Our guide to TV presenting
Alistair Stafford

Our guide to TV presenting

First published date January 29 2014 Amended date September 23 2015

Love watching television? Like talking and think you could confidently broadcast to millions of people at any given time? Whether you’re a television fanatic looking to follow in the footsteps of the presenter you idolise, or a wannabe journalist dreaming of becoming a household name, a career in television presenting sounds like the ideal role for you. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking to discover what it takes to be a newsreader or want to focus on presenting in a particular area you’re passionate about, there will be a television course to match your ambitions.


Am I suitable?

If you’re able to work calmly under pressure, can handle the thought of large numbers of people watching every move you make and have the confidence to speak clearly in front of a camera, then television presenting can be for you. Television, in particular live TV, always has a sense of unpredictability as certain elements go array, so the presenter has to be ready to ad-lib (improvised speech) at any given moment.  You need to be versatile in a wide range of subjects and be able present either by reading from a script or by feeding off the conversation during an interview.


Different types of presenting

There’s a lot more to television presenting than just being stood talking in front of a camera, with the style and delivery of how you present depending on the type of TV you’re involved in. While a newsreader’s job is primarily to read the news as the title suggests, they also have to be able to adapt and interview experts in the studio, as well as engage in conversation with other reporters on the show. This can be hugely different to presenting a magazine or specialist programme, where the presenter is broadcasting from location rather than behind a studio desk. It could also be argued that reporters are also a type of presenter, as they’re presenting a news story from a specific location.


Learning the lingo

Like any profession, television production has its own set of unique jargon and buzz words that could make you feel like you’re learning an entirely foreign language. To help you along your way, here are a few of the bizarre terms that you may come across:


. Actuality – A word with completely different meaning depending on what area of broadcasting you’re working in. Whereas the radio interpretation of the word is a brief sound bite of no more than around 20 seconds, actuality in television, particularly in feature programmes, is used to refer to audio that isn’t speech. Confused? Don’t worry, it will all make sense.


. Autocue – The clever piece of machinery allows the presenter to look directly at the camera, while an electronic screen underneath it has the script displayed for them to read. The screen only shows a few lines of text at a time, so there’s usually a runner or television assistant controlling the autocue to ensure the script moves along at the same pace as the presenter is reading it.


. Donut – It’s not round and full of a sugary substance like a delicious doughnut, but the television definition does share some similarities. It’s where a piece of footage is surrounded by the presenter. So, it could be the presenter introducing a reporter on location, who then broadcasts his report, before the presenter then thanks the reporter to end the story.


. Float – Not to be confused the foam object you may use in a swimming pool, a float is a selection of images that appear on the screen to show what a presenter is talking about. The float (which is also sometimes referred to as an underlay or out of vision) can be used during an interview, or when illustrating a story during a programme.


. Prospects – Before a show is compiled, there is usually an editorial meeting between the producers and presenters. During that discussion they’ll discuss the prospects, which is a list of possible stories that might be included in the programme. Not everything mentioned will end up making it to air, but the prospects help shape the running order of the show.


Making your break

When applying for TV vacancies, you’ll be expected to have your own showreel, which is a series of video clips highlighting how you perform presenting in different scenarios. Alongside a showreel, TV commissioners are looking for presenters with enthusiasm and who have already shown an interest in the industry. So, even if you’ve never had paid television work, having experience of working at your local community television or radio station on your CV, as well as any other media placements, will be hugely beneficial and can help you stand out when looking for that first break. Very few are lucky enough to go straight into a presenting role, so be prepared to start off in a far more junior role.


Avoiding a blackout

With so many online companies claiming to offer wannabe presenters the best chance of breaking into television, it can be difficult working out which website to trust. There are plenty of examples of sites that charge members to sign up, persuading the users that they will have access to the big production companies in the business, but in reality do little more than add the new member to a long e-mailing list of other hopefuls.


Although there are genuine sites online which provide television presenting advice and courses, it’s worth making a thorough check before committing to a company which, more often than not, will leave you out of pocket and no closer to a TV career.


How they became famous

There are various routes that people make to complete the transition to television presenting, whether that be switching from newspaper or radio journalism, while many fall into the profession having already been a famous face in a different career. Here’s how five of the current TV stars rose to the top of the industry:


. Jonathan Ross - It may seem like ‘Wossy’ has been a permanent fixture on prime time TV, but Ross actually spent the first few years of his television work hidden behind the screen as a programme researcher. In fact, the former BBC star’s educational background is in history, having gained his degree in modern European history at the University of London. It was only when he got a break fronting his own show on Channel Four that his career blossomed, as more than a quarter of a century on his name is still regularly seen in the television listings. 


. Tess Daly – Prior to becoming the female face of Strictly Come Dancing, the wife of Vernon Kay was a professional model for more than a decade, spending long stints working in Paris and the Big Apple among other places. Sending a TV showreel was what gave Daly her opportunity, as the clips of her interviewing celebrities on the red carpet impressed The Big Breakfast team on Channel Four enough to give her a job.


. Ant & Dec – The loveable Geordie pair met on Byker Grove and embarked on a rapping career as PJ & Duncan (who can forget ‘Let’s Get Ready to Rumble’?!), before they found fame under their own names on TV. Growing publicity from fronting CD:UK and SMTV saw them become household names and having also hosted successful shows Pop Idol and I’m A Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!, it can be argued that the Britain’s Got Talent presenters are now the two most recognised faces on the box.


. Emma Willis –Willis may not yet be quite as much of a household name as some of the others mentioned, even though she’s been hosting television shows for over ten years. Having spent several years working for MTV, the ex-model has rapidly become a familiar face on our screens in recent months, by taking over the presenter roles for both the Big Brother series on Channel Five and the Voice on BBC One.


. Eamonn Holmes – The Irishman is the odd one out in this list of stars, having been the only one to have had any formal journalism training prior to becoming a television presenter. Holmes studied journalism at the Belfast College of Business Studies before his career took off, starting in regional TV back in Ireland before making the switch across the Irish Sea. The huge Manchester United fan spent nearly 12 years as co-presenter of GMTV and now juggles his time between presenting for Sky News and on ITV’s This Morning show.


Although there are examples of presenters who have had plenty of luck and good timing to help them become household names, there are plenty who, like Eamonn Holmes, have had television training prior to their career rise. Our television presenting study guide has some of those hosts who’ve had a university education, but if we’re missing your favourite TV anchor then get in touch via Facebook or Twitter!

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