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How to go live: advice from a Sky News reporter

with Sarah Jane Mee, Sky News


It seems only relatively recently that small businesses started realising the need for an online presence. Now video is becoming vital to how our businesses communicate and not just in bringing our brands to life, but in growing our customer base. To add to this, we all know that as founders, we need to go beyond product and be our brands. But for many of us, this is a totally new and potentially daunting skill – even for the extroverts. Instagram Live launched in 2016, but it has really only been during the pandemic, that IG Live has really taken off. In the US, Instagram says Live usage is up by over a huge 70%. And Facebook Live videos produce 6 times as many interactions and get 10 times more comments than regular videos.

So how do we step into this role when it’s something that even the professionals spend years honing? We asked Sarah Jane Mee of Sky News for expert advice and her top tips after 15 years in front of the camera. Read on for her straight-talking and honest opinion on what it takes to feel comfortable in front of the camera.

When she first started out in regional news, Sarah Jane Mee remembers that there was no Twitter, no Instagram, and Facebook had only just started. So there was no easy way to practise going live, other than in front of studio cameras.

‘The beauty of what’s happening now is that what we’re broadcasting on is a phone, and that’s a mobile studio, so you can record and do as many practice runs as you can before you go live.’

‘I was so conscious about not making mistakes because I was so nervous,’ she says, ‘so I was really wooden and I think everyone is like that when they first start out. Being comfortable in front of the camera comes with experience and practice.’ She adds, ‘The beauty of what’s happening now is that what we’re broadcasting on is a phone, and that’s a mobile studio, so you can record and do as many practice runs as you like before you go live.’

It’s true, you really do have a media centre in the palm of your hand with your smartphone, so let’s get going with how you can feel more relaxed with having the camera on you.

Be yourself

Don’t feel you have to be someone you’re not. You can have an alter-ego to boost your confidence, but you can’t fake what you think and feel because it won’t feel authentic. Don’t worry about being “professional”, people are just as interested in you as a person as they are in your business. Your presentation doesn’t have to be immaculate – dropping in some natural chat helps your audience connect with you.

Practise, practise, practise

Holly’s tip is to create a private Instagram account and practise going live on Instagram with just one friend watching. Sarah Jane agrees that this is a great idea but adds, ‘Get honest feedback – you need constructive criticism so go to your harshest friend and say, “Tell me what you think and don’t dress it up” and then take what they say on board.’

What if being on screen just isn’t for you?

If you’re not comfortable on camera and you can’t get used to it no matter what you try, that’s okay, there are many ways to work around this. ‘People love all sorts of content, it doesn’t have to be chat-based’ says Sarah Jane. Think about behind-the-scenes tours or interviews with your team. People also love watching products being made – you can speed it up with the Hyperlapse app if it’s a slow process.

Things can and will go wrong

Sarah Jane had to get used to broadcasting from home during the pandemic while she was pregnant and laughs when she remembers the time where she was consistently looking into the wrong camera while live. Getting familiar with your equipment will give you a sense of security but be prepared for the unexpected like your internet connection dropping out or life simply happening in the background (children crawling around, the dog barking, partners hoovering etc!) Go with the flow and laugh it off, it all adds to the entertainment! If you have connection issues, you may need to start again or reschedule.

Do I need an interview technique?

If you have a guest on your Instagram Live, always have a chat beforehand to run through what you’ll discuss and the key questions you’d like to ask so that they can feel prepared. Obviously some people will be well-versed in IG Lives and others not so much. It’s similar in the newsroom, ‘If someone’s never been on live telly, the first thing they say is, “Look after me!’’ Sarah Jane tells us. ‘I always tell interviewees, “Nobody knows your subject matter better than you, you’re the expert here.” You have to put people at ease, remind them, “It’s a conversation, I’m not here to trip you up.’’

Ask your audience what they want

Sarah Jane’s advice for small businesses is, ‘Engage with the people you’re in touch with already – your customers, your followers. Ask what they’d like to see, and you’ll come up with ideas for content. Sometimes you’ll sit down and go, “What can I do?” and you try to be too clever about it. So ask your audience what they want and keep it simple.’

‘Engage with the people you’re in touch with already – your customers, your followers. Ask what they’d like to see, and you’ll come up with ideas for content.’

Nothing is ever wasted

While you’re getting into the swing of things, don’t look at audience numbers – if they’re low, it’ll only make you panic and think, “What’s the point?” The point is that you’re producing content which sits on your profile and will be available for viewing even after it’s live so never think of it as a waste. If it’s really not worth keeping on your profile (ask that harsh but fair friend!) you can easily remove it.

Key takeaways:

1. Keep it short and keep it simple: Focus on what the message is and don’t try to be clever with backdrops or props.

2. Always have a start, middle and end: To keep you on track, keep each of the three parts to a similar length.

3. Remember why you’re here: Have key signposts in your notes to bring it back if you wander off topic.

“On Air” sign – Sparkle Child; “Amazing things will happen” pin – Old English Co.

What marketing should you consider?

Holly shares all the marketing tools you can use to help you tell your story in a way that connects and engages your community.

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