My friend and associate John Frost says I’m the only one he knows who can talk for an hour about editing, so I’ll try to keep this short: Keep things short.
Condense. The fewer words you can use, the easier it is to follow. You don’t have to feel restricted, but as you put a break together, throw out words that aren’t really necessary. That makes what you leave in stand out more.
Think about it; very few long quotes ever get cited by anyone. It’s usually the short, most direct one that gets remembered and repeated.
Note for Talk Radio: this does apply. It’s amazing how short, impactful sentences get the best response. Longer, wordier diatribes tend to get more placid response…or the same person who called yesterday with the same type of comment he’s making today. Three short sentences get better reaction than one sentence three times as long.
In a recent session, I went over a break the air talent had done with a nice message: how just saying “hi” to someone who’s been emotionally damaged or mistreated may be ‘revolutionary’ to that person.
But he loaded it down with too many examples before settling on that one gesture. There’s a tendency for us to be like lawyers, “stacking up evidence” to fortify our point. But you’re not paid by the example; you’re paid by the CONNECTION.
So whenever you could give a “laundry list” of examples, just choose one to draw a smaller, more precise target for the Emotion to center on.
A closer “sphere of vision” will bring out the more personal, visual, and emotional elements in your Content and its delivery.
Leading up to last Halloween, a show I work with did a wonderful break that leapt out of the radio about Trick-or-Treating in a Halloween mask. After talking about how restrictive one could be, one member of the team did a “trick or treat” delivery like his face was being smashed in by the mask. It was really funny and SO visual.
Then his partner followed up with how it could have been raining, and did a rain sound effect.
While well-intentioned, this violates my “fire one bullet” philosophy. Think of it like the Lone Ranger. Part of his “legend” was that he used silver bullets. As a kid, I thought “those must be really expensive, so that’s probably why he’s such a good shot.” After all, you wouldn’t want to waste those silver bullets.
Most air talents keep trying for one more laugh, like an amateur on an “Open Mic” night at a comedy club. But for 99% of jocks, you need to remember that you’re not Jim Gaffigan or Jerry Seinfeld. No one paid to see you. One bullet is probably all you’re going to get. So fire it, then move along. If you do have a second thought that you think is valid, do a second break later and fire THAT bullet.
Prior to this past Christmas, I heard a talent talking about how his whole family was going to another state, where they hadn’t gathered in years, for the holidays.
But the story really bogged down when he started itemizing everyone who would be there. One sister, her husband, and her two children; her brother, his wife, and their three kids; her, her husband and their three daughters; and an aunt that they hadn’t seen in years.
No one’s reading the guest list. Summarize, instead of Itemize. “Three families, an aunt, 13 people in all…”
The Art of Storytelling lies partly in honing things down to their most concise version, then just letting it breathe a little bit. But when you get too detailed – especially about people your listener doesn’t know (or care about), the story becomes rudderless and lacks momentum.
Okay, you’ve got a story you want to tell. Great. Tell me the story…but leave half of it out.
Yes, I’m serious. Too much detail, unneeded side roads, too many words to express a thought, too much setup, more than one “punch line”, or “backing and filling” because you’re not very well-organized…those things make even the best story incredibly tedious, and not worth the Listener’s time.
To be a great talent, you have to develop discipline and get concise. Great storytellers hold people’s attention every step of the way, from beginning to end. And remember, you’re not paid by the word; you’re paid by the Connection.
(Yes, I’m sure there’s an exception you can think of, some show in your city that gets away with doling out overly long drivel and has high ratings in spite of it. But that’s not the norm, and their time is coming to an end. The world is getting used to 140 characters being all they have time to read. Listening habits will eventually reflect that, too.)
This is a follow-up to the “Less is More, and More is Too Much” tip from a couple of weeks ago…
Thirty seconds is a significant amount of time. Companies literally pay millions of dollars for ONE 30-second ad in the Super Bowl.
The latest research is showing that millions of Gen X-ers and Millennials go to You Tube to see a video, and if doesn’t have a “Skip this ad” thing after just a few seconds, they won’t stick around to watch it at all. That’s the mentality we’re dealing with.
You owe it to the listener not to waste his or her time. You owe it yourself as a performer to develop the skill set of refining and editing what you do so you don’t waste words, repeat things, or take unnecessary “side roads”. Sixty seconds is a LONG time, and two minutes is an eternity.
Yes, of course, an occasional longer break is fine, but automatically thinking “you have two minutes” (or more) is wrong. You don’t…unless you EARN it. You want more TSL? Try not being tedious to listen to.
I’m really saying this a lot in sessions these days: “Do something today that you haven’t done before.”
My friend Don Godman is one of the people I hit with that thought recently. And the first attempt he sent me was really quite good, except for one fatal flaw:
Coming out of the weather guy doing the forecast, Don said, “It’s really hot – 99 – and it’s supposed to be even hotter…”
Then we heard the sound of a refrigerator door opening and the unmistakable ‘hum’ of it, as he added “In fact, I’m just gonna do the rest of the show from this freezer. Awww…that feels so good…”
Really cute. It caught the ear, surprised us, and his inflection was perfect. So GO! Right there!
But no; he continued with “Very nice. You know I think I may be suffering from something called Post-Traumatic Thinking of Heat Overreacting,” and then went hopping down that bunny trail for another sentence that led to a more obvious, theoretically “bigger” ending.
