“My excellence is unconditional. My excellence isn’t an option or choice, it’s my DNA. My excellence isn’t a goal or destination, it’s a habitual lifestyle.”- Terri-Karelle
If you ask different people what excellence looks and feels like, they might all give you a different definition. I prefer not to talk about it, I tend to show it …consistently. You really can’t be excellent as a one-off, to be excellent, you have to be aware, thoughtful, sensitive, competent…consistently.
My dream was never to become an event host and when I really think about it, I didn’t know it was an actual profession until I literally stumbled into it. With no formal training or qualifications in media, public speaking etc. it’s natural to question your place in unfamiliar territories and spaces; and yet, here I am, 500 + events later. I have managed to carve out my own space, find the perfect niche for me and I have challenged and applied myself to every aspect and area of the job. My goal isn’t to look at anyone else or compare myself to anyone else in the profession. Why? Because I am ME and there are things about my personality and attitude combined with my work ethics and self-accountability that make me different. It’s this combo that has afforded me the privilege of being booked locally and internationally and presenting in spaces that I might only have read about.
I was scheduled to host the 2020 INMA Global Media Awards, a prestigious event that highlights the amazing work of the best news media brands in the world and awards the “best of the best” in respective categories. It’s a black-tie event that attracts 500+ attendees from over 44 countries. The calendar was chock full of exclusive receptions at Paris’ most iconic buildings and to say, I was excited, would have been the understatement of the century. I started brushing up on my french and gearing up for the most epic 90th-anniversary celebration on that side of the world. Unfortunately, coronavirus had other plans and instead of presenting from the Opera Ballroom of the InterContinental Paris, I ended up hosting remotely from my living room in Kingston, Jamaica.
On May 27, 2020, I recorded the ceremony in front of my computer accompanied by my Samsung 10 in a ring light, dressed in my locally made Uzuri International gown with matching mask. I approached this event, albeit online, the way I would have in person. I showed up!!
It wasn’t before long that the photos spread like wildfire:
On Instagram: Reach-314,382; Likes- 47,899; Comments- 1195; Shares-573; Saves- 415; Reposts-9
On Twitter: Favourites- 3,955; Retweets-320; Comments- 125
On LinkedIn: Reactions-6,477; Comments- 390; Shares- 58
These metrics, I believe, are what most people would consider successful by social media standards. Viewers admire the look and they congratulate me on SHOWING UP and being on-brand regardless of the new “work from home” regime. I am grateful for each and every kind word and compliment, but showing up runs so much deeper. Often times we want the glory, fame, viral photos and perks. We look at successful people and we say “that’s cool, I want to be like…I want to look like… I want a job like that…I want to dress like….” But there is a side that no one sees, it has less glamour, fewer eyeballs, and certainly no fan-fare. The real question is are you willing to put in the work required to create and maintain enviable success? Most will say yes until they get a glimpse behind the scenes. This is my toughest job mentally and I will try to give you an idea why:
Excellence Always Shows Up!
I always observe protocol. I always observe dress code and if a client books me without giving me one, I will research past events or google images to familiarise myself with the dress code if it’s an event that has taken place before. If it is a new event, I will use my discretion based on time of day, location, occasion, and audience. With the INMA Global Media Awards being done remotely, with no Opera ballroom, beautiful decor, elegantly dressed attendees, 5-course meal, or presentation of awards in-person, it begs the question “Do I still have to dress up?” Absolutely! Excellence doesn’t show up every now and then. Excellence is the default and doesn’t change regardless of where I am or not. How attendees choose to show up, remotely or in-person has nothing to do with me. I show up and show out because I take my craft, brand and talent seriously.
Excellence Requires Preparation
Always expect the unexpected. After our zoom conference calls and numerous emails, we decided on the perfect place in the living room but I asked one simple question “Am I delivering sitting or standing?” We hadn’t thought about it and the overseas team was unaware of how it would look on camera. So what did I do? I prepared. I rented a bistro table and stool from ‘New Levels Decor’. There was a possibility, I wouldn’t even use them, but who wants to take that risk? It’s better to be overprepared than. underprepared. Yes, I have furniture in my house, so why be that extra? Because I want uniformity and if I have to use them, I want the look to be that of a gala event and not a family discussion around a dining table. What you settle for, is an extension of your brand and reflects how you show up!
Learn, Unlearn, Relearn
The production team shipped a video kit with all the necessary items I would need to integrate with their system. As Murphy would have it, the items reached the island and were held by customs. Grateful to Phase 3 Productions for providing the items the day before the event. They were contacted by the team abroad. It obviously pays to have a great website that clearly defines what you do. I had to then learn how to test the specs of my laptop, do a wifi strength test report, connect the audio interface, set up ring light, arrange the apple box to get the right line of sight, and test audio feed. It doesn’t matter how important you may think you are, it’s important to learn to do things for yourself. Knowledge is infinite and that which is learnt is never wasted. I walked away from this job much more educated.
