You're Killing The Conversation!
June 14, 2016
Authentic conversation is paramount to successful multi-player radio shows. We cast multiple people into these personality-fueled programs so they can engage in dialogue. It's truly magical when, as a listener, you get lost in the conversation that is unfolding between the hosts. It still amazes me that radio hosts have that kind of power; the power to command another's attention just by the exchange of their ideas and opinions. What a privilege! Sadly, most of the time when you hear a multi-player show, we're not eavesdropping on a conversation. Far from it actually. What our ears are forced to endure is either dueling monologues from each cast member, or utter chaos as each cast member competes for the most mic time.
Conversation is an art. It requires give and take. We have to respect the contributions of each other, creating space for the exchange of ideas and perspectives to occur. There is a rhythm to great conversation that comes from listening to what is being shared and having a willingness to build upon the thoughts that are offered to you. Conversation requires collaboration and synchronicity.
When we are working with shows, we can quickly identify whether someone is a good conversationalist or not. Bad conversationalists tend to present themselves in similar ways;
Parrots: These are the people who repeat or simply paraphrase what has already been said. "I went to see Beyonce last night. What a great show she does!" "Yeah she really does a great show!" These people are redundant in conversations. They are offering nothing of value. They aren't building on what has been offered, they are just echoing someone else's thoughts.
Energy Suckers: Great conversationalists understand it's not just what you say that makes you interesting and engaging, it's also how you say it. It's not uncommon to find people who have something of valuable to say but who fail to engage because their energy cannot support the contribution. They don't have the ability to animate their thoughts; they don't use their vocal range, everything is monotone. They fail to convey enthusiasm in their delivery. By not conveying emotion they become hard to listen to. They end up subtracting energy from the conversation - and from those listening!
Narcissists: These people love nothing more than to talk about themselves. Their favorite subject is "me." They are most comfortable when sharing things about themselves. They are like conversational peacocks, proudly displaying every tiny detail about themselves. They are self-serving. They only engage in conversation so they can talk about themselves. Everything gets brought back to them. They show interest in you only as a mechanism to bring it back to themselves; "What do you think about the price of gas?" "Really. Well I think...." Narcissists will let the other people speak and contribute, they just won't hear what is being said. They are simply waiting for their opportunity to speak again.
Poor conversationalists also tend to have these bad habits:
They fail to listen. Listening is the secret to great conversation. It's more important than what we actually say. Failing to listen means that you'll miss what is being said; in particular you will miss the subtlety in what is being offered to you. Great conversation starts to occur when the other person feels heard and their contributions are appreciated. It's essential we hear the other person; that's how we acknowledge and respect their involvement.
They interrupt. Poor conversationalists interrupt in numerous ways. They fail to let other people finish what they're saying before they jump in and talk all over them. They finish your sentences so that they can rush you along so they can speak again. Creating space for the other person to contribute is an important skill in conversation. You need to allow them room to share their thoughts and opinions. Let them finish before you speak. There is something called the 1/4 second rule; leave a quarter second gap after the other person has finished speaking before you speak again. It signals to the other person - and the audience - that you respect and have valued their contribution.
Hi-jacking. A bad conversationalist likes to hi-jack a conversation. Hi-jackers like to take control over a conversation's direction. They are quick to suggest new topics to talk about. They abruptly present detours and take the conversation off into different areas. They aren't really listening to what is being said, they are just looking to move the conversation into areas of interest to them. They chase the new rabbit. Whatever thought pops into their head - no matter how unconnected - they follow it with vigor. A conversation with a hi-jacker becomes chaotic and hard to follow.
One-Upping. Conversation shouldn't be a competition. One-upping is when someone always has a better story to offer. Whenever someone offers up an experience, a one-upper has to outdo them with a better more exciting story. If someone tells a joke, a one-upper has to try and find a funnier joke. One-uppers have to be the star in a conversation. It makes having a conversation frustrating. A one-upper outstays their welcome.
Not knowing when the conversation is done. One of the most common mistakes is not knowing when to get out. Every conversation has a natural conclusion. There is no time limit for a conversation but there is an expiry date. Conversations are usually over when there is no new ground to cover. When your thoughts are exhausted it's time to move on. Conversations have run too long and missed their natural conclusion when you start to go back over ground that has already been covered. Repetition is a sign that the conversation is past its prime.
Great conversation is the essence of engaging and compelling radio. Dialogue builds when new ideas and opinions are being shared. There is an ease and overall calmness to the exchange. Success isn't all about the quality of the topics chosen, but the way the individuals engage one another in conversation. Improve your conversation skills and you'll improve your ratings. It's good to talk, really it is!