by Tracy Johnson
In a perfect world, air talent would receive regular, constructive, positive comments. The PD would be supportive and upbeat. And upper management would act as a protective shield from other departments. In this make-believe world, talent could look forward to and celebrate air check meetings.
In the real world, everyone dreads critique sessions because talent already knows the breaks that sucked. To them, it’s like taking a drink out of the jug labeled “Spoiled Milk”.
Jimmy Kimmel explains what reviewing his performance is like:
I look back at every show I’ve ever done and cringe. My vision of hell is a bunch of monitors with my old shows running on them.
Is that the way air talent looks at meetings with programmers? Sadly, yes. At least in most cases.
There are many excellent methods of evaluating and training talent, but one guideline should be at the center of each: and that is the air check meeting. It shouldn’t be a painful experience. Some personalities even come to love air checks.
Evaluating a show should never be an exercise to stroke egoes, nor an excuse to be critical. Both are a waste of time. The only goal should be a quest for excellence. If this is a genuine goal of all parties, reviews can be productive and pleasant.
So what makes some sessions fun and productive and others about as much fun as a tax audit? Let’s examine the differences.
Every evaluation should be through the ears and experiences of the audience. Period. Get rid of all the subjective feedback, and focus on growth. That takes criticism out of the meeting.
Conducting the review without being critical makes it possible to work effectively with highly sensitive and defensive talent.
To learn this skill, understand the three purposes of a positive air check meeting:
While it’s necessary to talk about performance shortcomings, doing so with the goal of improvement and growth changes the dynamic. Sometimes improvement is hard to measure and even harder to acknowledge.
It would be wonderful to identify a problem, discuss it, flip a switch and have the problem fixed in a day or two. But that’s not how it works when people are involved. It’s like improving at golf. You spend hours and hours in lessons, working on techniques and making adjustments. When the skills become muscle memory, your game reaches the next level.
Training talent is creating muscle memory for performance. And that takes patience.
A great way to gain perspective on growth is archiving air checks of each air personality at least once a month. Periodically, go back and compare today’s performance to any point in the past. It’s like taking snapshots at various times in the life cycle of a Personality Success Path.
This simple tactic turns otherwise mundane meetings into celebrations of progress.
Sometimes talent slips into habits that are more annoying to the coach than the audience. They still need to be addressed before they become larger issues, and air check sessions are the perfect way to discuss it.
It could be something as simple as a recurring phrase that has crept into the show. It’s not a big deal, and it’s easy to fix (usually). Discuss the need to improve in these areas. It’s usually fairly quick and easy to fix these small problems.
Air check meetings can initiate dialogue that leads to breakthrough growth and new ideas. With the proper inspiration, talent can explore new opportunities to apply their personality.
Every personality should have current, specific goals. The air check session is where everyone works together to achieve those goals.
On the other hand, there are bad reasons to schedule an air check session. Many times, programmers ignore issues until they just can’t take it anymore. This usually leads to a contentious meeting.
Programmers: Analyze emotions and reason for the air check. Then, before reacting in the heat of the moment, step back analyze why you want a meeting. If it’s any of these reasons, rethink:
Spite: Sometimes the programmer or talent coach just don’t like the show. When that happens, they unfairly attack personalities. This is always destructive. Be as objective as possible. Figure out how to be a fan of the show, even if you have to fake it at first.
Frustration: Everyone has a bad day, and if you’re in a bad mood, vent that negative energy. But taking it out on the talent is the worst target. It’s better to find another outlet. If the coach is in a bad mood, reschedule the meeting!
If air check meetings are mean-spirited, directed to an individual instead of the product, it’s perceived as an attack.
Effective coaching isn’t just criticism, but teaching, encouraging and empowering talent. Productive sessions explore ‘why’ rather than ‘what’ and investigate new ideas rather than focusing on failures.
Talent places enormous emphasis on being shown that they are appreciated. Go into every air check meeting with this attitude, and everyone will start looking forward to them.
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