Lessons from The Today Show

Mario Armstrong is a digital lifestyle expert, the tech corespondent for the TODAY show and CNN, and the host of a daily tech talk radio show on SiriusXM. An entrepreneur by nature, Mario made his passion his career by quitting his day job and founding Mario Armstrong Media. AT&T has sponsored the following blog post.

For about a year I was a regular guest on The Today Show where I’ve had to bring my message to a television audience of more than 5 million people. About 2 months ago, I became their official Digital Lifestyle Contributor and it’s been an incredible journey getting here. It hasn’t always been an easy road, but I’ve learned a lot from presenting to both large and small audiences over the years. I’ve tried to boil down some of my best tips that can be adapted to almost any public speaking situation, whether it’s a presentation in the boardroom or a huge television hit on TODAY.

1. Know your demographics

Before appearing in front of any audience the most important question you need to ask yourself is who am I speaking to? Do your homework on the demographics of your audience, but if you can’t find the answers easily, then ASK who’s going to be at the presentation, their age, gender, level of knowledge in your area etc… Find out who is going to be taking in your content, because then you can customize your message for your delivery.

2. Over-prepare

Some professionals might tell you otherwise, but you can never really over-prepare. I think that over-preparation is actually a good thing. Over-preparing should help you to be natural enough with your answers and your presentation style so that it’s naturally you but still solid enough that you aren’t missing any key points. If you sound too studied or too nervous, you may sound like you’re only reading scripted bullet points and audiences know that.

3. Hit your key points

I try to drill my points down to index cards, typing notes on a screen or writing them down on a sheet of paper is too much room, distilling your messages to an index cards really helps you cut through clutter. Especially for television, like The Today Show or CNN you only get a couple minutes worth of content. You have to figure out what the most specific, urgent, and relevant points are. Your business might have 10 selling points for your product or service but that’s way too many! You need to drill down to maybe 3-5 main points which is why understanding your demographics is so critical, since probably only some of your points match up perfectly with your audience. Before I go in front of an audience, I’m using Evernote to collect, prepare and read through pages and pages of notes and research. But then I boil things down to a few index cards each with a few points so I can clearly and naturally communicate my message to my audience.

4. Lead with your strongest point

Two or three minutes on television doesn’t leave much room for error. And speaking at a conference or meeting is not much different, you have to quickly hit your main point that will capture the audiences attention. When on TV you really don’t have the luxury of even a few extra seconds on-air, so I always make sure to get out my most important point first, since my last point could easily end up on the cutting room floor.

5. Role-play

Before you appear on television you’ve got to sit down and role-play the entire interview. Before I’m on the Today Show, I sit down in a chair with someone interviewing me with the questions we’ve prepared ahead of time. But role-play alone is not enough, because anyone can do that. Start a timer and make absolutely sure you can get out your entire message in the time slot you have at a comfortable and conversational pace. If you have a video camera, make sure it’s set up and record the whole thing. Even if it’s just a camera phone you need to see what your body language looks like as you’re answering those questions. If you can, get another person to do the camera work, and then continue to add people to role-play other roles. On television you have people working the lights, cameras, sound—someone is responsible for each of these roles in the studio and there’s a lot of stuff going on. Your rehearsal environment should replicate some of this tension and chaos, so you want to prepare in front of as many people as you can, not in a quiet room by yourself.

6. The visuals have to match up

On television, there are always on-screen images and text to accompany any piece. So I have to figure out what I can show the viewer that will complement what I’m saying. Will I have text or an image on the screen? First I have to figure out what all of the messages I’m trying to send are, then I have to pare it down: what’s overload, what’s too much to take in? For business professionals using PowerPoint, my advice is the same: keep it simple, and don’t let the words on screen distract your audience from your message, You don’t want to deliver death-by-PowerPoint, so use more images than text and video when you can to spice it up and make it interactive. In my latest hit for TODAY about buying a new HDTV this holiday season, I gave Matt Lauer exactly three tips for purchasing a TV. The visual elements overlaid on the screen matched my recommendations exactly.

7. Ignore the numbers

When I’m on the Today Show, I appear in front of more than 5 million viewers. How do I deal with being in front of such a large audience? Simple: I don’t think about it. I actually only think of a few of the demographic types. Since I can’t see the TV audience, I’ll envision who’s watching, for example am I speaking to the overwhelmed parent or the entrepreneur? This process helps me to see them instead of a camera.

8. Visualize Yourself

Regardless of whether you’re speaking at a conference or appearing on television, you need to know your content upside down, to the point where you don’t need visual cues or even notecards. People get sweaty palms because being in front of an audience can justifiably be intimidating, but the sooner you visualize the room, the podium, the microphone, what you’re wearing, etc… the easier it will be. Once you know your content and can imagine yourself in that room, you can comfortably move through your entire speech.  Then your real personality will start to come out. If you’re too worried about what you’re going to say then you never really get to see you, the person, presenting to us.

9. Go There

If you can go to the venue or see the television studio ahead of time, this will help tremendously.  For every speech I do, I go to the room: I smell it, I walk around in it, I sit down as though I’m in the audience in different chairs, form the front row to the back corner. I want to know exactly how people are going to feel when they’re listening and viewing my presentation. I’ll put the slides up and see how they look from different parts of the room and then I do a full-crew run-though. My final rehearsal needs to have everyone who will be there for the actual event doing their part and making sure everything goes smoothly. Sometimes you’ll find out the projector displays things differently than at home and you need to tweak your colors. Sometimes you’ll find that you need to be louder or quieter because of how the sound is set up.

10. Find some meditation time

Television green rooms are there for a reason—before you go live, you’re going to want to have a room to yourself where you can be quiet and mentally prepare yourself for what’s about to happen. No matter where you are (I’ve used bathrooms for this as well) or what kind of speech you’re delivering, this quiet time beforehand can mean the difference between nailing it and being a nervous wreck. Be sure that before the big event you have some downtime by yourself, where you breathe deeply, envision an outcome of success and then go smash it! It’s the final key to making sure you deliver a clear message to your audience.

If you get all of the elements to line up, you’ll bring a clear, concise, and easy to understand message to your viewers, like when I brought back-to-school gadgets to the Today Show:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Mario Armstrong Digital Lifestyle Expert Sponsored post About Mario