- On June 10, 2020
About a week ago, I got a call from a senior talent producer for CNBC, asking me if I’d be part of their Election Night coverage. I’d do all-night analysis as one of a six-person panel (three Democrats, three Republicans), from 7 PM ET until we have a new President-elect. I was ecstatic. For political junkies like me, this is as big as it gets.
I’ve been doing political punditry on national television for the last five years (and advising candidates and heads of organizations for nearly 20 years on how to make the most of their appearances), but this was something else. For one thing, I’ll be in front of a national audience for hours, not just for a 5-7 minute segment. I’ll need lots of material. For another, the stakes are just higher: This isn’t a quick look into whether the latest jobs numbers will help or hurt President Obama; this is the night all of America (and much of Planet Earth) tunes in and channel-flips to find out who’s going to be the next leader of the free world. And as you know, this election really IS different.
So how am I calming myself (and preparing for the big night)? By remembering a few tips I tell all my media training clients:
1. Understand why you’re there. As an interview guest on any show, it’s important to understand why you’re being asked to offer your particular brand of expertise. In this case, I’m there to play the role of Democratic political analyst, as someone who’s worked communications for three presidential campaigns and plenty of down-ballot races. I’m there, in other words, to explain how much turnout matters, why it’s important if Northern Virginia is over-performing, or just to offer some insight into what the campaigns might be thinking about at that moment. If you don’t understand why you’ve been asked to appear, you’re unlikely to prepare properly.
2. Consider the audience, the guests, the hosts and the format. This is for CNBC, a business-oriented network. So it’s fair to say conversation about the economy, Trump’s (shady) background as a businessman and Clinton’s ties to Wall Street will be discussed. If Clinton/Trump wins, will interest rates go up? How will the stock market respond? These are all questions to consider and have answers for. As for the format, any election night coverage focuses on what we’re going to see when different polls close in each time zone. When do we first expect to see results that indicate how the broader night might go? I’ll have prepared talking points for each hour– races and districts to watch from Maine to Alaska (here’s hoping we’re off-air by then).
Finally, consider tone: Will the other guests interrupt and dominate the discussion when I try to speak (as a woman, this is particularly important to consider), or will they let me get my points out? In this case, I’m familiar with the other panelists, and all are respected, reasonable analysts who certainly have a partisan viewpoint, but may agree with me as much as they disagree. But if I didn’t know them, I’d do my homework, checking out their previous TV appearances and social media. To be honest, I’ll probably do that regardless.
3. Focus on a few main points- and keep coming back to them. This is, of course, good advice for any interview: don’t just focus on the facts (Hispanic turnout is higher than anticipated); focus on what it means (the Hispanic vote may be what loses Trump the election). Have three 30,000-foot points and frame your remarks around them. What are the broader themes we’re seeing?
4. Relax and have fun. Seriously! Yes, I’ve had more than my share of worries about what will happen if Donald Trump wins Tuesday night (both in terms of what it means for the country and the fact that I’d have to grapple with it emotionally on live television), but nerves don’t make for good TV. Confidence, warmth and relaxed intelligence-that’s what I’ll be striving for, and what you should go for in your next appearance.
Wish me luck, and tune in Tuesday!