The premise of 60 minutes according to its creator and producer Don Hewitt is based on, “The four words every child knows…tell me a story.”
Yet, it remains a rare talent in talk radio today. Talk hosts (regardless of format; sports – conservative - liberal – car talk – cooking – news) need to tell remarkable stories that add entertainment, information, insight, context, understanding, and evoke emotions. While many hosts believe they are telling stories, few do. A story has an arc (beginning, middle and END that makes a point regarding a specific topic), is rich with details, and transports people to your world. Instead of telling stories, most hosts that I’ve listened to cull together personal anecdotes or bullet points from life experiences and list them out believing they are telling a story, but like Elaine Benes’, “yada yada yada” on Seinfeld, they leave out the dazzling details. Don’t do this.
At Arbitron’s annual consultant fly-in in Baltimore last month there were some really powerful presentations that talk about best practices of social media, the importance of Moms, Weekends, and listening occasions. I’ve received this link to consultant Holland Cooke’s analysis in Talker’s Magazine from a handful of people and want to share it with you.
Here are some of my takeaways…
- We need to stop using Twitter and Facebook as a promotional platform and begin ENGAGING with our “friends.” Social Media is NOT about the station, it’s about the relationship between YOU (the person – not the show or station) and the listeners. Use these platforms to have conversations. If you ask questions, also answer them. If people reply, reply back. I see this social media as the bonus track on the DVD that provides behind the scenes footage and director’s commentary.
- Moms are key to consumption of our internet, new media and social platforms. The internet is Mom’s “most-essential” medium, driven by multiple household computers, wi-fi, and the cell phone. 60% of Moms would choose her smartphone over a TV.
- Traffic is still very important to listeners, most believe traffic is getting worse each year, and they still lean on radio first for information.
- Cool presentation from ESPN about their “best screen available” philosophy (even if that screen is radio) – proving that cross-media usage is NOT a zero-sum game (reinforcing our strategy with three radio stations and a content-rich website).
- Listeners are extremely more patient with commercials than we expect.
- More people in most markets listen to the radio on the weekends than either morning or afternoon drive. Radio is a total week medium…
- The #1 Headline: Getting people to come back again and again is the ball game.
Nearly everyday I get a request from somebody for “feedback.” Sometimes it’s an employee, sometimes a peer or mentor, and sometimes a complete stranger out-of-the-blue wanting “an honest assessment of their work.”
This is tricky.
In nearly every situation, I find most people — and yes, you maybe the exception – are looking to find out what’s “right” about what they are doing. They are looking for positive feedback, affirmation, and reassurance. They crave a verbal hug.
But, “feedback” and “honest assessments” are typically just the opposite.
Programmers are taught to listen for what’s wrong, not what’s right. And it’s still my instinct too.
I listen to a tape/cd/mp3 and think, ”that was weak, that’s not right, that missed the mark, what is she thinking?, why would he say that? where are they going with this bit?”
Is that what you’re looking for? Or do you want to know what’s right?
My experience tells me the latter. Nearly every time I’ve provided an “honest assessment” of a talent’s work it leads to defensiveness, excuses, and rebellion (ie. I don’t care what you think, I’m going with my gut.)
The key, as with most things, is balance. I’m working hard to focus on strengths and weaknesses, knowing it’s easier to enhance a strength than overcome a weakness. This doesn’t mean weaknesses aren’t worth overcoming, but it certainly takes more effort and time.
The easiest solution to this is to ask for what you want. Instead of asking for general feedback, ask for specifics;
- What am I doing right?
- How can I do better?
- What’s missing from my performance?
- How can I increase TSL?
- What can I do differently to be more valuable to the radio station?
- How can improve the listener experience?
- Where should I focus more of my effort?
Specific questions lead to specific answers. Be prepared – you may just get what you ask for.
“Updates? Sports? Talk host? Farm Report? I’m your gal!”
