MSU Today with Russ White

Suzanne Sena is an Emmy-nominated television personality, former Fox News channel anchor, and the founder of Sena-Series Media Training. She also played Brook Alvarez on the comedic TV series, The Onion News Network. She's an author and keynote speaker, and she's an alumna of Michigan State University and native of Dearborn, Michigan.

Show Notes

“I have such fond memories, and I love to get back whenever I can and see the beautiful campus,” Sena says. “I think only later in life do you realize how fortunate you were to be at such an amazing place to get your education. It's really cool.”

Sena describes her career path from leaving MSU in 1985 to where she is today leading Suzanne Sena CreativeWorks, LLC, the parent company to all her creative endeavors.

“It’s been an unusual career path, which I think in itself is a lesson. I think when we go to school, we think we have to know what we're going to do, what we're going to be when we grow up, and what we're going to do when we graduate. And the truth is I found that the book of my life has so many different chapters. I never could have anticipated many of them. I would never have believed that the whole direction would change completely at one point or another, or do that several times, but it really has.

“I will be honest, and I think this is an important message. Throughout my career, I would have people say, ‘Don't. You're trying to do too much. You can't be this and be that. You can't be an actress and also go there and be a reporter now. No one will take you seriously.’ Don’t listen to people who say, ‘You have to choose one direction.’ You don't, and whatever you choose now, doesn't mean that's where you stay forever. But everything builds upon everything else.”

In March of 2020, Sena launched her podcast “The Confidence Connection.” One of her favorite quotes is that confidence is contagious.

“It was really about getting the message out about confidence. I wanted to have access to people who knew more than I did about some things. I find that so inspiring. I'm a trained interviewer and feel I'm a good host. I'm so deeply curious about people so I conduct the interviews for me. Then people have access to those people through me. And it turns out that overall, the message is the same, pandemic or no pandemic. We want to know about the people who've made it, how they made it, and what struggles they went through so that we are inspired.

“Over the last year, we've seen such an increase in people listening to podcasts. They've looked for more forms of entertainment. And then by virtue of finding one, they look for others. It's a great medium. And it's also a great outlet if you're creative and you have a message you want to get out there.”

Sena talks about why MSU was the right college for her coming out of high school. And she describes how her time at MSU has helped her to get to where she is today.

“At MSU, I learned what I was capable of, and I was treated with respect. I had unlimited opportunities, and my skills were able to be developed and noticed. Then when somebody I respected respected me, it made me feel better about myself.”
Sena says that the enormous changes in the communications world also bring enormous opportunities.

“The biggest thing is to learn to take advantage of the trends. I remember attending a conference about 10 years ago with all the network TV and studio heads. They were saying within a year or two people would be watching television mostly on their devices. And I thought that was ridiculous. Now I look at my phone to see the latest episode of the Handmaid's Tale or whatever I'm watching.

“Get as much knowledge as you can and don’t limit yourself. Communication is evolving and making everything more accessible and every dream more attainable.”

MSU Today airs Sunday mornings at 9:00 on 105.1 FM and AM 870 and streams at Find “MSU Today with Russ White” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your shows.

Creators & Guests

Russ White
I host and produce MSU Today for News/Talk 760 @wjrradio and @MichiganStateU's @NPR affiliate @WKAR News/Talk 102.3 FM and AM 870.

What is MSU Today with Russ White?

MSU Today is a lively look at Michigan State University-related people, places, events and attitudes put into focus by Russ White. The show airs Saturdays at 5 P.M. and Sundays at 5 A.M. on 102.3 FM and AM 870 WKAR, and 8 P.M. on AM 760 WJR.

Russ White 0:00
Well Suzanne Cena is an Emmy nominated television personality, former fox news channel anchor and the founder of Sena series media training. She also played Brook Alvarez on the comedic TV series, The Onion News Network. She's an author and keynote speaker, and she's an alumna of Michigan State University and native of Dearborn, Michigan. So Suzanne, great to welcome you to MSU Today.

