Top 5 Live Shot Tips for TV News Reporters

A picture of a news reporter
Master the art of the live shot and become a news reporter viewers trust. Photo © DreamPictures / Getty Images

Just about all TV news reporters and anchors remember their first live shot. It's both thrilling and terrifying to know that what you're saying into the microphone is being transmitted instantly into thousands of homes for viewers to see. There are no do-overs. Master the live shot to improve your resume tape or DVD and win television media awards for your abilities. These top 5 live shot tips for TV news reporters help you deliver quality content to your viewers, whether you're covering a school board meeting or a national political scandal.

Plan How You Want to Use Your Live Shot

A live shot is a tool for reporting, just like a TV interview, graphics or other parts of a news package. While you can't control everything that happens the moment you "go live", you can decide how being live will improve your story.

Many live shots happen outside buildings, such as city hall. So while you won't have the incredible visuals of a fire behind you, you can reinforce the "now" aspect of your report: "I'm live in front of city hall, where inside these doors just moments ago, the city council voted to cut 1,000 employees from the payroll." You are telling the audience you are on the scene, covering the latest developments the moment they happen.

In breaking news situations, the stress level may be higher, but it's actually easier to plan your live shot. If you're in a tornado-ravaged neighborhood, you do a show-and-tell report by pointing out what you see, tour guide style.

A third common live shot scenario is covering a news conference or speech. You introduce the event that is about to take place, let it happen, then deliver a wrap-up afterward. These can be tricky if you don't plan enough introduction material. You have to be ready if your live shot starts at 5:00 p.m. for a news conference that is supposed to begin at 5:01, but doesn't actually get underway until 5:04.

You will likely be expected to fill that time.

Talk in an Outline Format During Your Live Shot

Organizing what you want to say is critical in delivering a smooth live shot. Beginners will try to memorize every word, which is dangerous. Forget one tiny part of information and you'll stumble through the rest of your report, or worse, freeze on air without anything to say.

It's better to talk in an outline format. Think of bullet points you want to hit, as if you were giving a PowerPoint presentation to your audience. Hopefully, the words will then naturally fall into place.

Some reporters go a step further by thinking in pictures. For the city hall live shot mentioned above, they would picture the building, the city council sitting at their large table and then the 1,000 people with pink slips. Then they talk about the pictures they see in their head.

If You Stumble in Your Live Shot, Keep Going

We all stumble occasionally when we talk with friends or family, so it's inevitable that you will sometimes stumble while talking during a live shot. Recovery is key because you can't simply start over.

Think of what you do when you stumble on a word in real life. You likely say the word correctly, then continue speaking.

No big deal and no one remembers your brief verbal hiccup.

Strive for a natural recovery in your live shot. If a stumble appears to have derailed your mental train, the viewers will pick up on that uneasiness and focus on that, rather than your story.

It's a hard skill to practice because you first have to accidentally make a mistake in order to learn how to correct it smoothly. The more you can make your live shot look natural, even when you're having problems, the more professional you will appear.

Move Around in Your Live Shot When It's Appropriate

You've seen reporters for the broadcast networks deliver countless live shots from in front of the White House. They just stand there, speaking into their microphone. So it's easy to assume that's the model to follow for any live shot you deliver, because that's how the big shots do it.

But what works at the White House doesn't necessarily work at a state fair, protest march or natural disaster. You have the chance to walk and move the camera as you're reporting live.

Viewers want you to show them something, to take them somewhere they can't go on their own. So walk through the state fair and point at the attractions. Use the camera at the protest march to show just how many people are walking the streets. Find a way to demonstrate the depth of the floodwaters at the moment you are reporting live from a neighborhood that's under water.

It's easier than you think. Once you add movement to your live shot, the words will flow because you will be talking about what you're seeing. These are the live shots that will be most memorable when it comes time to enter awards or send off a resume for a potential job.

A moving live shot requires practice with your videographer. Before you walk, you have to know you have enough cable for the camera and your microphone. Your videographer needs to rehearse his motions to make sure you stay in focus and in frame. Failing to communicate with him can result in a calamity that will be captured on live TV.

Wrap Up Your Live Shot and Push the Story Forward

The perfect live shot doesn't deserve to wither in its final moments. That's why you must also plan out what you will say at the end, because a good wrap-up is just as important as a good start.

"Uh, that's it from here..." isn't a commanding way to end a live shot. It indicates you simply ran out of something to say.

Think about where your story goes from here once you turn off the camera. That moves the story forward, because after all, most stories don't end once you get into the news car to head back to the station. "The people whose homes are flooded are now waiting on their insurance companies to tell them if they'll pay for all the damage that's left," is a good way to end your live shot and position yourself for a follow-up report.

By speaking about what's next, you don't sound like you're simply saying, "We're done." For something like a major flood, your live shot is likely part of a mass of news coverage that will be continuing long after you go home for the night. So you want to indicate that by being forward-thinking and forward-speaking.

It is tough to manage all these live shot components while acting naturally. But in this era of TV news, reporters are expected to excel at being live on the scene. Your on-air career likely depends on your ability to deliver a compelling, accurate and timely live shot.

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