More than one applicant has told me, “I can do anything and everything. Just tell me what you want.”
That’s a warning sign to me. I believe talent is art, not manufacturing.
I want unique. I want different. I want authentic. I want clever, creative, and distinctive. I want someone who fits in to my station and stands out. I am always looking for talent who are true to themselves.
When I listen to demos I’m listening for talent who have found their voice, who are certain who they are and know what they do best. If talent tries to cater their demo to what they think I’m looking for, I can hear it. It comes across as trying too hard to impress, uncomfortable, uncertain, or as playing the role of a host or anchor, instead of being it.
How do you do that? Practice, practice, practice. And it probably takes 10,000 hours of doing radio to truly find your voice and personality. (see: Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule from “Outliers”). Your voice is an instrument. It takes time and reps to figure out all that it can do and how to do it. For me, the journey included re-learning how to breathe to better support my voice, how to use pacing, pausing, pitch, tone, enunciation, intonation and body movement, and how to write specifically for my voice and listener’s ears and not for my eyes.
The other thing to remember is one program director‘s opinion is just that — one program director’s opinion. What I perceive of your talent is personal to me and my experiences. The next program director that listens to your demo will evaluate your talent differently. That’s why it is so important to be yourself. Otherwise, you’ll have to reinvent your style and personality everywhere you go. That’s a lot of work and will make it very difficult to build your brand. Imagine if Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, Rick Dees, Carson Daly, and Ryan Seacrest changed who they were and what they did at every stop along their career path.
The balancing act as a talent comes when you get hired. It’s a delicate dance of being yourself and integrating your brand into the radio station brand. Ideally, the sum is greater than the parts (1 + 1 = 3). You AND the station are exponentially better. That means working with the program director and station colleagues to maximize results without compromising your art.
Sarah describes the beginning of a great story as the intersection where what you are passionate about meets what others are invested in. She tries each time she opens her mouth to make impossible connections with people.
The key to great spoken-word poetry and spoken-word radio are the same.
Entertain. Inform. Inspire. It’s about gathering up all the knowledge and experience you’ve collected up until now to help you dive into things you don’t know. Sarah suggests approaching each day / show / poem with your backpack filled with everywhere else you have been.
Sound advice for all radio hosts.
Take 18 minutes and watch this video.
By now you’ve seen the coverage of Charlie Sheen on the Dan Patrick Show. It was on CNN, Fox News, Vanity Fair, The Hollywood Reporter, Entertainment Tonight, USA Today, New York Post, LA Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and the Times of India to name a few. Not bad exposure for The Dan Patrick Show on one guest.
So how’d they book him? They asked.
My sources say the Danettes had Charlie’s number from a previous appearance, gave him a ring, and asked if he’d come on the show. He said yes.
So what are the lessons to be learned from Charlie Sheen?
- Ask for what you want. Sometimes the biggest obstacle in front of your success is just asking for what you want; asking a guest to be on your show, asking your boss for a promotion, asking anyone for help of some kind, etc. In this case, asking Charlie Sheen to join the DP Show for a few minutes. Just make the call, ask the question – the worst thing that can happen is that you’re told “No.”
- Keep records. Hosts and producers need to keep every number of every guest, regardless of how important you deem them in the moment. You never know when you may need it again.
- Spread the word. When a guest makes news on your show, in this case Charlie Sheen saying he’s ready to go back to work, tell everyone about it. Don’t assume everyone who cares about it heard it on your show. Immediately, the audio and a news story about the interview appeared on www.danpatrick.com, the producers were twittering about the interview, and undoubtedly a press release was quickly written and released. This is cheapest, most impactful promotion you may ever have for your show.
So you may ask how this guest was appropriate for the Dan Patrick show. Charlie is a big sports fan, resonates with the core demo with his movie and TV roles, and recently talked with the UCLA baseball team (a.k.a. the timely hook.)
Strange as it may seem, one of the keys to being a great interviewer is to actually ask questions.