Tracey Spicer: Interview

Tracey Spicer Tracey Spicer

Tracey Spicer sat down with us to tell us what it really takes to be a successful TV, radio or corporate presenter.


Tracey Spicer is a news anchor, columnist, and presenter with a career spanning more than 25 years. She has also written and produced a number of documentaries. She sat down with us to tell us what it really takes to be a successful TV, Radio or Corporate Presenter.


How did you get started as a presenter? Did you always want to be in front of the camera, or is it just part of being a journalist?

I’d always wanted to be a journalist from about the age of twelve when I was writing for the school newspaper, because I’ve always been really curious and wanting to tell stories about people. I did a journalism degree and a radio cadetship, I worked in radio for many years in Brisbane, then in Melbourne. After that I went out to country television because I thought I’d like to expand my skills in the broadcast arena. It was a wonderful training ground. For me, presenting has always been part of storytelling: I like going out and doing the interviews and equally I enjoy presenting the story at the end of the day.


Do you think the kind of confidence you have is something that’s necessary for a presenter?

There is this perception that people who are presenters are born with confidence. What I would say is that it’s not necessarily a confidence thing, and you can develop the skills to do the job if you are not necessarily a confident person. Most of the very successful TV presenters that I know are either naturally very shy or suffer from anxiety, and have quite a fragile self-esteem. A lot of them are very comfortable talking to a camera but can’t talk in front of a crowd. It’s a very particular skill that less to do with confidence and is more, like any trade, to learning specific skills: learning how to talk to a camera, learning how to visualise an audience, learning how to express your emotions in a certain way that will help you connect with the audience. It’s all communication theory: confidence isn’t everything.


What’s the one key thing you think you need to be an excellent presenter?

The one thing you need to be a very good TV presenter is an understanding of the human condition. Most of the best presenters that I know have wonderful emotional intelligence. They really understand how to communicate complex ideas in a simple way to the audience and what is going to make the audience listen and pay attention. I think that is the most important thing.


What’s your best live-coverage horror story?

I have so many live-coverage horror stories. People coming up behind me and giving me rabbit ears; people walking in front of me but behind the camera and pulling their pants… so many things! I remember when open-plan studios were very new and we had the fire alarms go off: no one knew how to stop them. So I’m presenting the bulletin and about ten firefighters run in across the floor. Then there was the time when I was working in country television the floor manager thought it would be hilarious to bring a cow in.


What do you consider to be the highlight of your career?

I’ve been really privileged to do a lot of documentary work, working in the developing world for not-for-profit agencies. I’ve done documentaries for World Vision, Action Aid, and the World Wide Fund for Nature: going into the middle of nowhere in Africa or the subcontinent to tell the stories of women and girls, and how they struggle in very different ways to the ways we struggle as women in a developed country. As a broadcaster that is an absolute privilege to be able to - even in a tiny way - help people whose lives are much more difficult than our own.


What was working on those documentaries like?

That’s something that’s really changed over the years. When I started doing them about 20 years ago with World Vision we went over with a full production crew, and the script was very, very structured, so every piece to camera or interview that I did, we knew exactly the grab that we wanted, exactly where it was going to go; that was the style of the time. Now, when we go we’re much more led by the talent. We do a lot more moving camera stuff, we let the story and the talent lead us, and we sit around that, we mold around that, and I find that a much more organic way of approaching the creative process.


What was the most eye-opening experience for you?

One of the most recent documentaries I did was with Action Aid in Uganda in 2011. We were talking about the problem of domestic violence, and that country didn’t even have a law against domestic violence until 2009. One of the women I met in a women’s refuge there was so badly abused by her husband … she went up to the charity, to Action Aid, and told them what had happened, Action Aid told the women in the Ugandan parliament, who walked out of parliament and said “We’re not coming back to parliament until you change the law.” So because of this woman’s plight they finally got a law against domestic violence in Uganda.


Let’s talk about your famous TEDx talk, ‘The Lady Stripped Bare,’ in which you challenged the media industry’s beauty standards, wiping off your makeup and kicking off your high heels. What was the inspiration behind that moment?

It’s something I’ve probably wanted to do for a long time, to be honest with you. I was never one of those presenters who enjoyed feeling like a piece of meat on the red carpet. I don’t think it’s right that I’m standing here trying to be decorative and the men aren’t being judged the same way. Women are spoken to about what they wear, men are spoken to about what they think. It had been grating on me for a long time.

So when my daughter asked [why I wore so much makeup for work] I thought, “Now is my time for me to be able to make a very big point, for all women and especially for young girls,” because I’d started to think that I’d become a very bad role model for young women, getting dressed up like a Barbie doll on television. You want to be the change that you want to see, and one of the things about getting older is that you don’t really care about what people think: I really didn’t care whether people thought I was insane for getting up on that stage and taking my clothes and my makeup off, you know, I’d just had enough!


If you would like to hear from more from Tracey Spicer check out TV Presenting Advanced Skills and our Corporate Presentation short courses.


The Australian Film Television and Radio School would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners, the Bidjigal people and Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, on whose land we meet, work, study and teach. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and extend our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from all nations of this land.