Swimming With the Sharks on Reality Shows

Shark Tank

Appearing on reality shows isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s akin to jumping into a tank filled with sharks. You need thick skin to survive. That was evident on the finales of many reality shows that aired last week with contestants giving everything they had to win.

Reality shows are first and foremost for audience entertainment and the hosts are the stars, not the contestants. Yet, many people continue to appear on these shows for the prizes, the glory, a chance to strike it rich, or to become entertainment stars themselves.

Reality shows capture the largest percentage of the audience watching the top 10 broadcast programs.

Audition for one and you might become a winner.

So You Want to be on TV

Reality shows are not real. They are choreographed and scripted just like any other TV show. The content is edited and contestants on many, but not all, of these shows may get the chance for do-overs.

img-1The final performances are live but contestants have been coached. In the case of the very popular The Voice, which just concluded its second season, contestants actually choose the coaches who help them with their technique. It’s a friendly rivalry between the teams of singers.

Not so with reality show The Survivors, where it’s a fight to the finish to win the $1 million prize and the competition is so grueling some contestants beg to go home. And it can’t be fun to be fired by Donald Trump on The Celebrity Apprentice.

The Audition

Contestants for reality shows must audition, in person or by submitting a tape. The rules and applications are on the websites of the shows. You should study them carefully because you will be signing legal documents covering your participation.

Consider working with a presentation coach who can help you overcome stage fright, structure your presentation, and teach you how to use props to sell yourself.

The audition is where you want to be at your best to make the initial cut. View several past shows to try to determine what the hosts are looking for. Take note of the dress code. For example, apprentices on Donald Trump’s show appear on air in business attire, so don’t show up for an audition in jeans and a sweatshirt.

Make a Compelling Presentation

The ApprenticeHundreds of people show up at these open calls. Look at the long line (click on this link) for the video of Donald Trump’s original apprentice show where he actually sits in as his assistant interviews potential contestants. Mr. Trump asks one contestant a key question – “why do you want to do this?”

It’s apparent the applicants haven’t prepared an opening “grabber” that will make them stand out from the crowd. Where you went to school is not interesting. That is not what any host wants to hear.In making a compelling presentation for a reality program – or for any audience – you need to:

  • Open with a “grabber,” something about yourself or your product.
  • State what you are going to prove, explain, or describe.
  • Make your stand on the topic clear.
  • Sell your idea with strong and appropriate examples and evidence.
  • State clearly how the information you have presented will benefit them.
  • Tell your audience what you want them to do.
  • Persuade your audience to ACT! Make them choose YOU!

Still want to audition for a reality show? Check out our three-part series on improving your presentation skills so that you survive swimming with the sharks: The Presentation Begins When You Book the Date, A Presentation is Not About You  and A Presentation Doesn’t End After the Applause.

In our next post, we’ll let you be the judge about how contestants on a popular reality show performed. Tune in and have some fun even if the contestants are not.


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Our highly skilled and experienced professionals have the expertise in media and presentation training to meet any business situation — from helping an executive to prepare for the challenge of talking to a reporter during a business crisis to presenting a group of investors during an IPO or keeping a celebrity spokesperson on point.