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 even 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, in most cases.
But we shouldn’t dread it We should celebrate the air check meeting.
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 their ego, 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 both 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 there are 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 if we could 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 your golf game. You spend hours and hours in lessons, working on your technique on the driving range and making adjustments. When the skills become muscle memory, your game reaches the next level.
Training air 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. Over time, you can go back and compare how we sound now to any point in the past. It’s like taking snapshots at various times in the life cycle of their Personality Success Path. When they feel the improvement, you can keep the momentum rolling.
Prevent Bad Habits:
Sometimes talent slips into habits that are more annoying to the coach than the audience, but still need to be addressed before they become larger issues.
It could be a recurring phrase that has crept into the show. Be sure this is kept in perspective. Certainly discuss the need to improve in these areas, but it’s usually fairly quick and easy to fix these problems.
Placing too much emphasis on a small issue can have a negative effect.
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.
On the other hand, there are also bad reasons to schedule an air check session. Many times, programmers ignore issues until they just can’t take it any more. This usually leads to a contentious meeting.
Programmers: Analyze your feelings and emotions. Then, before your react in the heat of the moment, step back and ask yourself if you want the meeting because of:
Sometimes the programmer or talent coach just don’t like the show. When that happens, they often unfairly attack the personalities because they are in an authoritative position. This is always destructive.
As a manager, you have to be as objective as possible. Figure out how to be a fan of the show, even if you have to fake it at first.
Everyone has a bad day, and if you’re in a bad mood, you may need to vent that negative energy. But taking it out on the talent is the worst target. It’s better to find another outlet than sensitive air personalities.
If the coach is in a bad mood, reschedule the meeting!
When people try to demonstrate their intelligence or knowledge by offering harsh criticism, bad things tend to happen. For some, challenging others makes them feel superior.
A good coach is self-confident, but not egotistical.
George Martin had one of the most difficult jobs imaginable. He was in charge of managing the Beatles. The extraordinary producer was a master of knowing how and when to let John, Paul, George and Ringo create without barriers.
All the while, Martin was in the background doing more for their success than anyone knew, but he was smart enough to let them take all the credit. He also helped the band get along, managing their personalities to put aside differences to make their product.
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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