TV personality Desmond Tey strides into the Japanese restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, for our interview, with all the confidence of someone used to being in front of the cameras.
He is a successful broadcasting executive producer, show host and writer.
Tey majored in media studies while pursuing an undergraduate degree at Universiti Malaya.
When he first joined the media industry, he worked as an assistant TV producer in programme production.
Over the years, he has produced and hosted different shows for local TV, including game shows, talk shows, variety shows and documentaries.
At one time, Tey worked in the news department. He was a bilingual (Malay and Mandarin) local news reporter for the political, social, economic and crime segments in the News and Current Affairs department of ntv7 and 8TV.
During his 15 years with the industry, Tey won many outstanding achievements including Best Magazine Programme for My Home (8TV) as part of ntv7’s inaugural Golden Awards in 2010.
Tey, 41, loves to challenge himself regularly.
“I yearn for some excitement in life so I push myself to try these things,” he says, referring to outdoor sports such as diving, surfing and long-distance running.
“Diving helps me to reduce the stress that comes with a hectic life in TV production.
“From running marathons, I learn how to calm down and not impatiently rush to complete things that demand accuracy: run too fast and I lose my energy, so I need to plan how far I can go while conserving this energy.
“Having a goal in mind helps tremendously, as does proper pacing,” Tey adds.
“I apply all these lessons to my work.”
Tey allows a glimpse into a time when he wasn’t in front of a camera. “I’m from Kuantan, Pahang, and the youngest in my family. Since I was a kid, I have been very independent. When I was studying in primary school, I already had a fixed idea of what industry I wanted to join when I grew up. My parents were really supportive and gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted.”
He dreamed of becoming like the newscasters on TV. “I wanted to look intelligent and confident, and be a good speaker,” he says.
He had doubts about trying out hosting, initially, as he was contented to be a producer. But the people around him recognised he had the talent to be a good host, and urged him to give it a shot. And so he did.
Hosting has indeed made a significant impact on Tey’s life. “Previously, I always did only what I wanted to do, without considering other people in the process,” Tey admits. “Entering the TV industry changed me entirely.”
A source of inspiration for him, Tey says, is American television personality Ellen DeGeneres. He is amazed at the high level of interaction between DeGeneres and her talk show audience, the range of topics discussed, and the way she handles sensitive interviews without making the interviewee feel uncomfortable.
On the current state of reality TV, Tey says that for hosts to make it, they have to be approachable and attractive to the public.
“Good hosts aren’t machines that deliver information and ask questions,” he says. “They study subjects like psychology to know how to approach different individuals and audiences.”
He also notes that audiences don’t usually watch talk shows for the nature of the content, but rather for the hosts, if their personalities are attractive.
“Appearance is something that I can’t emphasise enough, for this industry,” he adds. “This means knowing what kind of image you want to portray to the audience. Let’s say you want to host an entertainment show, you would need to look more stylish and robust. If you wish to host a talk show, your image would have a more mature, educated and knowledgeable vibe.
“A lot of people who want to become TV hosts either join on a whim or want to be led around blindly; they don’t have an ultimate goal to reach. These people haven’t mastered the concepts and themes of the programmes.
“If you wish to join the market, it’s imperative that you first know what you want to do, and plan your future. You have to know your weaknesses and strengths, because when you appear on TV as a host, people are going to have the general perception that you are perfect in looks and delivery. So you have to reduce your weaknesses and maximise your strengths.”
Tey affirms that one has to enjoy what they do in this job; if it is forced, it will look unnatural. “Today’s TV programme market doesn’t like to see something that’s very ‘proper’ or static, they want to see something ‘happening’ and lively.”
He adds that there are great, noticeable differences through the eras as early as the 1980s, 90s and today. “We TV hosts are not here anymore to just stand and deliver information. We are now switching gears to make hosting as interactive as can be.”
TV hosts are constantly learning on the job, Tey says, revealing there is more to show-hosting than just presenting in front of the camera. “When you are in the entertainment, current affairs, talk show and variety programmes, you have to watch a lot of different material in order to update your hosting skill sets. We have to learn about current issues pertaining to facts and entertainment, what angles to take, the skills to ask questions and to communicate effectively with our guests to make them feel welcome and at ease.”
Tey tells his juniors that when they are the host, the questions they ask their interviewees are not necessarily about what the host wants to know but, rather, what audiences want to ask but can’t. “Forget yourself, think of your audience,” he says.