Neville On The Level

Are You Ready For Your Close-Up?

I remember the first time I was on a television show as a florist. I’d been on TV before that, but just as an audience member. I forget what exactly I was on for, because I was SO nervous! I didn’t sleep for days before the show, which was live, and I had to sit down because I was shaking so much. (This is not an attractive stance on a busty, larger man.) Anyway, I muddled my way through this nightmare and managed not to cut off my finger during my demonstration, and
afterwards, as I was running for my life out the door, the producer said, “That was great! Wanna come back next month?” I replied, “Sure!! Great!” What was I thinking?! Anyway, I went back, and did spots on several shows, finally getting a bi-weekly gig on CTV Atlantic’s (now) Morning Live, which I’ve been on for more than 20 years.

I got this first appearance—and, really, all my gigs—because of several factors. So pay attention and maybe you will be powdering your nose and stepping in front of the cameras sooner than you thought!

Be the expert they are looking for. Look, I don’t know everything, as those who know me can easily attest, but what I do know I am willing to share with others. We are floral experts, but if the world doesn’t know it, then we are wasting a valuable opportunity.

I remember a fellow from the newspaper who called about a spread he was working on for Mother’s Day. He said they were doing stories on gift ideas, etc., and asked if I would like to place an ad. Well, I changed the direction from him trying to sell me an ad to ME selling him on the idea of running a spread on fresh flowers! He could have a story, I said, and in fact, I’d write it for free… he should just send a photographer over to get a few shots. It worked, and I was on my way
to becoming a known floral expert.

Being an expert doesn’t mean being a know-it-all, so don’t be one of those cocky show-offs that make us want to change the channel. Look at the cooking shows and think of your favourite hosts; they are down to earth, knowledgeable, talk TO you and not AT you, and share their knowledge and skills freely. I worked on a show once with a Great-I-Am who told me how stupid the audience was, that he would NEVER speak with them, and that they were darned lucky, as was I, to have him in their presence. I was so offended, I wanted to release bees when he was on stage. It was a good lesson for me as a newbie though, because I never wanted to be that bitter old, ugly (I mean, “uptight”) person.

Selling the beauty of flowers is very important, so sell the sizzle!! Don’t worry about getting too technical on TV, but make sure you’re doing things correctly. I could go through the TV when I see someone making a mess of things because they don’t know what they’re doing.

I design with the audience in mind, so when doing a presentation for florists or a consumer show, I adjust the level of design and how it’s explained, to suit. Making yourself accessible is imperative, as no one wants to be looked down on, or made to feel stupid. I make fun of myself and my mistakes, and know that I am no better than anyone else; I just know different things. Remember also that a story sells, while information merely tells. Jazz up a “how to” segment by sharing tales of how viewers can use what they’re making, where the flowers come from, etc. It makes for more interesting viewing.

Things happen, especially when you’re live on TV or on stage, so own it, and roll with it! I’ve had a vase break on TV more than once and have called a flower by the wrong name. In these instances, I calmly said, “Sorry, I’m just learning myself!” Once, I was interviewing a British fellow on stage in front of 700 folks when he dropped a bad (really bad!) word. I dealt with that as I do with most awkward situations. I laughed, and said that was a “no no,” and then we all laughed. I remember being on TV and another guest made lobster “shooters” and of course I had to try one. It was awful, and I stood there with a stupid smile, waiting for the shot to end so I could vomit. Only
once I ran off camera screaming. We were doing a segment on the waterfront and a “friend” dropped by for a visit. It was a big ol’ wasp that landed on the bouquet I was finishing. I had to get away and was so thankful that I didn’t swear, or we would have made the 6pm news!

Remember that folks want to see pretty flowers arranged beautifully, so show what you know. What you’re doing is inspiring people with great design. They can’t wait to try to do it themselves, and even if they can’t, it sure is nice to watch an expert in action. And they’ll know who to call when they need it done right!

Neville MacKay
Neville MacKay, CAFA, PFCI, WFC is the owner of My Mother's Bloomers in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and a design director with Smithers-Oasis North America. He designed flowers for the 1988 Winter Olympics, as well as a long list of celebrities including Glen Close, Sir Elton John, and members of the British Royal Family. MacKay appears regularly on Canadian TV and travels internationally giving presentations about the impact of flowers.
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