Taylor Shold: Tell us a little about yourself, who are you and what do you do?
Annabel Stephan: At the core, I’m a storyteller. But one thing I’ve learned in working in media is that you can’t just be one thing: I’m a producer, writer, interviewer, sometimes camerawoman – it really just depends on the day! I have had a pretty untraditional career path over the past eight years: theater and dance major at the University of Texas at Austin, production assistant at ESPN in New York, and digital media reporter at FOX Sports Interactive in Los Angeles. I currently work for the Big 12 Digital Network and travel around interviewing coaches and student-athletes to share their stories off the field and court and give fans of each program a new perspective on the teams for whom they are rooting. The most rewarding part of my job is watching my videos create buzz and spread a positive message.
Taylor: How has networking helped your career?
Annabel: Those close to me know that I’m an extroverted introvert. Networking is really interesting because I think most people hear the word and think of mixers and being the life of the party, talking with as many people as you can at every opportunity. My personal approach to networking is always leaving a good impression on those around you. In sports, I’ve worked with hundreds of coaches, players, sports information staff members, other media members – this list goes on forever. Be a professional, be kind, and let people know that you appreciate their time. I try to go out of my way to thank those who have helped out and I’m still a fan of a handwritten card. Trust me, being grateful and kind are two great ways to network yourself – and you never know who you will cross paths with in the future.
Taylor: What are some ways people can stand out when applying for on-air jobs?
Annabel: Always follow up after an interview with a thank you. That’s number one. Aside from that, as cliche as it may sound, you have to be yourself. One of the problems I see aspiring broadcasters struggle with is trying to be someone that they are not. It took me a while to embrace what makes me unique and it wasn’t until I did that I really felt comfortable as an interviewer. I feel like I’m constantly surrounded by former college athletes – I’m super uncoordinated and sometimes need to stand on a box because I’m tiny, but hey, that’s me. I like to make interviews fun and humorous, but also know when to get down to business and I feel like throwing out my insecurity before an interview allows the person I’m interviewing to do the same, which is KEY to getting great content and gaining trust.
Also, having experience and a willingness to learn BEHIND the camera is an added bonus. Employers like to see that you can get things done with a full crew but also can handle things by yourself. I’ve schlepped across many a football field with a tripod, camera, and mic to film my own interviews. Also learn to edit; it’s a skill not many people have and it makes you more valuable. Showing potential employers that you’re more than “talent” is so important in the hiring process.
Taylor: This business is all about getting noticed, what makes a great demo reel?
Annabel: Personality! Anyone can stand in front of a camera, hold a microphone, and read sports scores. Your reel is a chance to show who you are, so throw in a variety of clips and shots. Two shot, one shot, walk and talk, behind a news desk – whatever you have, pick the best clips and prove your versatility. That being said (and I know this is hard), you don’t want your reel to be too long. People will make up their minds in the first thirty seconds so start strong, pick fun music, and keep the entire thing to four minutes max.
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Taylor: You’ve got a large social media following, how can people build a strong personal brand like yours?
Annabel: Again, I just try to be nice and true to myself. There is so much negativity on social media and people ready for a fight and I’ve made the personal choice to stay away from politics and hot takes on my own accounts. Your timeline is a snapshot of who you are and I want to fill mine with positivity and encouragement. I’ve also been really lucky in some of the reactions I’ve had to my work and I always make it a habit to respond to anyone who takes the time out of their day to say nice things to me. I also think there’s a thing as too much posting – for instance, live tweeting a television show isn’t really my thing. Just remember that anyone – people who look up to you, people who could hire you, etc. – will base their view of you on what you say publicly so make sure the impression you leave is one of which you are proud.
I do love connecting with people on social media, though. There are many media members and humans in general whom I respect and have built a connection with solely based on tweeting each other back and forth. That’s my favorite thing about social media.
Taylor: Finally, what is your best advice for someone who wants to land an on-air job?
Annabel: Embrace every opportunity you may have. If you’re an intern, use that internship to soak up any and all experience and knowledge. Do that again in your first job. Don’t be worried about how much money you’ll make or where the job is located. If it feels like it’s the right next step in your career, take it.
My best advice to young aspiring broadcasters is to never be afraid of a new experience. The most talented, well rounded people I know are the ones who were willing to say yes, packed their bags, and tried something new. Since graduating college, I’ve lived and worked in four different cities around the country and have met so many interesting people and learned so many things that have helped me grow both as a journalist and as a person. So, to sum up, don’t be afraid to take a chance on something new.
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