Dinosaur hands

I have dinosaur hands.

Tight elbows, held closely by the hips combined with expressive hand movements make all my on-camera interviews look like I have a serious case of T-Rex arms.

I don’t know why I do it. I think someone must have told me sometime in my career that I talk with my hands and they need to stay still when on camera? I don’t know, but my T-Rex arms are a consistent source of good-natured ribbing and mocking re-enactments from my colleagues, friends and even my Mum!

For some it may be an involuntary head wobble, others may unconsciously rock on their feet back and forth. Then there are the ‘Ummms’ and ‘Ahhhhs’ we don’t even notice we have injected into the course of our conversations. They all become glaringly obvious as soon as someone puts a microphone and camera in front of us.

My T-Rex hands and I had a great discussion this week with an ABC Emergency Broadcaster who was speaking about the bush fire situation gripping the East Coast of Australia. Press conferences with Commissioners are one thing, he said, but news outlets are constantly looking for something that will convey a message in a meaningful way to their audience. They look for content to provide the visual background for the situation, to help the audience create an image in their mind and ‘fill’ the story to provide it context.

A Commissioner behind a podium can only convey so much of the situation through his/her words. It’s the ‘fillers’ that help audiences understand the full impact of what has happened – interviews with a member responsible for refuelling water bombing aircraft, a chat with a volunteer delivering much needed water and food supplies to the fire-front, a family member sitting in the evacuation centre lucky to have escaped when they did. These ‘fillers’, whilst sometimes frustrating to arrange for Media Liaison Officers or nerve-wracking to undertake for emergency services members, are the backbone of sharing a story like it truly is. It gives the audience, both across Australia and around the world, a face to the incident.

This week, news has come across the waves from New Zealand of a volcanic eruption on Whakaari. Hearing the words spoken from the Prime Minister and Police Chief at the podium in a conference room, our brains immediately begin to try and fill in the blanks. We know what a volcano tends to look like (thanks to encyclopaedias of 70s/80s or Google if you’re not as old as me); we remember the plumes of smokes from our previous experiences of seeing flights grounded in Bali last year. We can also put two and two together and imagine colours of red, grey and black.

But it is the video images from the rescue helicopters of the ashen shores of the beach, the recounted first-hand stories of shock from tourists in boats on the water and the photographs provided to the media of those still unaccounted for that give us the real story of what is happening right now. It gives the world a fuller, more truthful story.

Next time you’re asked to be on camera, to provide a brief recount of what you are doing, or explain a part of your training, or where your task force is from, give it a go. Don’t let your fear, or your T-Rex hands, get in the way, because you’re telling the truth of the situation. Your interview will help others get their minds around the situation, to be prepared to make safe decisions and to learn from you and your experiences.

Not sure how to act when the journalist brings the camera and microphone your way? Although the quality of the images in this circa 2009 video is not great, the description of the 4 tips is an excellent start in helping you convey the context of the situation and keep your T-Rex arms in check.

Author’s Note: At the time of publishing this post, New Zealand medical and emergency services continue to work in difficult conditions to try and save the lives of those evacuated from Whakaari. There are still persons unaccounted for. We offer our condolences to the families of those who have passed, those still missing, and the emergency personnel working on this incident in our thoughts at this time.

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