Suzanne Sena 0:26
Oh, thanks so much. I saw I have such fond memories. And I'd love to get back whenever I can and see the beautiful campus. I think only later in life, do you realize how fortunate you were to be at such an amazing place to get your education? You know, it's really cool.

Russ White 0:40
Couldn't agree more? Well, to start off our conversation, Suzanne, just sort of briefly describe from when you graduated from MSU, to where you are today, sort of your career path?

Suzanne Sena 0:51
Well, I'll try and kind of shorten it up a bit, because it's been an unusual career path, which I think in itself is a lesson, you know, I think when we go to school, we think we have to know what we're going to do what we're going to be when we grow up, right when we what we're going to do when we graduate. And the truth is, I found that my life, my book of my life has so many different chapters, never could have anticipated them, I would never believe that a whole direction would change completely at one point or another or do that several times. But it but it really has. You know, when I went to State, I really had thought I wanted to be an advertising. And so advertising and PR focused my my study all on whatever curriculum would would fit that. But very quickly, after that, I realized, you know, I do think I want PR there's no exact degree in it, or at least there wasn't then. So I started looking for jobs in PR. And I put out my cover letter in the form of a press release, because I thought that was very creative and clever, and sent that out everywhere I thought I might want to live now growing up in Michigan, I'm a huge fan of all the different seasons and how beautiful it is. But for me, I wanted to go somewhere where the weather was a little more consistent. So I looked at places all along the Texas coastline all along all the way up even to Washington state where I knew that was just beautiful with water and a little combination of all the things I liked. I got hired briefly by a company in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I knew one person there living there. And I had a rule that as long as I knew one person somewhere I could, I could try it out. So I did that. But very quickly, that did not seem to be the right fit for me. And to be quite honest, I think I had these grandiose ideas that I would come out of school and make $60,000 or more a year. And what they offered me was so low. And I thought well, this is not where I want to be, you're not realizing that the experience would eventually pay off. But the long and short of it is I had a strong business, I guess mind and also that marketing, PR, natural skill. So I found myself drawn to marketing positions. I started working in the hotel industry,

I was working in selling rooms, I guess, and being involved in tourism. And I really liked that because there was a performance aspect. But it was also a lot of skill. And having gone to Michigan State, I actually lived in the Brody complex, which was really big for the hotel, restaurant industry development. So I had a lot of friends who had had dealt with that. And I started doing marketing for restaurants. And I loved that I loved it. That evolved from what I had done in the hotel business. And then I started my own company. And I look back now I think that's crazy, because I think it was about 23 when I did that. But I always say that I had this sort of blissful ignorance, like I didn't know that I shouldn't do that. And I just decided I wanted to do so many different things. And the only way to do it was to have my own business. And because I liked restaurant marketing, I approached some restaurants in the Albuquerque-area and pitched myself to do their marketing. And then I got hired and I got clients and I would do their advertising, I would write their radio spots I would perform because I was also a talent on camera and also do the voiceovers. And it was crazy. I was really loving what I did and that just kept going. But along the line, my level of performance came out I had been doing acting since I was a kid in high school and everything else and then voiceovers, I worked at the radio station at Michigan State. I think WBRS and I, I just saw more and more of that happening where suddenly I was playing the role of an anchor reporter on a commercial because I was doing a lot of acting as as long as well as doing my marketing jobs. And and a company called me with a big CBS affiliate called and said we would really like you to come out here and work for us. And I said no, no, no, I'm not really a reporter. I just play one on TV. But they were very interested and they flew me out. And they loved me. And what I learned then is that it was really about communication, which right, that's what I studied at State didn't mean to be a broadcaster, didn't even really think about pursuing it, but sort of fell into it. And I knew then that there was something that I had that might work in this arena. So what I did was I asked around, I didn't want to take that job, I felt false. One of my favorite movies is Broadcast News. And if you've seen it, right, but in Broadcast News, there's a news anchor who started doing sports. And they made up a rumor that he was going to leave, and they got into a bidding war, and he gets promoted to like the main anchor, and his career is wildly successful, but he's afraid that people are gonna find out he doesn't know what he's doing, or is he said in the film, I don't get the news, I'm reading, I didn't want to be that person. So I asked around, and I, through networking, very quick networking, I got introduced to an agent in Los Angeles, who said, you know,don't, don't do that.

