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.
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.
This is a phenomenal blog post; it’s fun, insightful, sensational, great, super, terrific, and awesome.
Depending on who you are.
Seriously though, we have an issue we need to discuss. Radio hosts, anchors, reporters, game announcers and production script writers have all seemingly slipped into a subjective adjective trough. I hear newscasts, morning shows, sporting events, and station promos filled with adjectives, yet not a single image is conjured.It’s anti-theater-of-the-mind.
It’s the curse of the subjective adjective.
“Here is a sad/shocking/funny story…”
“She tends a lovely garden.”
“This game is crazy.”
“The most amazing giveaway ever.”
Subjective adjectives are — subjective. It’s a description influenced by your personal belief or opinion. More often than not it’s a word that carries no meaning or weight to the listener. It’s what I call an “empty” word, because they have no real meaning and they leave me empty inside. I’m hearing them all the time now and thought it worthwhile to address.
Here are two ways to combat subjective adjective abuse. Feel free to add your own methods in the comments section.
1. Find objective adjectives about the same subject. Objective adjectives are not only accurate, but they are also image inducing.
EXAMPLE: Most people can’t visualize “an awesome apartment building.” However, they can visualize “An apartment building towering 112-floors into the clouds complete gold encrusted toilet seats in each unit, self-cleaning bedrooms and a live-in man servant.”
2. Use your subjective adjective as inspiration to better describe it. Which details can you share that make it sad, lovely or crazy?
EXAMPLE: “A dumb bank robbery suspect is under arrest after sending police on a crazy chase in the countryside.”
Ask yourself: What makes him dumb? What made the chase crazy?
INSPIRED RE-WRITE: “A robbery suspect who left his work ID badge on the counter of the bank is under arrest. He ran out of gas after leading police on a 90 mile an hour pursuit passing horse and buggies on one-lane roads in Amish country.”
THE REALLY BIG FINISH
Every time a subjective adjective is used a radio listener dies a little on the inside. And then turns on Pandora.
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