The Art of Weather Wall Ad-Lib

The big difference between a news anchor and a broadcast meteorologist is that the newsie reads a pre-written script, and the met usually ad-libs. What is ad-lib? It’s the ability to speak off the top of your head on a certain topic, and its a skill you can learn and improve. Its harder than it looks, and not something you can just tackle in a week or two. The key is to sound informative, but still conversational at the same time. You can know all there is about the weather, but if you can’t communicate it effectively, then you are not going to get your forecast across.

Ad-lib is not about making it up as you go along. Your best bet for success is to follow a couple of important concepts.

Know your topic. You can talk the easiest about what you know the best. Today in class I had the students do a two-minute ad-lib on themselves. It’s probably the easiest topic to ad-lib about. Most broadcast meteorologists do pretty well talking about the weather too, especially when you throw in some weather graphics. Not only should you know the forecast, and how weather systems behave, but you should also have a handle on the local geography. Knowing your cities, states and major highways will make it easier to describe where the weather is, and where it is going.

Have a plan. You might know a ton about the weather, but you only have a three-minute weathercast, so you are not going to get it all in. You need to pick out your main points. In addition, you want it  organized and easy for people to follow, so you are going to want to outline your thoughts for the show. Make sure each weather graphic in your show has a purpose and a point you want to get across. When I started out, I’d right down each graphic, and an important point I wanted to mention for each. I don’t do it now, thirteen years later, but the process still happens mentally when I preview the show (always preview the show).

Execute. If you know your topic, and put together a good plan, then you’ve put yourself in the best possible place to succeed. You still need to go out there and do it, which is usually the hardest part. This just takes time and practice. The more reps you get in front of the weather wall, the easier ad-lib is going to get. It takes confidence in your ability to keep up your focus, to allow all the knowledge and planning to come out the way you wanted it to. If you are not getting the weekly on-air time at the college you are at now, you ought to find a place where you can.

Over time, the process gets easier. You know more, you plan faster, and you execute better. The key is to get the kinks out while you are still in college so that you are ready to roll into your first broadcast meteorology job. You’ll always have rough days, no matter how long you’ve been doing this, but you’ve always got another show to get yourself back on track.

Do you have any tips or tricks that help you out at the weather wall? Please share them in the comments below.

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