you're better at this. And basically, pretty quickly after that, I got a job at E! Entertainment as an entertainment reporter. And you could probably hear my voice, you know, I'm not your standard news type, I'm definitely more enthusiastic and have that kind of energy. So that was, that was really how it started. And one thing led to another, I almost got the job Kelly Ripa got. And then I transitioned into doing what I would call legit news, as opposed to entertainment news. And I was working nationally at the Fox News Channel. But at the end of the day at all, for me, I still wanted to do too many things I didn't like to be restricted. When you have a news job, you do news, and you can't do other things. You can't do commercials, you can't. You can't write a script and sell it, you can't do those things. So when I left Fox, I opened up my own company, again, being an entrepreneurial type, and I decided what I was good at and was needed. Were skills on the teleprompter. And that's how my business started, Sena Series Media Training, I started with teleprompter. And it wasn't people who wanted to be TV host, it was executives who had to follow Bill Gates at a speaking engagement and didn't know how to use a prompter. And honestly, Russell all these years later, I've never advertised and the word of mouth just spread and spread as, as you and I talked beforehand about now that the whole world has turned into broadcasters working from home, you know, there's this really no end to the the amount of clients that that come my way. I'm very fortunate in that. So.

Russ White 7:37
That was a great description of your career path. And you know, Suzanne, it reminds me of something we'll explore more too, that we talked a bit about off the air, that you were a precursor and combining so many different skills. It's almost like you're not just a reporter now, or you're not just a PR, you're in broad terms a communication specialist, obviously, you may have more strengths. But it's I think, for a lot of the kids today, you were an early person adopting that sort of sort of do-it-all straategy I think.

Suzanne Sena 8:07
I love the way that you've just, you know, summarize that because I will be honest, and I think this is an important message throughout my career career, excuse me, I would have people say "don't, you're trying to do too much, you can't be this and be that, you know, you can't be an actress, and also go there and be a reporter now, no one will take you seriously." So when I stopped commercial acting and went to work at E! I pretended I never did the acting. And then when I went into regular news, people said, Well, don't tell anyone about your entertainment background. But it all comes together. And I'm a big believer that you should write down all the different things you want to explore in your life. And as long as they're there, some people call it a vision board, I just call it my career chart. As long as it's in front of you, it will find the timing and the place. I actually remember being on a plane. Five years before I launched my company, I put together a program because it came to me that nobody's teaching people how to be TV hosts. And that's why I wish I had had it right. So I sketched it out then and I put it in a folder. Five years later, I launched the business and so you know, don't listen to people who say you have to choose one direction you don't. And whatever you choose now, doesn't mean that's where you stay forever. But everything builds upon everything else. Never would have had the lead in the Onion News Network, scripted TV series had I not been a national news anchor and found the funny in it.

Russ White 9:36
Catching up with Michigan State University alumna Suzanne Sena on MSU Today. And Suzanne, based on sort of what you've described, and what we've talked about, how would you even describe what you do if someone says, oh, Suzanne, what do you do for a living? I'm curious to hear what you would say.

Suzanne Sena 9:53
Yeah, you know, that's funny. You say that. My father who passed away a couple years ago had real trouble with that as well. "What does your Daughter do?" "I don't know ask her." It's Yeah, it's hard to say I use something at best, I say now I'm a communication expert. I do many things. I have many different divisions in my life. I am first and foremost, I think, at heart and instructor and a coach. I'm that way in general, you know, whether it's speaking or teaching, I'm very motivational, because I think I came from a place where people didn't think I would be successful, or people saw roadblocks, and I never saw those. And it's important to me to share that with others, that nobody can stop you. But you, you know, limit really only exists in your mind. And I one of the greatest quotes I've ever heard was, whether you think you'll succeed, or you won't. You're right. Okay, so whatever you think is going to happen. So I like to encourage people to reach for the stars. So what do I do? Well, I do a lot. I'm a talent coach, I coach on set. I'm an executive performance coach, I work with top level companies. And now I work with anybody from an entrepreneur who has to put videos online and doesn't know how to be charismatic to, again, executives who have to have these zoom meetings, and encourage people how to be comfortable so that they're confident in that. And I guess that leads me to one of the taglines that I've used for my company, which is we sell confidence. At the end of the day, it's really about being confident what you're doing. And I'm a I'm a good confidence builder. So there's that I do those things.

