How to Improve Media Skills
Once, a bartender’s public extended only as far as the other side of the bar. Today, though, with public speaking and presentation increasingly an important component in the creation of a lasting career, ambitious bartenders need to find their public voices and faces. So we’re checking in with long-time culinary publicist and media trainer Lisa Ekus-Saffer and cookbook author Virginia Willis, who will share many of their tips for media success during the NC&B Professional Series at Tales of the Cocktail next month.
NCB Mix: You've been training and working with chefs for years to help prepare them for media success. What are the key lessons?
Lisa Ekus-Saffer: It’s imperative to know what your unique selling position is and key message points. Most of the time the guest/interviewee feels they can “just wing it” and rarely give themselves adequate time to prepare. It’s all about advance work and thought, not winging it. Practice, practice, practice.
Virginia Willis: One of the main points is that when a media opportunity arises, you have to be ready to meet it. In “Honing Your Edge,” Lisa and I talk about a media toolkit. These are tools to have ready so that when opportunity knocks, you can open the door. We suggest a bio and headshot as well as tested and edited recipes, just to start.
NCB Mix: What are some of the major problems you encounter with people you train?
LES: Many don’t understand that TV and video are mostly an illusion. You demo it differently (and in a much shorter time span) than making a drink or dish from scratch. You have to think about “doing” AND “talking,” as well as the choreography of your set — your “must-have” ingredients and equipment. Fear is another big issue. We cover many techniques for mastering all this and much more.
VW: It's necessary to be a bit "larger than life" without being a caricature. Body language is magnified on camera. We work to help food and beverage professionals manage those physical skills necessary to be successful in a media setting.
NCB Mix: Bartenders have traditionally been more sociable, or at least needed to have better social skills than chefs, to succeed. Does that give them better preparation?
LES: It gives them the ability to be warmer and perhaps more spontaneous, but the time/presentation challenges are the same, and often the gregarious nature of bartenders can be an obstacle when doing three- to four-minute videos. Timing is everything.
VW: There is a good amount of showmanship with a good bartender, which could allow for a better presentation, but it's still important to be overly prepared. Winging it doesn't work. As many times as I have been on camera, I still practice in the bathroom mirror to help me understand what I need to do and so I can do it well.
NCB Mix: Do bartenders have any special advantages, or disadvantages, that come to mind?
LES: The creative aspect of cocktails is fun and informative. The challenge is that many of the newer innovative cocktails are more intricate, and therefore, time-consuming to make and can require special equipment. Therefore mixologists will have many of the same challenges as chefs preparing food.
VW: I think the bartender actually has a more difficult task because the visual is not as great as a chef tossing vegetables in a skillet. Liquid in a glass can be flat and is very easily not good video. The bartender has to overcome that challenge by movement, personality and language.
NCB Mix: As bartenders more frequently become employed to speak for brands, I've noticed many of them, no matter how sharp their bartending skills, seem unprepared. How can they balance that familiarity brands seek with a better presentation style?
LES: Doing media well and being an experienced mixologist are two completely different specialties. They need to understand the brand message points, how to segue into them from whatever they are also doing/saying. It is the same with many brilliant, talented chefs and cookbook authors. They can cook, they can write, but ask them to do a four-minute video spot combining all of the required skills to make successful presentations, and it is often extremely challenging.
NCB Mix: What general advice do you give clients who have little experience speaking publicly and want to step out, or at least get more comfortable with the idea of public presentation?
LES: Media training, demos and practice. Use every opportunity to practice your message skills. Practice in your home kitchen or bar and be willing to look objectively at your performance, and learn from it. Focus on the positive, not just what you did wrong. Keep doing it. No one learns to mix a drink, play a sport or walk the first time they attempt it. It takes repetition, hard work and openness to learn.
VW: The best way to learn is by doing. After you've graduated from in front of the mirror, offer to do a demonstration for a local dinner club, meeting or even a book club. Any opportunity to hone your skills in front of a group of people is a media opportunity.
NCB Mix: And now, the usual final question: What's your favorite cocktail?
LES: I love anything that is farm to glass, like what Adam Seger is doing at National 27 [in Chicago] with fresh hand-grown ingredients used to create and build a cocktail. My choice of base spirits are vodka in the summer and single-malt Scotch in the winter. Or a good bourbon-based drink, anytime!
VW: Although I am inclined to prefer my adult beverages on the rocks, I do like a vodka or gin Gimlet in the summer and a Manhattan in the fall and winter. The really exciting things are the handcrafted macerations, syrups and garnishes. I have a bottle of Luxardo Maraschino on my side table now so that I can prepare some cherries while they are in season. As a chef, I look at using seasonal ingredients in all applications.