Most of the time, you don’t know when your media opportunity is coming. Here’s an inside look at the media mistakes I made, to help you prepare for your own moment in the spotlight.
Comedian and actor, Chris Farley, died 20-years ago. He was a superstar in the 90s at the time I was in college. He died after a long battle with addiction. He was only thirty-three and was already the greatest physical comedian of my generation. He didn’t survive — but he left behind many stories. This is mine.
“Kathryn! You’re on TV… call me!”
“Kathryn, I just saw you on E!”
“Kathryn! I didn’t know you dated….. Chris Farley?!?”
Ten messages on my answering machine.
It was 1999… and I was just months out of college and at my first full-time TV job.
I heard the messages right after walking in the door after producing the news all night at WCIA in Champaign, Illinois. I was so tired, I had to listen to them again to understand what was going on. Then I called someone to get the scoop.
The “E! True Hollywood Story” on Chris Farley premiered the night before. It described Chris’ time at Saturday Night Live, at Marquette University, his drug abuse… and my picture came up in the show over and over. It was not flattering. Because of how I looked… and what the announcer track was saying while my pictures were coming up. Here’s a clip.
Chris Farley died during my senior year of college. The dean of my college called me over Christmas break and asked me to head back to school early so I could plan the memorial Mass at Marquette University. I was the president of my college and Chris went to Marquette.
The year prior, Chris came back to campus to accept an award. This is also the last time I wore a dress this low-cut. THIS is the event where my pictures were taken along with dozens of other students with Chris. After Chris died, producers from E! went to Marquette to collect pictures. The dean handed them over… and the producers didn’t keep track — so editors used pictures of me in places that the track was not referring to me. I clearly did not date Chris, nor was I part of his downward spiral into drinking… as the E! story said.
On the day of the memorial Mass — I had Chris’ family there, bagpipers and Pat Finn to give the eulogy. (You’ve probably seen Pat in The Middle, Friends and Seinfeld… he’s great.) His eulogy was hilarious and loving. He told stories that illustrated Chris as a student… to us, a chapel full of students. I wish I had video of it in its entirety. He also told stories of how Chris would make regular trips to the Joan of Arc chapel on campus to pray… talk to God… and just be alone.
After the service, the local stations wanted to interview me.
I didn’t even think about this possibility.
I was unprepared. (I know much better now… I was 20 then.)
As a young broadcast journalism student who wanted to be a reporter (as I thought at the time)… I blew my chance. I gave the all-time lamest soundbite. It’s here if you want to see it:
Between the low-cut dress at the awards event the year before and the soundbite at the service — these are the first two mistakes I made when it comes to media and public speaking.
But I learned a lot.
- When the story on E! aired, I was a young TV producer. This taught me to be very careful when writing to pictures and video. Make sure the track matches the visuals. A mistake can hurt someone’s reputation.
- Be ready for anything.
- Watch the makeup. Don’t let it be a distraction.
- Dress how you would want to be portrayed in pictures or on video — especially if you’re going to a high-profile event. You never know who may see the picture.
- Have your elevator speech ready. What will you say if the media shows up? How will you answer if someone at that wedding asks you what you do, or why you’re “in between jobs,” or what you’re looking for in your next role? What will you say when they ask you what your company does? Remember — quick responses that stick with your audience.
Most times – you don’t even know your opportunity’s coming.
You need to be ready now.