Ten Things I've Learned in my Broadcasting Career

The Platform Podcast — 10 Things Kelli Tennant Learned in her Broadcasting Career, Sports, Sports News, Television, TV, Reporter, Announcer, Volleyball, USC, ESPN

Although I'’m not currently working in television and focusing solely on building The Platform, I get so many questions about my career path and the many steps I’ve taken and best advice I have. I wanted to provide insight into the many ups and downs of broadcasting and sports specifically, so young people have some guidance.

Steps I’ve taken to get to this point in my career

When I was being recruited for volleyball, I looked at the schools that had great broadcasting and communications programs. It was important for me to be at a school that had those classes available but that was also in markets feasible to work in television. As soon as I got to USC, I started interning. I had internships at Fox News, Fox Entertainment, Fox Sports, AVP, USCFootball.com, and usctrojans.com. I worked tirelessly throughout my time at USC to build multiple highlight reels in order to get on camera experience and get valuable feedback from talent and executives in the business. By the time my senior year came around, I had made at least 5 reels and was in contact with producers from every network I had interned at and those at ESPN I hoped to work for. That year, I sent ESPN my reel and made it clear that this was what I wanted to pursue and was open to any opportunity. I quickly landed my first gig as a volleyball analyst on their network at 21.

I then hustled and worked for ESPN, Longhorn Network, E! News, MSG Varsity and PAC 12 Networks followed by 5 years as a host for Spectrum Sportsnet covering the Lakers and Dodgers. I often knew I wasn’t qualified for the job I was given, but I always said yes to new opportunities and did the work to prepare myself.

Now hosting my own show, The Platform Podcast, and launching an entire brand, I feel very confident in being able to figure it out, make things work, ask for help and surround myself with the right people to elevate everything I do.

My advice to someone who would love the opportunity to work in television

Get reps. The most important thing is to find a place to work where you can actually be on camera and grow. Find a mentor or someone senior to you that you work with who can honestly critique your work. Your mom may be your biggest cheerleader but her kindness in telling you how amazing you are is not going to make you a better broadcaster. Find someone to tell you very specifically how you can improve and try to implement those changes as quickly as possible.

Be ready for the grind. Good TV jobs are hard to come by and most of them don’t pay well. It’s a long road to the top, which is why most people fall off as time goes on. If it’s truly what you want, make the sacrifices, live in the small cities, miss the holidays with family and sleep on friend’s couches.

My experience in the sports television industry and how I worked my way up to where I am today

It has been challenging. Sports were never my deepest passion so it took a lot of work for me to figure out ins and outs of the games and how to properly cover them. What I truly love about television and podcasts is the ability to story tell and get to the depths of who someone is through vulnerable conversation. I saw glimpses of this throughout my career and that’s what led me to launching my own show. I saw what was possible with the gifts I have and knew this was the next step.

It took a lot of “No’s” and a lot of moments where I truly questioned if this is what I should be doing. I worked at Lululemon, babysat, slept on people’s couches, uprooted my life to NYC to cover high school sports for very little money and convinced people they should hire me over and over. I treated people kindly and worked hard on relationship building so that when the time came, I was first on their mind for the next opportunity.

Other important takeaways from my experiences

I found my own voice and what it would look like to set myself apart. I utilized being the tall former athlete who really loved in depth conversations and could get someone to tell me things they had never publicly shared and made that my gift. I could have fun, be engaging, welcoming to the viewer and calming to the athlete all at the same time. Listening became my greatest strength and compassion was apparent in every conversation. I earned great respect for these things and it’s what landed me an interview with Magic Johnson, at HIS request.

How to read off a teleprompter without making it look or sound like you’re reading

This is such a difficult thing to explain in text. But I always tell people to pretend they’re in a bar, having a conversation with their friend. Talk to the viewer like that. If you don’t, you’ll sound rehearsed or like you’re reading a script. As the prompter scrolls, take pauses, breathe and focus on inflections and tone. Own the script so that you can adjust as you go, throw in words you may not have written, ad-lib and inject your personality. It also really helps to write your own stuff. If you write it like you speak, it will sound more natural. If someone writes it for you, it’s likely not your voice and can come across as inauthentic and make you feel uncomfortable which then impacts your delivery.

