This was a great question I got the other day, and it goes beyond the obvious. Yes, you need to be competent reading the prompter and it sure helps your credibility if you can pronounce the name of the Iranian president, but there are a lot of intangibles that can make or break your time on the desk.
Over the years I've worked with incredibly smooth anchors and train wrecks. Really sincere people and total phonies. So I've seen a wide spectrum on the desk. Here's my take on what it takes to make your mark as an anchor.
-Be well read. This is especially evident on election night, when anchors who simply read the prompter and nothing else are exposed as people who really have no idea what's going on in the world. Instead of wasting time social networking and playing on the Internet, use the Internet to access information. Thousands of newspapers and other publications are available for free. Use them.
-Don't be afraid to show your true personality. There are anchor robots, and those who come across as real people. Be serious when reading a tragic story, have fun with your delivery for a feature. Ad libbing during cross talk is more of a gift than anything; if you can do it well, it's a big plus. Viewers connect with anchors who are warm and come across as real people who actually care about the news they're presenting.
-Get involved in the community. An anchor's job is never done, because you are the face of the station. Hosting charity events, pitching in at fundraisers, and being a go-to person when the community needs help will only solidify your standing.
-Talk to everyone you meet like a real person. Whether it's in the line at the grocery store or at a restaurant, be friendly and take the time with anyone who comes up to you.
-Never show your wild side. You may be a party animal, but those days are now over. (At least in public, anyway.) You can't get falling down drunk (and yes, I've seen one staffer do just that) and not expect that story to spread like wildfire. And with cell phone video, you'll be on YouTube in no time.
-No mug shots. Don't drink and drive or break the law. Nothing kills a career quicker.
-The sincerity factor. Okay, this one can be faked, but your true colors will come through when you meet people in person.
A few years ago I was visiting a friend at a network and he was giving me a tour. We were about to pass the network anchor who was sitting at a desk. My friend leans over and says, "Don't even say hello unless you've been granted an audience."
Apparently this anchor was not well liked by the staff but was popular on-camera. But I lost a lot of respect for this person because I had a personal experience.
-Treat the staff equally. Yes, that kid running camera may be right out of college but he deserves as much respect as anyone else. And as much of your attention. Everyone is equal in the newsroom, as you're all part of a team.
-Pay it forward. Someone helped you up the ladder, now it's time to be the mentor to the young people on the bottom rung.