Russ White 11:36
Well, Suzanne, you segued me beautifully into my next question. Because about a year or so ago, around the beginning of the pandemic, you started a podcast, you're known as saying confidence is contagious. It's really the key to your life really is confidence. So tell us about how the Confidence Connection: Building Trust in a Virtual World, how did the idea come about? And why did you decide a podcast was the best way to deliver those messages you were looking to share?

Suzanne Sena 12:04
Well, that's an interesting question. Um, over the years, I had been asked several times by people, "why don't you do a podcast?" And I thought, No, why? Why do a podcast? Everybody does a podcast right, Russell? We're all doing podcasts. And and that's true. And so for me, it was really about getting the message out about confidence. It really was. And people would say to me, how do you monetize that? And I said, I don't I don't try to monetize it. I'm really doing it because I believe in what I'm saying. And I'll be really honest, I wanted to have access to people who knew more than I did about some things. And I find that so inspiring. And because I'm a trained interviewer, because I feel I'm a good host. And I'm so deeply curious about people that I do it for me. But then people have access to those people through me. So in fact, we're just sort of re revamping the podcast now. Because the virtual world tagline with that came in because we were all freaked out, right. And it turns out that, overall, the message is the same pandemic or no pandemic, we want to know about the people who've made it, how they made it, what struggles they went through, so that we are inspired people are shocked. Sometimes when they find out things like Well, my family didn't want me to go to college, because I was a female. And that sounds so archaic. And I'm not that old. But it was definitely a shock to them that I would go to college. Well, you know, when people hear about some of the struggles I went through, or some of the struggles that the people you admire out there, when through it can be very, very encouraging. One of my favorite interviews I've done is with the president of CBS studios, David Staff. If you listen to that, you'll be blown away by his humility. And by his his down to earth nature. And the fact is, he did not know what he was doing. He basically ascended in his amazing career by telling people, hey, I don't know what I'm doing, can you help me out? And being honest about it, not trying to be somebody who wasn't to admit strengths, but also to admit weaknesses, just to know to be authentic. And they're such great messages and that and, you know, my life was enriched from having that conversation. And I hope others who listened and find it enriching as well.

Russ White 14:18
And Suzanne, I think that's part of the beauty of the podcast medium is it takes a little time for that story to evolve and, and come out for people and because you can consume audio while you're doing other things. I think that's part of why it's really taking off because you and I know it's really just online, on-demand audio. It seems to have sometimes this magic aura about it, but that's really all it is. But more and more people are engaging with it that way. So.

Suzanne Sena 14:43
Oh, 100% Russell, over the last, you know, year, we've seen such an increase in people listening to podcasts, because they've looked for more to do, frankly, they've looked for more forms of entertainment, and then by virtue of finding one, they look for others, and yeah, it's a great medium and you know, It's also a great outlet if you're creative. And and you have a message you want to get out there, there seems like there's something for everybody.

Russ White 15:07
Well, Suzanne, let's back up before we let you go, Why coming out of high school in Dearborn was MSU, the place for you?