What to wear

DO YOU! It depends on where you are and what you’re doing. I had different attire for every job and every sport. Baseball is more conservative and I was always mindful of that. Soccer is more relaxed and I felt comfortable in sandals, jeans and a cute top. Studio with lighting and multiple cameras and environmental control called for more fitted dresses and skirts. And then red carpets were more glam. What I would say about this, because my wardrobe changed A LOT over the years, is wear what you feel comfortable in. If you are leaving the house, and you think for one second it might be inappropriate, it is. If you’re constantly having to fix your bra, pull down your skirt or adjust, don’t wear it. People will always perceive you the way they want to, regardless of what you have on. So wear things that make you feel good and comfortable. For me, I always wore short skirts and dresses in my first few years in the business. I felt that all of my value as a broadcaster was wrapped up in people thinking I was attractive. When I chopped off all my hair and started dressing more conservatively, I respected myself more and made a huge shift in the way I perceived myself as valuable.

Preparing for sideline/color

Everyone is different, but I like to read EVERY article that has come out over the past few weeks about the team. Usually doing sideline, I hadn’t been with the team in a while so I not only had to play catchup on storylines, but I needed to own the material and current state of the team as well as whoever they were playing. So first thing, read articles and take notes of big themes or storylines. Second, if possible, go to practice and talk to the coach and players. This will begin the relationship building but also help you get nuggets directly from the source. The more you’re seen out there, the more familiar you are, the better. Then pick your fav 5-7 storylines. When you speak with your producer before the game that week, pitch them your stories. You can work together on figuring out where things fit and then they’ll remember you have something and are more likely to add you in to the broadcast. Be clear and concise - you will only have less than a minute usually to talk.

What types of questions to ask

Open ended questions. Who, what, where, when, why. Do not ask a Yes/No question and do not say “talk about.” Otherwise I will disown you. Okay kidding, but seriously, that’s lazy and just shows you don’t know how to ask a question. You have time to write things down before interviews almost always, so be thoughtful and do that. I always asked about adjustments, other teammates and what they did well/struggled with, how to handle a certain player/opponent, why they made certain decisions at any given moment, what was going through their mind in a situation… I’m not a stats girl and if you ask any player, they DO NOT want to know their stats (especially in baseball) and it’s really not your job to talk about that with them. Your job is to get them to give you insight into people and situations and explain how and why they handled it the way they did and what they learned from it. Everything else is for your ego and unnecessary.

How to build professional relationships with players and coaches

Be a human. Seriously. I am so tired of seeing people talking to people just because they want something. And quite frankly, so are the players. I don’t know how or why I thought of this, but when I used to go into locker rooms, I would hand my microphone to my producer or camera man and walk around for 10 minutes just saying hi to people and catching up. I didn’t want anything from them except to say hi and genuinely ask how they were doing. I swear this changed everything for me. I built relationships based on honest human to human connection and had thoughtful conversations about life struggles, food, books, travel, injury, health issues and family. I didn’t want anything from them. So when it came time to actually need an interview, it was a rare day when I was told “No.” They made time for me and genuinely enjoyed our conversations because they were real and there was a mutual respect and foundation built. Put yourself in their shoes. If you just lost and someone came up to you and just shoved a mic in your face and didn’t care at all about you as a human except for how you could serve them in that moment, how would you feel? Now act from that place of knowing.

What to do when you mess up

Keep going. Don’t stop and panic. You’re going to mess up. All the time. Unless you’re Doris Burke. I’m pretty sure she has never misspoken in the history of her career. But really, it’s gonna happen and you have to keep perspective. You’re not curing cancer or saving the world. You’re talking about sports, or the news, or entertainment. And speech can be tricky and there are elements, weather, screaming fans, crying babies, bad producers, pissed off players, drunk people and then all your own personal issues and insecurities. It’s gonna happen. Own it and move on. Don’t lose sleep over it. Just learn from it, go to sleep, and remember tomorrow is a new day.  

This industry can be overwhelming and cut throat, but also so fun and rewarding. Remember to be yourself and pursue your passion. I learned so many valuable lessons that I’m now able to implement into my own company and show. Good luck and enjoy the ride! (Oh and try not to get hit in the head with a soccer ball during a live shot!)