Listeners are selfish, greedy, self-absorbed creatures. They don’t wake up each day thinking about how to make your life easier or more rewarding. Each person tuning into your radio show is doing so only to get something from you. And if they don’t get it, they will punish you. Being uniquely personal and intimate with the audience is a key to success, but shows that fail to understand the conscience of the listener will never cut through.
Nothing will prevent listeners from tuning out. They have other things to do and simply aren’t available to listen. But we can absolutely reduce listening off-ramps by understanding the environment in which listening takes place.
Dial testing shows that up to half (and sometimes more) of the available audience tunes out during a single talk break when air talent violates one or more of the six most common causes of tune-out. Think about that. Nobody can afford to lose half of the audience in a segment. But imagine the quarter-hour power a station could realize simply by performing with the conscience of the listener.
And here’s the exciting part: Most of the challenge is to apply this concept to content already being prepared and presented.
The Conscience of the Listener
With a keen awareness of how the audience actually hears a talk break, your approach to each performance changes because you’ll have a better sense of when the (and why) the audience gets restless.
Here are the three most important observations:
Inside Talk: This comes up in focus groups constantly. When conversations become internal rather than external, listeners tune out. And they tune out quickly. it may be as simple as a personality saying:
During the commercials, Peppy was talking about…”
An invisible wall goes up between the personalities and the listener. We’re no longer connected. I’m listening to you do a show rather than feeling part of it. Bottom line: When the audience feels like outsiders, they tune out. Learn to speak with inclusive language, not exclusive language.
Phone Calls: As human beings, we’re taught to be polite in personal interactions. A phone call feels like a personal conversation, and it’s uncomfortable to be abrupt or rude to the person on the other end of the call. But phone calls on the radio are different. It’s not for the benefit of the caller. They’re simply another performer on the show.
There’s an audience. Don’t be polite to the caller and rude to the audience. Learn to avoid extra chit-chat and once the caller is no longer interesting or entertaining, move on!
Personal Stories: Most shows seem to think the audience knows more than they do. Guess what? The vast majority of listeners don’t know the name of your spouse (or even that you’re married). They have no idea that you have kids (and especially can’t remember how old they are). Nobody knows about your pet chinchilla and the sweet karate studio in the garage.
So don’t assume they do. so many good segments are ruined when a storyteller says “Sara” or “Jarod” instead of taking an extra two seconds to say, “My wife Sara…who married me 10 years ago” or “My 4-year-old Jarod”. Without context, there will be no connection.
How to Develop Awareness
It’s not hard to develop this skill.
Here are three keys to learning to perform with the conscience of the listener:
Visualize In Preparation: Mentally rehearse the flow of a break. Visualize and identify potential trouble spots that could be confusing to an uninformed listener. Work through each rough spot until the narrative is clear enough that it can be easily explained to a third-grader. What will be confusing? Fix it.
Review: Every show should aircheck at least one segment every single day. At least once per week, evaluate a segment solely through the ears of a new listener. Not just a new listener to the show, but someone that’s new to the station and the city. Isolate every reference that would cause that listener to feel excluded. When would she stop caring? At what point would she tune out? How could it be fixed?
Improvise: Team shows and solo shows should work on improv skills to keep breaks moving forward. Learning to interact with partners while considering a live audience is a tremendous performance skill. ideally, enroll in local improvisational theater classes. Or join a local improv group. at the least, study and apply the basic concepts. It will help turn the focus inside out.
Getting into the mind space of a listener takes discipline each day. It is easy to fall into an internal speaking pattern because personalities are staring at one another in the same studio each day. Work to develop the conscience of the listener and turn attention outward
For more details about what causes tune-out (and tune-in), check out the Content Superhero eBook.