You could say it was my 15 minutes of fame back in 1997 when I stood on the front steps of the Miami Beach Police Department shielding my eyes from the South Florida sun as I stared into the lens of a TV camera. I had a plastic device nestled into my ear with a live feed from news anchors in Atlanta who quickly rattled out questions about the unfolding high-profile serial killer saga involving the murder of Italian designer Gianni Versace on the steps of his Ocean Drive mansion. There I stood like the cliché of a deer caught in the headlights. I heard voices saying something faintly in my ear as the producer waved her hand prompting me to answer. I had no idea what they were saying. And to top it all off, it was live and in Spanish. That’s right, en vivo y en español. ¡Ay Dios Mío!
For the life of me, I cannot tell you what I said that day, but in the chaotic days that ensued in the aftermath of Versace’s death and subsequent hunt for serial killer, Andrew Cunanan who was holed up in a houseboat off the intercoastal, CNN en Español had called the Miami People Magazine Bureau for someone who was bilingual and willing to discuss the story on camera. Being the only Spanish-speaking correspondent in the bureau, I graciously agreed. Apparently my on-camera reporting was not as much of a complete debacle as I thought because they actually called the next day to invite me back!
Since that time, I have faced many crisis-oriented phone calls with journalists and managed to handle them effectively. I have been media-trained several times for broadcast interviews yet I am still hesitant at the thought of being on camera. So when Atlanta Spanish-language stations, Telemundo and Univision called earlier this month to interview me about being named Center for Hispanic Leadership Atlanta Chapter President, I was thrilled, and in a tizzy! ¡Ay Dios Mío!
¡Cálmate! I told myself. I can do this. I might have been a bit rusty from my “live from the scene” appearance but was up for the challenge -- plus this was recorded, not live. With that in mind, I methodically practiced my talking points, selected an elegant outfit, and overall felt prepared for my interviews. However, as soon as the bright lights were turned on (interrogation style), I could feel the beads of sweat forming across my face. “Can you see me sweating?” I asked Univision Atlanta’s Mariela Romero as I fanned myself fervently with my notes. I looked fine, she assured. With the Telemundo interview, I was not as hot -- so no perspiring issue there, PHEW! However, I was concentrating so much on what I was saying that I forgot all about my delivery. I completely forgot to smile and connect with the audience. ¡Ay Dios Mío! (See for yourself, click video below!)
After my latest 15-minutes of fame experience, I have chalked them up and placed them in my lessons learned vault (it’s getting quite full). That being said, here are my top 8 simple must do’s to remember before stepping into the spotlight.
1) Do practice your talking points beforehand. However, here’s a tip. Practice by using only the word “la” for your words instead of actual words. This will help you focus on connecting with the audience utilizing only the tone and inflections of your voice to get your message across.
2) Do practice in front of a mirror or even videotape yourself to see how you look, how you are standing, and how you are sitting. If you are standing, remember to stand with both feet firmly planted and resist the urge to shift your weight and swing back and forth.
3) Do take three big breaths to compose yourself before even uttering your first word.
4) Do become a storyteller and share your story, your experiences, your history, to illustrate your points and to help others really connect with you.
5) Do unleash your inner Latina or Latino by using your hands to express yourself. You are who you are, so let people see the real you and hear your authentic voice.
6) Do remember to take pauses between questions to collect your thoughts before answering. It may sound counterintuitive – trust me I’m all about the chit chat; however, there is a lot of power in silence. Learn to be comfortable in the absence of sound.
7) Do stay away from tweeds and beige suits, which do not come across well on camera. Instead opt for dark suits with vibrant-colored shirts or even go for a bright-colored jacket such as red for women.
8) And last but not least.....DO smile (until it hurts)! Another rather simple recommendation but one I clearly forgot to do in my Telemundo interview!
In the end, I have had many moments where I say to myself, “metí la pata,” (the equivalent to I put my foot in my mouth) but I also try to embrace each step as part of my professional learning and development journey. Listen, we are all just trying to figure it all out and sharing our experiences with each other is a big part of the incredible opportunity we have to connect and lift each other up.
I would love to hear your “meti la pata” stories, what you learned, and how you’ve applied this learned knowledge in the workplace to advance your career and move closer to your goals. Remember, aquí, somos amigos de confianza!