The spotlights! The Cameras! The Questions… all pointed at you!!! Are you ready?

This is what I dealt with recently when I was on the plane that had the shooting in Miami on the way to Orlando. I was the one who alerted the media within minutes of the shooting since I had been at the NBC Station in Miami that morning. When I realized that we were out of harms’ way, I called my husband and told him that there was a shooting and that I was ok. Next, I called the NBC station;

“This is Mary Gardner. (Pause) I was on your show this morning. (Pause) I am on American Flight 924 (Pause) And there’s been a shooting. (Pause)”

The answer over the phone went like this: “WE’RE GOING LIVE.” “Mary, are you willing to go live right now”?

“Yes… I’ll go live”

And that was how it happened. From that moment on, I was reporting after we got off plane and I was borrowing people’s cell phones. I called and gave constant updates when I was allowed to use the pay phones. My own cell phone was dead so I couldn’t use that and I had to call my husband to get our calling card number before I could use the pay phone. I remembered that when getting peoples’ clear attention, one must not rush, but speak clearly and with pauses in between statements.

As a result of my reporting, I ended up on Nightline, MSNBC, The Today Show, FOX, Geraldo, The Early Show, Good Morning America, CNN and several other radio and TV shows.

I was living on 2 hours sleep for 2 days in a row, but I knew that this was my chance to be clear, concise and report exactly what I saw. I was calm and responded to every question that came my way and every interview that was requested.

Here is how I’d coach others to deal with the INSTANT SPOTLIGHT:

Realize that your day in the sun will come. Prepare mentally for it by not shying away from cameras. When you see any type of camera pointed at you in your life, look in the eye of the camera and be focused. Whether you are smiling or talking, be clear about your intentions. This will prepare you for the REAL DEAL. Besides, you’ll learn to give good film!
Practice in the mirror. When you are getting ready in the morning, talk to yourself about the day you’re anticipating. If you’re dealing with a stressful situation, talk to yourself of how you’d like the issue resolved. Talk out loud and speak to yourself clearly. This way, you’re dealing with stress in the moment, and the more you practice, the more you’ll be ready for the moment you’re supposed to shine!
Realize it is NOT about YOU. The media could care less about what YOU do or who you are, only that you’re a credible person. Even if you’re brought in as a witness, their main concern is that you’re credible and that you’re well spoken. They wouldn’t book you if you’re not credible, so of course, work hard becoming an expert at your profession so you’ll have the credibility.
If and when a media frenzy happens to you: BE AVAILABLE. Return every call, take every interview. You can sleep later. I actually had someone else handle all of my calls while I caught an hour of sleep at a FOX studio during the day. They booked my interviews while I slept.
Be accessible. All of the producers found my CELL PHONE number on the internet. I was an easy interview. For me, since I work virtually, it was the best solution. Once my cell phone was clogged, my friends at ABC Network tracked down my husband’s cell phone from friends in NYC. He handled my calls and I called my friend who works at ABC in NYC who got me to commit to ABC first before any other network. Since he was my friend, I was happy to do that.
Establish ties and friends in the media. If you’re someone whose career is going to be highlighted at some point now or in the future, it’s best to have friends on the inside. My friends include directors, editors, producers, GM’s, Executive producers, writers, on air talent, anchors, publicists and casting professionals. When I need to know something, or meet someone, I make a few calls and usually can find the right person or gather the right information!
Relax and enjoy the ride. If you understand that your day will come, and are ready for it, you will be comfortable. Being STILL and thinking clearly for each interview takes time to perfect. Not letting the adrenaline take over in a moment like that takes practice. Sitting still with the IFP in your ear and looking right in the camera can be intimidating, but if you’ve been practicing it for years in your mirror and at home, it can just be a walk in the park!

I’m confident that the media windfall for me was a situation of being at the right place at the right time. I’ve reviewed the tapes over and over and my main concern was not only that I represented the story correctly and fairly but that I was compassionate towards the family who lost their husband, brother, and important family member. I reviewed to see if I brought my faith into the ordeal and whether or not I relayed information that would help give people support. I reviewed the tapes to see if I praised American Airlines for the way they handled the situation since they were so responsive and helpful.

At this point, I’m collecting tapes and keeping them for my archives. It’s an expensive process but well worth the cost.

And, of course, if you think that this might happen to you, you might consider hiring a coach or consultant to get you ready! I’d be more than happy to help!