10 Things Talent Should Do
August 9, 2016
Travelling around, I get to hear lots of radio. I love hearing the differences - and the similarities - that occur from station to station. When I'm driving - and so far this week I have done almost 20 hours of traveling in the car - I get excited to hit the scan button and see what pleasures or horrors will boom out of the speakers. Despite what people may say, there is still a lot of intriguing, entertaining and creative radio programming happening. I get a sense that there may be less experimentation than there used to be, which is a shame, but there is some good quality entertainment occurring. There is of course some pretty horrific programming happening, and that is to be expected. We wouldn't be able to identify what was good if something wasn't bad. For the most part - and after my travels this week - I am a believer that the industry is trying hard to entertain and inform audiences in their communities and around their passions.
One thing I have learned without a doubt in the last week is that I must be the most frustrating person to take a road trip with. The constant turning up and down of the volume; turning it for imaging and jock speech, turning it down during the music. The incessant tuning back and forth on the dial. The refusal to tune out of a station that I'm intrigued by even when the signal is weak and the static is becoming more prevalent than the programming. If you ever have the chance to travel with me, you should opt to just meet me there!
I'm a talent guy. I find radio stations that put the effort into finding entertaining and/or interesting people and focus on creating space for them to perform, tend to leave a better impression with me. Don't get me wrong, I like music and am just as likely as the next person to leave your station if you play a bad track, but it's the talent that I'm really drawn to. I think great talent can illuminate the music in a way that makes it more special. I like the way talent can make me feel something I hadn't expected to feel. I like the way talent can say something that makes me think. I am energized by the enthusiasm the talent transfer. For me, it has always been the human element of radio that creates the mystery and sense of unpredictability. It is - to my ears - the one thing that seems to bring life and texture to a station.
As I sit at my desk after a week on the road, I am reflecting on what I have heard. In particular, I'm left with some notes I want to share with talent. No doubt, for many these notes will serve as simple reminders, but for others they may be hearing these for the first time. Regardless, they represent some basics that all talent should remember.
- Intimacy. You're right there with me. It's just the two of us. There is no audience listening to you. It's about our unique connection. Our friendship. Our bond. Think about that every time you go to say something. There's no "out there." There's no "(station) listeners." Be intimate in the language you choose. Make me feel like it's just you talking to me.
- Feel the music. It's disrespectful to talk over the vocals on a song or over the ending of a song. The music you play is art. You can go to an art gallery and personally not like every piece of canvas you look at, but you wouldn't dare disrespect it. You appreciate the art for what it is. Appreciate every song you play. Don't just talk over the 7 second intro, but feel the 7 second intro. Match your rhythm to the song's rhythm. Match your enthusiasm to the tempo of the song. Pause for the powerful drum beat or vocal post. Demonstrate to the listener that you appreciate and can feel the music. There is often such disconnect as talent talk over the intro of a song oblivious to the art underneath them.
- Be in the moment. Attention spans are short. You know that. Humans are getting increasingly impatient. You knew that too. When someone turns on the radio they want to connect with you. They want to begin a conversation with you. We seemed to have developed a habit where we can't just talk to our listener anymore. We miss opportunities to connect because we have fallen into the habit of over-teasing. 10 second breaks teasing something that you'll tell me about in "7 minutes" or "after these 3 songs." What would radio feel like if we stopped trying to serve our needs (driving more TSL) and instead focused on entertaining or informing our listener? Be in the moment. Focus on their needs.
- Make the first words count. If we already know that attention spans are short why must it take so long for me to understand what you're talking about? Humans make instant decisions. We're good at making choices. If you don't make me care in the first sentence or two then you won't have my attention. It's that simple. The first words you say are the most important. You have to hook my attention. Say something provocative, unexpected, interesting to me. Don't waste the opening few words.
- Stop reading to me. As a child there is something soothing about having a story read to you. There's a magical feeling as your parent fumbles through the words and experiments with character voices. As an adult, when you read to me, I feel nothing. We don't connect. Ted Talks are a great example of this. The compelling talks are those delivered by someone who is passionately communicating what they believe. The less compelling talks are those delivered by someone clearly reading off an auto-cue. They have a falseness about them. They are less engaging. Yes, you should be prepared. You should rehearse. But, remember the way we write and speak are different. Talk to me. Don't read to me. I don't want a monologue. I want a dialogue.
- Exit earlier. When a friend sends you a YouTube video that's 3 minutes long I bet you think to yourself, "3 minutes? Who has the time?" The lesson here is to get out of your break at the first opportunity. Make your point and move on. Exit on the first laugh or poignant point. Don't go searching for better. Don't try and beat your own punchline. Take the first exit. The more efficient you are the better. Your audience will love you more if you don't waste their time.
- Be yourself. It is the PERSON part of the word PERSONality that is most important. I want to get to know you. I want you to share your point of view with me. Tell me what you think, believe and hope for. Every piece of content on your show should tell me something about you as a person. What am I learning about you? That doesn't mean I need to know about the trivial and insignificant events in your life, but I want to understand your thoughts and feelings around the topics I am interested in.
- Be unpredictable. The greatest performers make us feel comfortable but equally surprise us. They make sure we feel safe in their style, but surprise us with their content. Unpredictability doesn't mean being outrageous... it simply means doing something that I wasn't expecting; something I didn't see coming. Life is boring if we can predict everything that is about to happen. Radio is the same. Experiment. Ask yourself: What can I do today/this hour/this moment that would surprise my listener in a positive way?
- Crafting. You are responsible for how the station sounds. Pay attention to how every element on the station blends together. How will you stitch together the sweepers and music to maximize the flow. Take pride in ensuring the transitions are seamless. Everything must move forward. Making the station sound good is your responsibility when you stand behind the mic. That responsibility stretches far beyond just what happens during your breaks.
- Trust your instincts. I heard a lot of potential in most of the talent I heard, but I felt that they were holding back. Going through the motions. Doing what they thought was expected. I got the sense that if most talent trusted their instincts and acted on their inner thoughts, we'd have more entertaining radio.
Do I think these are all the tips you - as talent - need to be successful? Of course not, but they certainly won't hurt. After a week of listening to a large number of stations across two countries, of all market sizes, these were the themes that stood out most to me. They were present on the stations I'd class as great. They were inconsistent on the stations I would have classed as not bad. They were missing on stations I would have classed as not ready to compete yet.
My hope is that with some encouragement, talent will feel empowered to experiment... to challenge themselves more... to seek forgiveness rather than permission... to be themselves rather than to conform. My hope for the industry is that we'll support, reassure and reward the talent that chooses to step up and try.