[JPL] Tie-in to "Under 40"....

Music-EastWest musicew736 at earthlink.net
Thu Mar 8 19:03:38 EST 2007

Air Quality Control, 2007
by John Silliman Dodge

It's Ground Hog Day all over again. Most recently in Washington DC and LA, long-term commercial classical stations flipped overnight to something else entirely. Suddenly (all over again), I realize that radio can no longer compete on the basis of a music playlist. 

I've spent decades in performance-in my twenties playing concerts and making records, in my thirties as a radio production director, in my forties and fifties coaching talent as a program director and consulting with radio stations around the country. I'm convinced that the real competitive advantage between stations always comes down to talent. The unique value that talent adds to our presentation is the only real differentiator we have. Since enduring relationships with listeners (our customers) are what build long term success in any business, announcers today take on a much more important role than ever before. Are they trained and prepared for their new customer service challenge? Some are. Many aren't.

Turns out that great announcing is not really about radio at all. It's about clear, concise, compelling, creative, memorable message making. It's about merging the basics of interpersonal communication with the fundamentals of theater. It ties together creative thinking and writing, public speaking and presentation techniques, even the mechanics of speech. When we begin to think and perform this way, then we can overlay the particular requirements of the radio medium. But first we have to break it down to the basics. I use a system I call PREP which stands for Preparation, Rehearsal, Editing, and Performance. It's a sequence which I think can help make you and/or your on-air talent better performers. Let's take a closer look.

Preparation. Awareness and empathy with your audience is the ultimate goal of preparation. You want to know exactly who you are talking to at all times. Go beyond age/sex/zip demographics and get to know the values and motivations of your listeners, what the sales force calls the psychographic profile. Empathy involves taking on another's perspective. Put yourself in your listeners' shoes, see through their eyes, listen with their ears and imagine how they perceive you. The more you understand who they are and what makes them tick, the easier it is to visualize them as unique individuals. And that vision puts you closer to the natural, one on one, across-the-table conversational sound common to all great communicators. Operate from their "outside-in" point of view and not from your "inside-out" perspective.

Rehearsal. Spontaneity is vastly overrated. Not every thought that pops into your head should pop out of your mouth like your brain was some kind of gumball machine. Chances are the first time you say something is not the very best way you could say it. Rehearsal involves polishing the basics brilliance. Three times is the charm. Before the red light goes on, speak your next break out loud. All the bugs become evident, the places where your thoughts or words aren't quite buttoned down. Speak it a second time and the rough edges smooth out because now you know where you're headed. The third time, go live; you're still delivering your own words, only now they sing. It's called planned spontaneity and every successful actor and comedian uses the technique. You don't have to run your entire break through this drill but you should always rehearse the two most important components: your entrance and exit.

Editing. Anybody here who doesn't think that our world is on communication overload? We're supersaturated. So do your listeners a huge favor and think before you speak. Choose fewer, more powerful words and your ideas will have bigger impact. Less truly is more. Your audience will appreciate your respect for their time and reward you with loyalty. 

Performance. In nearly every voice-over session I've ever done with an ad agency, the director says, "We don't want you to sound like a DJ." By this he really means, "Be a real person, someone that the audience will relate to. Real people are believable. DJ's aren't." 

Too often an announcer opens the mic and out pops a caricature, a bad impression of a DJ. You hear tones and phrases nobody uses in real life. The disconnect stems from the illusion that the DJ is all alone in a studio talking to a big anonymous audience. They can't see him, he can't see them. So communication breaks down. Intimacy, eye contact, directness, relevancy, real-speak and humanity all go by the wayside. But there's a way around it. 

For years professional athletes have used a technique called visualization to prepare for a successful performance. When you visualize, you fix one listener in your mind and talk directly to him or her. You remove the artificial tones and cadences, the "DJ-isms" from your speech. You talk exactly like you talk to your close friend in a one-to-one conversation. You show and share emotions, opinions, all the things that real people do together. This real attitude helps listeners adopt you into their family and circle of friends, which is right where you want to be.

Is the performance totally real? Not quite. There is a technique I call Reality PlusTen Percent. As a producer I observed that if you lay in a natural sound effect, a door slam let's say, it won't always pop out of the mix. So I learned to enhance and accentuate reality just enough so these effects sounded "natural." You can apply the same technique to your delivery. Your speech can take on just a touch of extra emphasis, can become crisper and more defined, can benefit from extra animation. Women understand the "no makeup" makeup look. It doesn't take much.

Finally, remember that you are an actor and get up for your performance. Breathe deeply, use your whole body including your hands, make sure the blood is flowing and the brain is fully engaged before both the mic and the mouth go open. Know your direction and your purpose for the break. Focus all your energy and content on one person at a time and use the intimate tone and language with him or her that you use with your best friend. And never break eye contact. Ever. 

Every smart business invests some of its profits in marketing and some in research and development. The ones that don't soon enough wash away. In our business, the talent pool is in jeopardy when we fail to budget for talent development. Great coaches like Randy Lane, Lorna Ozmon, Vallerie Geller, Marilyn Pittman, even me, John Dodge have been evangelizing this message for years. We know that success doesn't happen by chance or accident. Savvy broadcasters know that talent development is product planning and they nurture and develop new talent upward through the chain of markets. The smartest broadcasters know that talent is their magic bullet, the secret sauce that makes all the difference.   

John Silliman Dodge has a 25-year career that spans and integrates music, media, and management. He has been a Program Director for stations and networks from coast to coast. Today, John is a talent coach, consulting and conducting performance workshops on the art and science of creative radio communications. He is also the Program Director for KBPS-FM in Portland. Contact John at 425-681-9935, by mail at john at sillimandodge.com, or visit www.sillimandodge.com. 

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