Patricia Stark

Patricia Stark

Patricia Stark is the founder of Patricia Stark Communications, a media and presentation training company that coaches television hosts, news anchors, performers, CEOs, authors, and many of the 80 percent of Americans who fear public speaking. A former Connecticut 10 o’clock news anchor and former Miss New York, Stark has over 20 years experience working in front of the camera on broadcast and cable television, public broadcasting, live news, training videos, commercials, web, radio, and more. She currently hosts several national and regional programs airing in the U.S. and Canada.

I spoke with Patricia Stark before her upcoming four-week “On-Air Hosting & TV Anchor Class” at Actors Connection. Read the Q&A below to learn how hosting experience can help your acting career, why improv is good for everyone, and what to expect if you enroll in Stark’s class:

Why should actors consider taking an on-air hosting/TV anchor class, and how can it also help their acting careers?

Patricia Stark: There are so many opportunities today for performers in the hosting world, broadcast television, cable networks, new media, and corporate media. Many hosting jobs are “per project,” and they allow you to still do work in legit, commercials, voice-overs, etc. Corporate and new media — websites — especially look for actors to play as hosts, interviewers, anchors, and emcees in many of their productions. It pays well and gives performers the opportunities to use their communications skills in new and different ways.

As performers, we are able to wear many hats and perform in many different types of work. If we look at hosting as just another avenue of performance where we have the opportunity to perform and be ourselves, we’ll see it as another vehicle to gain experience, exposure, expand our abilities, and have a lot of fun.

How can you tell if someone is cut out to be a host or not?

If they seem to be a good storyteller, quick on their feet, can get out of their own head, take the focus off themselves, [and have] the ability to pump it up on camera and to not over-think the whole thing and have fun. Someone who can be very conversational and less presentational. Someone who is not trying to play a host, but rather just be themselves.

What are some basic guidelines that performers should know if they would like to pursue a hosting career?

You don’t need an agent to get hosting gigs. Many of the hosting jobs I’ve had, three of which lasted over 10 years, I landed by marketing myself directly to production companies and through word or mouth and recommendations. And you can still perform in other work.

How important is improvisation to an on-air host? How and why should actors learn improv for this type of gig?

It’s incredibly important to have the ability to think on your feet as a performer, public speaker, host, etc. I recommend everyone take improv classes. They will help you take chances, get more creative, and bring out different aspects of your personality that you may not even know are there. Improv classes help with hosting, commercials, legit, speaking, you name it.

Do you find that comedians tend to do better as hosts than other types of performers?

This is an interesting one. Yes and no. Most times, yes, because they are able to think on their feet and bring something to the party. But the downside is that sometimes, not everything is meant to be funny or snarky. And for those comedians that can’t turn it on and off, it’s a problem.

When you are a host, the show is about the viewer, for the viewer. If it becomes the “all about me, aren’t I so funny?” show, it can be a real turn-off to viewers. So the comedian who has great timing, and a good feel for when to add humor and when to keep it straight, has the golden formula for hosting.

Do you find that classically-trained Shakespearean stage actors have a harder time with hosting, compared with less experienced or trained performers?

Only if they come across as if they are playing the role of a host, instead of just being themselves. Again, hosting is not an elegant presentation. It is a conversation you are having with friends.

You’ve previously talked about the need to be a “triple-threat” host. Can you explain what that means?

We’ve all heard of the traditional “triple-threat” in the performing world. I always tell my students the triple-threat in the hosting world is: Teleprompter skills, ear prompter skills, and the ability to think on your feet — off the cuff improv skills that allow you to interact with the viewer, and during interview situations with guests or “man on the street”-style interviews. I flip back and forth between all three of these skills during any given week, sometimes even during one hosting show.

My classes are where traditional hosting meets cutting edge hosting, because I make sure my students have the foundation they need to pull any of these skills from their arsenal and make a decision as to when to use each. If a host only focuses on Teleprompter, or only focuses on working off the top of their head, they’ll be in trouble when a producer or director needs them to do the opposite. The more skills you have, the more marketable you’ll be, and you’ll simply book more work.

How does reading a teleprompter differ, or share similarities with, reading and learning a script?

When someone hands you a script, you need to be able to take ownership of it, internalize it, make it your own. Teleprompter is wonderful because you don’t have to invest an enormous amount of time memorizing. But you do run the risk of sounding like you are reading if you are not good at it. It’s a skill that can take some time to master. The trick, of course, is to make it appear as if the script you are reading is just coming off the top of your head unscripted. It’s harder than most people think to pull this off. A performer should not learn this the hard way and bomb during a job or audition with one.

Why did you start teaching these hosting classes, in addition to your normal gigs?

