Thinking It Through
August 5, 2011
I did it again. I wrote a column, looked at it several times, and decided that it just didn't work. Total time wasted: several hours over two days.
This, of course, could have been avoided by a simple thing that I rarely do but you, as a talk show host, should always do. I should have taken a few minutes to sketch out my argument BEFORE starting to write the column. Working out the premise, basic facts, and conclusion BEFORE launching into the jokes and stuff would have prevented the time suck, because I'd have determined within a half-hour that I didn't really know where I was going with the subject. (That's a polite way of saying "I was talking out of my butt," which is a polite way of saying something else) It would have helped me avoid spending hours arguing one thing and then concluding another. It would have made it clear that the supporting facts I was using to get into the topic really didn't have any relationship at all with my conclusion. And I would have moved on.
The reason I didn't do it was because I THOUGHT I had it all worked out. I had a title, I had some cool facts that I thought would make a good column, I had some joke lines that I could work into it. And I've written many columns on the fly before, so it seemed like this one would be the same. It wasn't. The deadline loomed, and I was left with nothing usable.
I also think that part of it was the fear that I wouldn't come up with anything better in time. This was a topic, it was right there in front of me, and time was running short. I didn't want to waste any more time and worried that if this one didn't work, I wouldn't have anything. That's ultimately how it worked out, but if I'd abandoned the ill-fated idea earlier, I might have been able to come up with something better before it was too late.
What does this have to do with you? It's an essential part of show prep, however you do it. It's easy to shoot from the hip on a story. It's easy to just grab a topic, throw out the first thing you think about, and call that a show. But that's also inviting trouble if you realize somewhere along the line that your argument isn't solid, or someone calls in and nails you on an inconsistency. Our talk radio training tells us to stick to our guns and our position even if faced with evidence that we're wrong -- it is, after all, supposed to be entertainment -- but it's a lot better to be right in the first place, to have your facts lined up and your arguments and conclusions fully thought through before you open the mic. You're a lot less likely to be caught in an embarrassing gaffe if you're not just winging it.
I'm telling you that as someone who, more often than he'd like to admit, wings it. That's worse for someone who writes it down, because I leave evidence of my half-baked opinions and faulty logic right there where it can be used against me. But I've convinced myself: From here on out, preparation is everything. I'll do outlines. I'll get my research together. I won't start writing until I have the whole argument in order.
And that'll last maybe a week before I'm back to the usual panic. But that doesn't mean preparing in advance isn't the right way to do it. Sometimes, "do as I say, not as I do" actually makes sense.
Helping you prepare in advance, All Access News-Talk-Sports is always there with hundreds of things you can talk about (and develop arguments about) in the show prep column Talk Topics, which is here, and on Twitter at @talktopics. Also at All Access this week, you'll find "10 Questions With..." WMAL/Washington morning co-host and former Fox News Channel anchor Brian Wilson, and you'll get the best radio and music industry coverage at Net News, with the top stories tweeted at @allaccess. And, unrelated to All Access, you can follow me on Twitter at @pmsimon, read my stuff at Nerdist.com, and check out my personal website at pmsimon.com.
Maybe if I'd done better prep work for this week's column, I'd have some great, hilarious closing joke for you right here. Probably not, but let's just blame the lack of one on that for now.