By Brad Holbrook, Founder of ActorIntro and Emmy-Winning TV Journalist
*Find out about Brad’s Hosting Workshop at The Network by clicking here.
The category of performing called “Hosting” is a big part of today’s job opportunities for actors. But the term covers a wide range of work, with various specialized requirements.
Saying you are a host is like saying you are a lawyer. “What kind, exactly?” is always the next question. Divorce lawyer? Estate? Criminal? Could a “general interest” lawyer compete with someone who is specialized in an area of legal work? Not really. And someone who thinks they’d be a terrific host of… something… needs to focus more closely on what kind of host they want to be.
Let’s look at how the hosting tree shakes out. Initially, of course, the term Host applied to what used to be the only real TV hosting jobs out there, Game Show Host (yeah, it still sounds icky) and, almost as ancient, Talk Show Host. Even though there have been crossovers through the years, these are still two pretty distinct talent pools. And there are still lots of people making scads of money being one of those things.
Today, though, hosts are needed for so much more than talk and game shows. In fact, you can’t even begin to define the landscape of hosting jobs, since there are new types popping up all the time. Reality TV is a big reason for that, since some of those shows use hosts to hold everything together. But even more important, the internet has given rise to countless new varieties of hosting jobs.
In short, then, a “hosting job” can be almost anything that involves what we call direct address: the host talking directly to a camera. This would include many commercials, news delivery, fund raising appeals, promotional videos, how to videos, the list goes on and on.
But whether it’s Ryan Seacrest, Ellen Degeneres, Wolf Blitzer or the guy who shows you how to change the oil in your car for Valvoline, all these jobs have one major element in common: the host spends a lot time talking to someone who is not there. The host talks to a camera as if the camera were a person.
This is the price of admission to any kind of hosting job, the ability to talk to a camera as if it were a person. Most actors shouldn’t have much of a problem “endowing” a tv camera with a personality. We constantly work in an environment where reality must be successfully suspended so that an imaginary world can be believable. And yet, talking to a camera convincingly can be one of an actor’s most difficult challenges.
How do you master this skill? Some people never do, of course, and some seem as if they were born with the ability to talk intimately to an inanimate object. But if you aren’t one of them there are tricks you can learn, and exercises you can do that will ramp up your abilities.
There can be many other requirements, of course, depending on the exact nature of a particular job. If you’re hosting a web series on plumbing repair you’ll have to be handy with a wrench probably. But no requirement about your knowledge or skill set will be as important as whether you can relate to the camera well.
On top of that, hosting jobs often require teleprompter skills. Reading the teleprompter can really get in the way of relating to the camera as a person. Now not only is it not a person, and a shiny piece of glass, it’s also your script. The term “deer in the headlights” describes the look many people get on their faces when reading a teleprompter. But again, there are ways to get better at it.
So if you think you’d like to explore this potentially lucrative field give some thought to defining what specific type of hosting job you think you’re cut out for. Really watch people who are actually doing the kind of job you’d like and see if you can learn from their example. Get some training, put together a short demo reel, and give it a shot!