. You have to be disciplined with this, TV people are usually too busy for up and comers and will probably only watch the first minute or two of your show reel, so remember this when you get it edited. Try and put a bit of everything in there classic links to camera, interviews, walking and talking even dicking about. You need to show them that you have everything they want in a minute so make sure it really sells you. With that in mind don’t let some ego maniac editor go nuts on it because you’re the most important part of that tape and you don’t want too many distractions.
If you had to give just one piece of advice to a Red Bull Reporter who is going on a presenting assignment, what would it be?
What I always try and do is go out and if I don’t already know them, introduce myself to the athletes, the judges, the MC anyone who’s a part of what you’re covering. This means you can talk about the conditions, if the riders are happy, and best of all the athletes will also recognise you when it comes to interviews so you stand a better chance of fighting through everyone else to get your slot with them. Network so that you find the stories and bring them to life, not only will you do a great job and enjoy the event more, but you’ll also make a lot of new friends.
Is it better to memorise what I am going to say or make it up as I go along?
Both, memorise your links in which ever way works for you, but when it comes to interviews and ad lib pieces to camera if you have done good research on the subject you should know the story and that will allow you the freedom to freestyle and this is where your personality should shine through. When you have captured that then you know you are doing well.