I’ve been thinking about how running a Presidential campaign is similar to being a radio personality. We are judged each day by listeners who vote for us by listening and against us by switching to the competition. We are running a never ending campaign for more listeners, more time, more engagement, more loyalty, more recall, and more ear space.
In radio and Presidential politics you only have about two years to make an impact once you secure the position and you may be moving on to something else after four years.
So what can we learn from dumpster fire of a Presidential election?
Actually, watching Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton provides great reminders to radio talent. Here are four that jump out at me.
Be Prepared. We all want to believe we have the talent and experience to “wing it.” We don’t. When the red light comes on you need to know what you want to say, what the intention or goal is for the break, and how you’re ideally going to execute it. It doesn’t need to be scripted, but preparing for each break will make your show smarter, sharper, funnier, and more listenable. Winging it leads to incoherent rambling, unnecessary diversions, and what I call “break degeneration.” That’s when a segment gets so far off track and meandering that even the hosts aren’t sure when or how to end it.
Embrace Showmanship. We are in show biz. We’re performers. Even candidates are performers on the “political stage.” This doesn’t mean you play someone you’re not. To cut through the clutter you need to be an enhanced version of you. The smarter, funnier, more clever and personable cousin of the person you are when you wake up in the morning. Yes, we’ve all been screaming about ‘authenticity’ for a few years. True authenticity can be inspiring, but more often it’s subdued and boring. Go ahead and be authentic to yourself, in your intentions and with your actions, just execute it with some gusto.
Be Empathetic. Do the show for your audience instead of for personal fame, local celebrity or a pay check. If you can emotionally connect with your listeners and demonstrate you “feel them” whether it’s through conversation, stories, life events, or personal vulnerability you will win them over. Empathy is the missing ingredient for both Presidential candidates. They’re not running for the highest office in the land for us, they’re doing it for themselves and the power that comes with it. It’s why so many people are voting against one of the candidates instead of for them.
Avoid Personal Attacks. Trump is a one man insult machine (that’s a compliment.) It’s a skill he’s honed over many years. Hurtling insults and personal attacks is psychological warfare for him. He believes it gives him the upper hand, intimidates others and gives him power. I believe that he believes it makes him more likeable. It might to some. Even if it does, and I’d argue it doesn’t, you dear reader are not God’s gift to “insult assault” like Trump. For mere mortals, personal attacks generally bounce off the intended target and the negativity is reflected back onto you. It can make you look childish, unprepared, less intelligent, reactionary, unstable, immature and like a bully. It is perfectly acceptable and expected to characterize and criticize behaviour and actions, but avoid attacking and insulting people.
These are just some of the radio lessons collected on the campaign trail. What have you learned? Use the comments below to share your takeaways.
Over the course of the last few months, I’ve had the honor and responsibility to help launch new News-Talk radio shows on air in Vancouver and Winnipeg. Not that I’d know, but it seems a bit like launching a space shuttle. A huge team, lots of planning, excitement, adrenaline, nerves, back timing, countdowns, someone is pushing a bunch of buttons, and there are always small adjustments along the way. (A gross over-generalization to be sure, but go with it.)
Below is a list of some of the adjustments that crept up through these experiences that are good reminders to all radio talent
- Improvisation rules apply. Don’t kill the premise of a discussion by dismissing it off hand. Add to it. Expand on it. Think “Yes, and…”
- When co-hosting it is okay to disagree, but it isn’t about “winning at all costs.” Respect each other, establish clear boundaries, and agree on the goal of each segment before diving in.
- Avoid personal attacks. This applies to co-workers and news makers. Characterize behavior and actions, not people.
- News is not a break from the show. News is what’s next on your show.
- Know the clock, respect the clock, and abide by the clock. They’re designed for maximum ratings impact and for clear separation of commercial competitors, repeat commercials and to minimize listener fatigue.
- Write and plan your teases into break. Avoid words and phrases like “after these commercials”, “we’ll be back”, “time to take a break”, “when we return.” Instead keep forward momentum with something like “coming up next…”
- Speaking of momentum, find ways to build momentum for each segment, each show and each day on the station. Build on stories, find the arc, explore new angles, and offer different perspectives.
- Be about something. Don’t just fill time.
- Avoid signing off at the end of your show as if there is nothing else worth listening to on the station.
- Root your on-air personality in authenticity, but remember it is show biz, so it should be an enhanced, more dynamic version of you.
If you are lucky enough to have a radio show you have an amazing opportunity. Your voice will travel through air, into ears and across the Milky Way faster than a space shuttle. It is an awesome responsibility to entertain and inform the public. The impact you make is up to you. You’ve been given the keys to high performance machine, what are you going to do with it?
