Be Interested. Not Interesting.
September 7, 2016
By their very nature, most air talent are “class clowns” who thrive on being the center of attention. When sitting in front of a microphone, they are fearless, outrageous, and willing to go to any length to get a laugh.
The best ones are fantastic story tellers and can take the most pedestrian, mundane experience and mine it for funny observations that entertain an audience.
But as I learned through my own personal growth journey and continue to observe through working with clients both in and out of the radio industry, being outrageous can become a liability and result in disastrous personal relationships.
In my own radio career, there was a time when I may have been better known for my offbeat social media posts than for being a successful programmer. Many people would meet me in person for the first time and recite a funny tweet or status update before they would ask me about my radio station, which pretty much encouraged me to continue to seek more attention.
And somewhere in that process, I failed to let people in and really know who I was. Frankly, it felt safer to keep things surface level. I was afraid to speak up about my hopes, dreams, and real feelings out of fear of rejection.
Creating an alter-ego who was always “on” could make people laugh and get instant validation. Even if I crossed the line and said something over the top that offended someone, I could comfort myself by saying they didn’t know the “real me” and were only judging the “radio persona.”
As I committed to my own growth, I discovered an important truth. One which I wish I had grasped when I was younger.
Storytelling will allow you to entertain people, but cultivating an ability to actively listen and understand someone else’s needs can transform people.
There might be no better illustration of this concept than the evolution of Howard Stern, who evolved from talking to porn stars on Sybian machines to the best, most thoughtful interviewer in all of American media. His ability to listen and ask the deeper questions enables him to get the most authentic truth from his guests. Even the most unlikeable celebrities are humanized after an hour with Howard. As a result, his show is a must-visit destination for A-listers who have a product to promote.
As Howard explained in a recent New York Times article, “I couldn’t have done the show I’m doing now 20 years ago. I’ve changed a lot. I’d be sort of pathetic if I’d reached this point in my life and I hadn’t. How else do you have longevity? There are so many guys who started out with me in radio, who have disappeared, because they can’t broaden their view of what entertainment should be, or get in touch with what they find to be exciting and fun and funny.”
But empathy and active listening won’t just improve the quality of a radio show. It will improve the quality of your personal relationships too.
When people know that you aren’t just listening to them, but making an effort to “get” them, they will engage you in a different way. Trust, deep respect, and loyalty will be built. The foundation for your relationships will be built on rocks instead of sand.
So how can you find the balance? Yes, radio is showbiz. Listeners want to be entertained. But all of us have a deep yearning for connection. We all want to be seen and heard for who we are.
Thus, you could argue that the ability to understand another person’s story is more important that the ability to cultivate your own.
Interesting people attract listeners and friends.
Interested people attract raving fans and lasting, soulful relationships.
Which would you rather have?
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