SO, I’m sitting alone in the back of a large black SUV (that someone else is paying for) on my way from Rochelle to Chicago on a brisk Saturday morning. I’ve got my laptop open and I’m rehearsing responses for my very first live national television appearance.
I’m being asked to pontificate about politics, particularly Illinois politics, something definitely in my wheelhouse. I do that for two hours on the radio every day, so this should be easy, right? Why am I nervous? Well, my radio show is something I’m in total control of – the questions, the topics, the guests, the commercials, the audio clips, the breaks, everything. In this case I’m preparing to be on someone else’s show, and it’s not radio, it’s TV. And this appearance will be no more than five minutes total. But for a much, much bigger audience.
Two hours earlier I’m sitting in my office in Rochelle in the Walker Insurance building, where two office mates are putting last minute make up on my face. Unlike radio, your physical appearance is half the game. They usually have that at the TV studio in Chicago, but for this appearance they suggested I come with my makeup already done, and this is something definitely not in my wheelhouse.
I don’t know how to put makeup on. On very short notice, a Rochelle friend and her daughter (thanks Susan and Teehgan) are patting my nose and blushing my cheeks. I have no idea if I look like a zombie or Tan Mom; my face is in their hands. They finish me up and I’m on my way.
The black SUV showed up in my driveway at 9 a.m. sharp. “Alexia” from Maldova opens the door for me and I step inside the all black and spotless leather interior, with my suit jacket and two different ties (you want to avoid wearing the same tie as the TV host of course). My driver Alexia plays no music, and says no words to me other than “Nice to meet you.” I want to make small talk with him, but I also want to prepare for my “hit,” as it’s called.
“Don’t worry about me, Mr. Koolidge. If you need to focus, do what you need to do.” This is just what I needed to hear. Now I don’t feel rude not talking with Alexia, as he courteously gave me the out. “Let’s chat on the ride back after it’s over for sure,” I tell him. Onto my laptop I go.
I’ve actually had a couple of days to prepare for this TV appearance, and I’m not as nervous as I’d thought I’d be, mainly because I know what I want to say. In fact, it’s not what I want to say that concerns me, it’s the little things that I’m worried about. Will I ramble on too long? Will I misunderstand the question from the host?
A lot of people don’t realize (and I only learned this from earlier Rockford and Chicago TV appearances) that when you are a “talking head” in a box on TV and not in studio, you can’t see the person asking you questions. You can’t see anything, really, you only see a small dark black camera lens in front of you, and lights, and the hairline of the cameraman. And you have an earpiece in, which is feeding you the host’s questions, but what if the audio cuts out (which happens)?
This is live TV. What if there’s a technical glicth? What if Alexia can’t find the Chicago studio and I’m late for the hit? A calmness comes over me when I realize that I’m worrying about things completely out of my control. Once I do that, I start to focus on the only things I can control – my responses, my speech, my posture, my smile. Things are easy. “I got this.” I say to myself. “I am ready.”
Right as I’m about to worry about being too confident, I see the Chicago skyline in the distance. My phone beeps. “Mike, I am so sorry. We have to cancel the hit. There’s an active shooter in Pittsburg and we’re switching to wall-to-wall coverage for that. Have the driver turn around,” reads an email from the show’s producer. It was disappointed for a split second, then it hit me about what individuals and families must be going through in Pittsburg at this exact same moment. My little worries about a five-minute TV appearance on the Fox News Channel immediately seemed like the most petty things imaginable. “I completely understand. Thank you again for the invitation.”
My little TV hit would have to wait for another day.