This happened Monday night on TV in Vancouver…
Female Anchor: Did you guys see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on 60 Minutes last night?
Male Co-Anchors: No. Nah.
Female Anchor: (visibly shocked)
Female Anchor: Well, anyway…
I know point out bad banter on TV is like pointing at rain drops in Seattle, but there are important takeaways for radio anchors and hosts hidden inside this gem.
Be Prepared. As someone who works in and talks about news for a living it is imperative you take time to watch/read/listen to the things that your listeners are talking about that day. Not only does it make you more credible and authentic, it allows you to develop an opinion about it, reflect interests of listeners back to them, and it reinforces you commitment you have for your job and the product to you co-workers. Your team needs to be able to trust that you’re up to speed and able to carry a conversation or, in this case, what would likely have amounted to a 15 second banter.
Never Kill A Bit. With due respect to Nancy Reagan – don’t say “no.” Saying ‘no” always kills the bit or the banter. It stops conversation cold. It makes everyone on set look bad. Even if you haven’t watched/read/or listened — find a way to say yes and keep the conversation going. “Boy, everybody is talking about it today. What did you take away from it?”
Don’t Assume. Before you make assumptions that a co-worker must been up to speed on a story or event, take a minute off air to ask, “Is it okay if I ask you about…”
The main idea here is work harder to put you and your co-workers in a position to win every minute of every show even if it’s 15 seconds of banter at the end of the show.
I’ve been telling all the talent I work with that 2016 will be about context, context, context and concerning ourselves with the verbal and the vocal. The verbal and the vocal? Yes. A little something I picked up while chatting with David Lloyd, author of “How to Make Great Radio.”
“Verbal is the words. Vocal is how they are delivered,” explains Lloyd in Episode 121 of the Radio Stuff podcast. “Listen to great presenters and the way they speak, the way they use their voice, the way they pause, the way the words come out of their mouth.”
He’s right, you know? The great presenters or on-air talent have a way with words and know just how to deliver a line or tell a story to engage the listener and make them care.
Lloyd continues, “Words are so critically important. When you’re doing a coaching session with a presenter you can see their eyes roll as they say, ‘Ah, for goodness sakes it’s only a word.’ But words are all we have. Words are what set one radio station apart from another. You know you can play the same records as your competitor in the same order, but what sets you apart is your imaging and the words you use. I think to focus on those is critically important.”
It’s not just a radio thing. How any business talks with its customers is critically important.
“I was in a shopping centre last week and I came out of the toilet and there is a big sign and it says ‘Let’s Go Shopping!’ and an arrow,” shared Lloyd. “And I thought, ‘Wow, someone has thought about that.’ Because they could’ve had a sign saying ‘Shops.’ But they said ‘Let’s Go Shopping!’ The emotional response to a sign that signs ‘Let’s Go Shopping!’ compared to a sign that says ‘Shops’ — you can’t compare the two.”
Yes, thinking about what you are going to say and how you are going to say it takes time. But, it’s a thousand little decisions about the words you use and the intonation you choose that sets you apart.
“You hear a lot of radio and think you’ve just thrown up the fader, you have not given any thought whatsoever to how you’re going to frame it.” Lloyd suggests, “If you are going to talk about “X” how are you going to describe it? What are the words you’re going to throw in there? You don’t need to write a script, but just to have thought about the colors, the textures, and the conversation you’re about to have with your listener.”
Along these same lines there is a great TED Talk by Julien Treasure about how to get people to hear what you have to say and it also reflects this theme of the verbal and vocal. It’s worth 10 minutes of your time.
Kooza is a Cirque du Soleil show currently underway in Vancouver. It combines two great traditions of the circus: mind-blowing acrobatic performances with the art of clowning.
Take a minute and watch this video.
I was at the show last night and saw this awesome assembly of remarkable talent. It’s a really, really talented troupe. A couple things struck me as it relates to radio.
The talents were unpredictable and diverse. All these people brought their own unique skills to the show, each was showcased, celebrated and included in the team.
Despite having perfected their craft over many years and having insane talent in what they do, they didn’t just jump in front of the crowd and wing it. They prepared as a team, created a narrative, built anticipation, created suspense and paid it off for the audience time and time again.
The trust the team of performers has in each other is necessary and admirable. You don’t flip 30 feet in the air up-side-down and land on the shoulders of a guy on stilts if you don’t have trust. Trust is the key to a performer’s confidence and is the foundation for being vulnerable in front of an audience.
Finally, I know this was rehearsed a thousand times. I know they scripted much of it. I know the jokes weren’t spontaneous. And I didn’t care. I was surprised, delighted, entertained and just because it wasn’t spontaneous and organic for the performers doesn’t mean it wasn’t for me.