Suzanne Sena 15:14
I'm trying to think of something that sounds really great and interesting and motivational. But here it is. So two things. One, my older brother had gone to University of Michigan. That's it, guys. That's it, I had to go to the opposite school I had to. And the other thing is really, I mean, the campus was so beautiful, but I just had heard great things about student life. And I have to say, I didn't know what I was getting into, right, I didn't even know for sure about going to college. And when I did, it was a big lofty goal, Michigan State, right. And I got accepted. And I remember being dropped off there and thinking, what have I done, you know, first time ever living away from home. But one thing I got in that first year, that was so striking, and shaped me for the rest of my life was, I understood now, what I was capable of, and I was treated with respect. And that sounds funny. But having been a kid, and sort of in an environment where you know, Dad was in charge, and I was the female and you know, not great expectations. I had unlimited opportunities, you know, and my skills were able to be developed and noticed. And then when somebody I respected, respected me and made me feel better about myself, I ended up getting very involved in organizations, I was with the original members of the Michigan State Water Ski Team. When they started it, I was actively involved in that I was actively involved in special events, I pitched some big event to have when we brought in musicians. And that's that's really, when you think about the company I started in Albuquerque, I did say it was restaurants, but it turned into an event marketing company. And I got all of that experience at Michigan State because we worked with advertisers and we worked with, you know, performers, and I worked with getting the word out and marketing posters. And really, it just it helped me grow into who I am and understand my capabilities, I think.

Russ White 17:19
How would you say this whole crazy communication world has changed the most over the years? And what's on the frontier? I know, we could have a conference on this. And, and part two, kind of so based on that, what do you recommend to the young students sitting in classes like you did a few years ago? If they want to get into some aspect of it? It's a lot there. I know.

Suzanne Sena 17:40
Right? You know, it's, it's, it's changed enormously, obviously. And with that enormous changes come it comes enormous opportunity. things exist today, Russell that you and I would never have imagined you could make a living up, you know, influencers. I work with influencers, and they're 21. And they're making millions and how, why? because they've got a camera in-front, and people want to see how they're living. And that's great more power to those people, especially the people who do it in a smart business way and build their companies. That's fantastic. But I would say that the biggest thing is learn now take advantage of these trends. I remember, a few years back, I want to say it was even less than 10 years ago, attending a conference here with all the the network heads all of the different TV studio habits. And they were saying within a year or two people would be watching television, mostly on their devices. And I thought that's ridiculous. As I look at my phone to see the latest episode of The Handmaid's Tale, or whatever I'm doing, if you can look at the trends and realize all the advantages out there to now for every aspect of communication and learn what you can get as much knowledge as you can. And as I started this conversation by saying, Don't limit yourself, really don't limit yourself to what might be out there. Because the next great thing hasn't been invented yet. And I think we've shown as Gosh, I think we've shown that we are people who are open to change, drastic change. And the pandemic is a great example of that. It was terrifying. It's it's been a tough time and a lot of ways. But it also changed the playing field forever, in a good way for businesses, because think about it, the people who use the companies that had the money to have offices all over the world and fly to Italy and fly to Germany to speak with clients and the little companies who couldn't afford to do that. It's all even now folks, you just put on your computer. So in a way, communication has evolved in a sense of making everything more accessible, every dream more attainable. My husband's very accomplished in what he does. And he's interested now in something called IoT, the Internet of Things which is completely not my area. And he just decided randomly I'd like to get certified in this. And he's about to finish a course from Stanford and be certified online, which maybe existed a while back. But nobody would really think that that was a serious deal. But it is, I want to certification, I can find it. You want a certification, you can find it. You want to learn how to cook something, you can find it. So there there are less limits now than ever before. So listen to whatever's inside. Go for it. And if you don't know how to do something, ask because there is somebody out there who does know and who is willing to teach you how just tune in to their YouTube channel. Right?

Russ White 20:36
That's right. Well, Suzanne, it's been delightful getting to know you a little bit today. And thank you for joining me on MSU Today.

Suzanne Sena 20:44
Oh, it's my pleasure, Russell it's it's fun to speak with a fellow Spartan.

Russ White 20:48
And that's Suzanne Sena and you can find out a lot more about her online and we've come up with her new title today worldwide communication specialist because nothing else really captures it al, but and we're pronouncing it like it's a double 'n' but just one and and I'm Russ White. This is MSU Today.

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