By: Bram Weinstein/@RealBramW
No two stories are the same, so why would you deliver them in the same manner? How do you speak to someone who just landed his or her dream job? If that same person lost a loved one, would you converse with them at the funeral the same way? Of course not. Tone is paramount to becoming a versatile broadcaster. Making difficult transitions from a light story to a heavy one is one of the most difficult turns in broadcasting and is a subject for a later post on Transitions. That ability to shift tone on the fly is a craft that typically comes with repetition. In my genre of sports broadcasting, the spectrum of emotion asked of the anchors is high. The sports world features feats of amazement on a daily basis. It also showcases questionable decision making, sensitive issues that involve law enforcement, death of iconic figures and the hirings and firings that numerous organizations make. How are you going to project these items? Take time to think about how you want to sound.
GAME HIGHLIGHTS :Highlights are not an easy art. They are timed. You need to hit the high note of the highlight at just the right time to give your viewer the understanding that it was at that juncture of the game that everything changed. Anyone can come up with a signature call for a dunk, home run, touchdown etc and use them (at their own risk) in the highlight. But can you find the right tone for the foul that occurred late in the fourth quarter that turned the tide of an NBA playoff game? Most games aren’t won on a last second shot or dunk. Car chases have this similar feel (especially done live). This is perilous television. Can you maintain the right tone while providing the information and are you capable of reacting appropriately at the moment that the police catch up to this vehicle or when a standoff ensues? Consider for a moment how you think you would react to this. What if you are watching a verdict of a high profile murder case being read live? You don’t know exactly when the judge will issue the verdict and you don’t know how the people in the courtroom will react either way. Have you considered what you will say if a surprise occurs?
HANDLING DEATHS: Tone for death varies depending on the deceased. Was this person a legendary figure who lived a long life and was widely known to have been in poor health for months? If so, the tone should likely reflect reverence for the career with proper tone for the cause of death. But what if the death was a surprise, it happened during an auto race or involved a plane crash? Your tone is imparative. Are you able to convey information as it happens with respect and likely little information. Stick to the facts. Don’t pass judgement on the person. There is an old joke that that statute of limitations has passed on making fun of a bad event and jokes then are acceptable. In the moment, they almost always are not. Be very careful here. If you come off as callous or disrespectful, you will lose stock with your audience.
HOMEWORK = TONE HOMERUN: Homework and base knowledge comes into play in these moments as well. I was particularly proud of how I handled the breaking news of the passing of legendary boxer Rubin Hurricane Carter on a morning edition of Sportscenter in April 2014. The news wire crossed while we were on the air. For those who are unfamiliar with Carter, here is a short background on his life. He was a middleweight contender back in the 1960’s. 3 white people were killed at a tavern in New Jersey to which Carter was blamed and ultimately convicted of twice. He was wrongly accused however and spent nearly 2 decades in prison as an innocent man. Eventually he was released on the grounds of racial bias by New Jersey law enforcement officials and the recanted testimony of some key witnesses.
I had about 5 minutes to write a 30 second lead and 15 second obituary panel. Carter was 76 years old. Now while, I was unaware he was in failing health, his age suggested this was not a major surprise and the news wire told me it was of natural causes, so those close to him knew he was at the end. I chose then to discuss his life opening with the line: “The world lost Rubin Hurricane Carter, a man who was better known for his prize fights with the legal system in the state of New Jersey then the ones where he nearly held the middleweight championship belt.” I went on to succintly discuss what he endured, how he became a celebrity of civil rights and was eventually portrayed by Denzel Washington in a major motion picture about his life. During the obit panel, I read verbatim a line from a Bob Dylan song written about him at the time of his incarceration: “Here comes the story of the Hurricane. The man the authorities came to blame.”
My homework and knowledge base of a person who was not current in our sports world helped me to craft a quick, poignant and what I hope thoughtful piece about a man who had an enormous impact on society, even if that impact hadn’t been felt for decades. I was proud of being ready for this moment. It was in my voice, it was delivered, slowly smoothly and with I hope reverence.
DON’T GET TOO EXCITED: Don’t get over excited by everything. Not every game was the best game ever. Not every law is the most important passage in the history of American politics. Broadcasters who get tone right win. Gay Marriage laws are not the same in terms of tone as Chinese foreign policy. Both have massive ramifications on our society, but both deserve the correct tone. The same goes in sports: Game 38 of a 162 baseball season does not have the same effect on the outcome of a season as game 151 in the midst of an all out pennant race. The dunk in the first quarter of a playoff game probably did not turn the eventual outcome. Understand when you need to get excited and when it is time to project that.
Now that we’ve look at the basics, you need to ask yourself … does your tone fit with your station? Network? It’s a key lesson in tone that could make or break your career. Stay tuned for the next post this week …
Remember, I’ll be coaching sportscasters at our New York City event on January 30th. You can sign up HERE
. Tweet me @RealBramW with comments, questions or shoot email me, email@example.com if you’re interested in booking us for speaking engagements or school classes.