But that never works. You can never have another moment of ‘discovery’ as powerful as the first one. Had he stopped with that delicious “Awww…that feels so good” thing and the little chuckle in his voice that ‘flavored’ it, then he’d have done the perfect break.
The lesson is simply “Don’t try to make it ‘more’.” Less is more. And more is too much.
The reason those scenes in movies that we all remember are so great is that, unlike real-life conversations, they’re EDITED.
As we continue to hear the buzz word “stories”, it seems to me that people are talking more, but not necessarily being all that interesting. Every movie is edited. Every book is edited (usually multiple times). Highlights are watched more than actual games. Top 10 lists are the vogue, not Top 100 lists. Stand-up comics start with a good 10 minutes, not a 90-minute HBO special.
The cardinal sin in radio is wasting people’s time. And from a coaching standpoint, believe this: if you can’t do a short break, you can’t do a long break. Most people tend to wander around, stagger into “related” thoughts that can easily take us off the main road into the forest somewhere, and instead of taking the First Exit – the first place where there’s a “reveal” of some sort or where the subject resolves – they keep trying to top themselves or fire more bullets into a dead body.
Try this for a month: not letting any “Content” break or story take longer than 40-60 seconds. Only after you MASTER that length should you do anything longer. And even then, my rule is “Take as long as you need, but be as brief as you can.”
If you’re having trouble getting into Content, well, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger. Every air talent either struggles with this at some point, or worse, doesn’t know yet that they’re struggling with it. : (
There’s lots of coaching available on this, including my own. We’ve all heard the “Headline first, then tell the rest of the story” thing, for example. And there’s tons of stuff about how to construct a story, how to physically lay out a story in just bullet points, etc., and what a great ending should be.
But here’s the problem: You don’t really know until you know. Human beings may become aware of things and intellectually understand them through reading and talking with people about them, but in the long run, we really only learn through experience – trial and error.
So let me try and help you with the single most important step in doing any sort of Content on the air – the way it starts. My friend Brian Yeager sent a break to me the other day in the aftermath of the 4th of July that began this way:
“I’m not proud of what I did, but…I mean, you know what it’s like. The folks that are up all night after the 4th of July blowin’ off the leftover fireworks…I mean, that’s what it was last night at my house. I recorded a little bit of it; you’ve gotta hear this…”
Then he went on to play the sounds of loud fireworks exploding and his daughter’s chihuahua being completely freaked out by them – and his letting the dog go, which chased off the guy doing the fireworks, complete with our hearing “get this dog off me!” It was really imaginative, and the use of sound made it three dimensional and ultra-visual.
He asked me what I thought before he aired it, and I texted back:
“Good, but the beginning is just about you (the first sentence was “I’m not proud of what I did”) and it kind of lurches along for a few seconds. Just start with “Here’s what happened last night,” and hit the sound effects. From there on, it’s fine.”
Like a lot of people, he just couldn’t get “traction” for a few seconds. (And fyi, one of my basic rules is to not start with “I – me – my” stuff – which is just you talking about you – and instead, either start with the Subject first, then tell your story, or start with the Listener first, then tell your story.)
So the key challenge here is to stop wasting words in overly elaborate setups, and get on into the Subject as concisely as you can.
It’s kind of like swimming lessons. In an episode of “The Big Bang Theory,” Sheldon Cooper says he learned to swim by watching videos online. But of course, that’s not swimming. He’d learn more quickly if somebody just threw him into the pool.
And a lot of the time, that’s what works best on the air, too. Just throw the listener into the pool – put the listener IN the story, then move on. Try it. You’ll save a lot of time, and as we now know, you really only have a few seconds to connect with the listener. Be expedient.
The first version of Brian’s break was 1:06 long. The version he did on the air, with the slimmed down intro, was only 55 seconds. ELEVEN full seconds cut out, and the break was actually better for it.
Here it is:
By the way, Brian is remarkable in that he’s not even a regular on-air talent. He’s the general manager of the station, and was just filling in on morning drive!
One word can change everything. If you’re going to be a truly good Talent, you have to actually think about the words that are coming out of your mouth. I work with people all the time on this.
For example, I heard this the other day:
“I want to hear from you RIGHT NOW. Can you think of a song that’s got something about automobiles in it?”
No. And even if I could, why should I call you? What’s in it for me?
You can’t treat listeners like employees. They’re not here to do your bidding. You’re here to do theirs, actually.
There’s a palpable difference between “Stop by Safeway and get your coupon” (which sounds like an order) and “Stop by Safeway to get your coupon” (which is you explaining an opportunity).
I can hear the feedback now – “boy, that’s really nitpicking.” Yep. You’re right. And that “nit” is the PPM device, showing that I just got tired of being ordered around, and switched to another station with a more inviting tone.
Here’s another, easier to understand example, from my former morning show partner in Dallas, Rick “The Beamer” Robertson, a true wordsmith. Recently, I moved back from Hawaii to my hometown, Shreveport, Louisiana. Rick didn’t know we had moved back, and sent me this text, after hearing about the volcanic activity close to where I used to live:
“I saw there was an erection in your neighborhood. Are you safe?”
Then he sent, “…an eruption.”
No, it wasn’t a typo. He just understands the power of ONE WORD, and made me and my wife laugh out loud.