Respect Your Team
You could be the most phenomenally talented person in the room, but you better recognise that you are a piece of a bigger system. Your excellence isn’t just limited to who you are and how well you perform, but how you treat your team. Hard jobs feel easier when you are a joy to work with. “Joy” doesn’t mean a pushover, it means that you bring an energy that the team welcomes and loves. You are respectful, offer input, and try to play a part in creating a great work atmosphere for yourself and those who come into contact with you. This took place at minutes to midnight – hours before the event.
Excellence is Resourceful
Things won’t always go according to plan no matter how much you plan or how many times you practice. The idea is to be able to think quickly and come up with solutions on the spot. The retractable banner that was shipped for branding purposes was also held by customs. I waited until 6:00 p.m. hoping for a miracle, but alas, it wasn’t happening. I was just hours away from the event and was fresh out of options. Or was I? I borrowed a family friend’s backdrop stand and then used a white curtain from the living room. Subsequently, I used clothespins to stabilize the curtain. How’s this for behind the scenes? Don’t panic, think! Don’t panic, adjust and adapt.
Excellence is Unconditional
I was able to nail the perfect look for the event but what most wouldn’t know is that I even curate the space that you don’t see on camera. “What are you talking about Terri-Karelle?” The applebox that is a wooden box used to add height was exactly that….brown and wooden. It was used to raise my laptop to eye level. However, I had it wrapped in white, which gave a clean look that complemented the white bistro and stool (even if the attendees weren’t seeing it). Be excellent in not just what you do, and how you dress but everything else that is an offshoot. Your brand and everything that it is associated with is an extension of your image.
Practice, Practice then Practice Some More
This is the pièce de resistance. The comments I get after hosting an event are “You make it look so easy. How do you manage to pack all of that information? How do you manage to grasp and breakdown all of this for such different audiences?” Admittedly, it does get easier over a period of time and yes I can do most events without any speaking notes or briefings, however, I take extreme pride in research, understanding the client’s objectives, knowing the audience, connecting dots and surpassing expectations. INMA is the Oscars of international news media. This year, there were 173 finalists from a list of 844 entries. These finalists represent the best media brands from all over the world who enter their journalistic pieces across 16 categories. 173 finalists from 44 countries mean that I will have to deliver the names of the company brands, as well as their respective pieces in various languages-Hindi, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Thai, Chinese etc. As an English speaker, I could very well get away with mispronunciations, but that wouldn’t be MY brand excellence.
To deliver 173 entries, I broke down my preparation:
Prep #1 Ask For Help
Persons who consider themselves the best in the business can often drink their own Kool-Aid and stop asking for help out of sheer pride. To continue being the best at what you do, you have to put ego aside and get the expertise that will help take you to a higher place to meet your personal goals. I had a zoom meeting with Raquel Meikle who is an INMA committee member who is a Spanish native, living in Germany. She was the best person to a dry run with. Viewers see a polished delivery but my first run through is…well…watch the video and try not to laugh.
Prep #2 Research
After making notes of all the “tricky” names. I head to google and youtube to do my independent research. I want to understand their place of origin, as well as the pronunciations of said brands. I even take it a step further and research each entry to understand the project/ subject material. A primary example was 24.com in the ‘Best Use Of Video’ category that entered “#IamNene: How Uyinene Mrwetyana’s Murder Ignited a Movement.” I not only learnt the correct pronunciation of the subject’s name but also the story that made this young South African teen a beacon of change against gender-based violence. I commit to doing more than just delivering words.
Now you might ask, “Terri-Karelle, do you do this just for the tricky names?” My answer is …
At midnight I am finalizing between the two scripts (the penultimate and final). It’s what I call dotting my I’s and crossing my T’s. I will be using my laptop as a prompter therefore legible writing vs scribbles will be of paramount importance. I also like to catch anything I might have missed as an oversight.
Now after 2:00 a.m., my energy is running low and my brain is jam-packed. I have sent my reluctant daughter to bed and I insist on doing one final check with and without my mask to ensure that the framing is good and that my audio isn’t compromised. It seems like something simple but with the event approaching 7 hours later, these are things I would rather fix ahead of time rather than minutes before broadcast.
Would everyone challenge themselves as much as I do for each job? Possibly but not probably and that is my unique proposition. You have to redefine the job description, you must add value in a way that differentiates you from others. I will research 173 finalists, what will you do to rise above the noise and competition? It doesn’t have to be far-reaching or overthought. You just need to figure out how to deliver your brand excellence in a way that makes you indispensable to your clients. Most importantly, you will realise that when you adopt excellence as a lifestyle, it won’t be restricted to just how you perform your job.