What we can learn from our failures

How an on-camera disaster eventually paved the way for a career


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My first foray into the world of broadcast media was, to be perfectly frank, a total disaster. My fledgling stab at being in front of the camera was memorable only because it was so laughably bad (I still have the video to prove it). I can admit this now, because it was the genesis of a wonderful career that sprouted and eventually blossomed from that failure.

Let me describe the situation. I had secured a behind-the-scenes position at the ABC affiliate in Springfield, Mass. It was my first job in a newsroom, and I was trying hard to over-deliver. I had no idea what really went on in the media. I was drawn to the idea of combining the written word with visual images, telling a story and making a difference -- mesmerized by those who went “out into the field,” whose job it was to interact with the world and tell stories about what was happening.

The only problem: How they did that “on-camera” part. I was a cub with few media skills, but fortunately for me a kind, attractive, up-and-coming journalist named Lynda decided to mentor me.

Lynda invited me to come with her on a shoot. She was doing a special report on how airports prepared for disaster. We traveled to Bradley International Airport outside Hartford, Conn., where a multitude of emergency vehicles and hundreds of people scattered around a burnt-out fuselage, pretending to be dead or injured. The scene, though manufactured, was pretty intense.

I studied Lynda as she calmly strode through the chaos interviewing people and taking notes. A firefighter invited her to survey the scene from the vantage point of a bucket truck. “You want to come, Tiffany?” she asked. A group -- myself, Lynda, firefighters and airport staff -- squished into a small bucket that extended out from a fire truck and were lifted a couple hundred feet above the scene. It was dizzying.

Lynda decided to do what’s known as a “stand-up,” when a reporter speaks in front of the camera and sets the scene or ties the story together. Smiling and at ease, she belted out a few sentences with no problem -- mission accomplished.

Then, “Tiffany would you like to try? This would be a great visual for your reel!” I had never been on-camera before, and to now have to perform in front of strangers standing next to me, 100 feet in the air -- it would have been challenging in normal circumstances.

I grabbed the mic, faced the crowd and camera, and my mind went blank. Totally blank. I could feel my heart thrumming and sweat building on my brow, breathing seemed difficult. Was the air thinner up here?

I tried my best to complete a thought without stumbling, but for some reason I got locked into trying to say “emergency mock airline crash” and that’s actually really tough to do without sounding tipsy. A duck going down a black diamond on a pair of skis would have looked way more natural than me trying to complete my first on-camera stand-up.

The value of mentors

I left humbled, with some bad video, thinking my future in TV was over. Even my mother told me to consider other careers. But Lynda stayed on me, kept encouraging me to try again and move forward.

Looking back now, I think she was a critical person at a key time who was able to set me on a path that brought me to this destination. Eventually, I took a job in Albany, N.Y., and we lost contact. I always wondered what happened to her. While writing this, I looked her up via social media. She’s living in San Diego, still reporting, smart and beautiful.

I found the video from that first outing on an old VCR tape jammed in the back of the closet. What was once an episode of shame is now a tool I use to coach people. The basic point: If I could do it, anyone can.

Very few people have the natural ability to step in front of a camera or a crowd and speak naturally. It takes a lot of practice, perseverance, and then a lot more practice.

I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for a few kind people who mentored me at pivotal moments. It doesn’t always take much to plant the seed of encouragement and be the game-changer in someone else’s life … and isn’t that a great feeling?

By the way, if you’re interested in seeing that video, go to http://www.focusfirstcommunications.com/services.html.

Tiffany Eddy, former news anchor and co-host of “New Hampshire Chronicle” on WMUR-TV, is principal of FocusFirst Communications and public affairs director for Granite State College. She can be reached through www.focusfirstcommunications.com.


 

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