I fell into teaching by default. I starting coaching corporate executives during shoots I was performing in, when they were having trouble relaxing or getting comfortable and “real” in front of the camera, either attempting to read Teleprompter naturally or trying to speak off the cuff without blanking out. Also, during interview situations when I was hosting various shows over the years and the person I was interviewing was a nervous wreck and I needed to help them focus and try to get a good interview out of them.

I really enjoyed helping people get through these tough moments, and the producers and directors appreciated it as well. Then they started calling me back in specifically for coaching, and I realized there was another opportunity for me to wear another hat with coaching. After I first started getting involved in teaching Teleprompter intensives, ear prompter, and hosting and advanced hosting classes at Actors Connection, the feedback I got from the students was incredibly motivating. I saw that I was not only helping build people’s skills, but their confidence as well, and helping to guide them. This is incredibly rewarding. And students love the fact that I am currently a working host with a finger on the pulse of the industry. I find that teaching makes me better when I get in front of the camera, and as I continue to perform on camera I become a better teacher. They build off of each other.

What exactly does your on-air hosting class at Actors Connection involve? Can you describe the week-to-week agenda, and how you help your participants progress?

[In the first class,] students work on camera with Teleprompter, using authentic scripts taken from entertainment, lifestyle, sports, educational, business news, medical, web, and traditional news programming, and corporate video productions. Single and co-host reads. This first class begins with an introduction to the industry, with an overview of television program formats, settings, situations, and the types of hosts needed for each. We’ll also cover the different audition scenarios that potential hosts will be confronted with.

Class two focuses on “in-studio” interview skills and “man on the street” interview skills. We’ll cover making smooth transitions from reading Teleprompter segment introductions into guest interviews, and back again. This will also include interview technique and connecting with your guest and audience.

Class three is “the no-prompter zone” and focuses on drills that include off the cuff improv, stand-ups to camera, quick thinking on your feet, and tackling the dreaded “tell me about yourself” audition.

The final class wraps up with each student presenting a clean host read using Teleprompter or off the cuff, of a show intro or segment that they write, recorded to DVD — provided by each student — that can be used as a mini demo reel for viewing by potential agents and production companies the student will contact when they do their personal marketing. Students also have the option to use a script that they have worked with in class.

At the completion of the final class each student will be offered an in-depth booklet of information that recaps the various types of programming, program formats, host types, audition scenarios, important points to remember, frequently asked questions, production company contacts, hosting agent contacts, website resources, marketing resources, demo reel tips, on-air image tips, headshot info, and Patricia Stark Communication’s “The 10 Keys to On-Camera Presenting.”

Are there any prerequisites to taking your upcoming Actors Connection class? What basic skill level are you looking for?

Teleprompter experience is great, so that we don’t have to focus too much on getting comfortable with that skill. But it’s not necessary. I can get folks up to speed with that pretty fast. Students just need to have the desire to connect with their viewer. The “gift of gab” is a great skill to naturally have, but it can be learned.

Describe how you work with each student in your class. Does everybody learn as a group, or is it more about individual attention?

Class is limited to 12 students, so that everyone has the opportunity to get up in front of the camera as many times as possible during each class. I videotape everything, and if they bring in their own tape they can review it at home each night.

Students benefit from hearing feedback on each other, having to perform in front of each other and make changes and adjustments. I take them through dozens of hosting scenarios and situations I have personally been in as a host. Students really love the fact that I am not a casting director or agent but “one of them.”

The class is very “non-pressure” as I remind them they are here to learn, and there is no need to impress me since I am not the one who could represent them or cast them for a job. However, I absolutely recommend they take a hosting class when hosting agents and or CDs teach them, as well, because it really is a great way to network and be seen.

You also focus on preparing people for on-air work by improving their public speaking skills, and easing their fears of being on camera. Most people would probably think that actors, by definition, don’t have this anxiety — but how can public speaking skills, and the fear of, be applied to acting?

Actually, many of my friends who are actors are not necessarily the most outgoing people. A lot of them enjoy getting lost in character, and taking chances playing or “being” someone else — someone quite different from who they really are.

We’ve all seen actors who have played dynamic roles in film and TV, yet when they are interviewed on a talk show seem completely uncomfortable, shy, or awkward. And it kills me to see a great actor at an awards show get up and have to read a Teleprompter and look like a deer in the headlights or sound like an amateur. There’s no reason that should happen.

Patricia Stark’s four-week “On-Air Hosting & TV Anchor Class” begins June 7 at 6:30 p.m. and runs every Monday through June 28 in NYC. For more info and to register for Actors Connection classes, seminars, and events, visit ActorsConnection.com.

For more info, visit www.PatriciaStark.com.

This Q&A was posted online June 4, 2010 at Blog Stage.

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