Discipline is a simple word but a hard concept to practice creatively. The word is defined as “a system of rules of conduct.” For a performer driven by inspired moments of self-expression, discipline in performance is often viewed as an enemy of creativity. However, the discipline of editing is a basic skill that is necessary for creative expression to connect with an audience.

This has been the focal point of two conversations recently In one, a team show declared that they should not be held responsible for a planned four-minute segment that lasted over seven minutes because “the content was just too good. There was so much to talk about.” Never mind that the talk segment was followed by six minutes of commercials, which destroyed the talk/music balance of the quarter-hour. Without the discipline of editing, they disregarded the fundamentals of great execution.

The other instance involved a show navigating a format clock with stacked talk elements. A segment flow was designed to include a short two-and-a-half minute game, tease, traffic, a six-minute commercial break, and a 30-second tease to introduce a talk topic. But the game took over four minutes, the traffic was longer than usual, and their 30-second tease out of the stop set lasted another four minutes because the conversation naturally and spontaneously “ignited.” Again, the balance was destroyed because of a lack of focus on executing.

We usually think of editing as a mechanical task of making recorded content shorter, not managing spontaneous conversations. The free-wheeling nature of a live performance often takes unexpected twists and turns that can lead to great moments. But listener interest fades when personalities take too long to get where they’re going, often ending in tune-out.

The segment may be interesting. Each piece of content may be fine, but it’s too long for the segment. Or there is too much information for the desired length of the talk break. It’s sloppy execution resulting from poor planning and preparation. That’s why every personality must learn the discipline of editing and apply it to performance.

Editing applies to everything. For example, when a waiter takes too long to tell you about all the specials, your eyes glaze over, and he needs to edit.

The Discipline of Editing

Marketing guru  Seth Godin makes this important point:

“Everything gets better when it’s shorter. Everything. Nobody goes to the church service or the comedy club or the theater hoping for it to be longer. They want it to be better.”

And that’s the challenge, particularly for radio personalities and even podcasters. One of the most asked questions is how long a break should be. This question has no answer. It varies depending on the station, format, competition, and talent expertise. But there is a guideline:

Every talk segment should be as long as it needs to be and no longer. And it should be as short as it can be, but no shorter.

This may seem confusing, but there’s wisdom and responsible freedom in that concept. Personalities should be free to take as much time as is necessary to create amazing, unique content filled with colorful storytelling. That’s how listeners connect. But with that comes great responsibility that demands discipline, focus, and judgment. It also should be as short as it can be.


How can you find the sweet spot? Mastering these two factors will help get it right.

Finding The Sweet Spot

Preparation: When a segment is properly planned, brainstormed, and visualized, staying focused is easier. A well-prepped and disciplined show quickly gets back on track when unavoidable detours occur.

Some personalities resist preparation, insisting they lose spontaneous, natural reactions if they plan too much. This is sometimes the case. You should not script everything. But usually, they hide behind this excuse because of a lazy approach to the preparation process or a lack of commitment to planning.

You can be spontaneous while staying focused and disciplined by understanding how to Prepare Tight and Perform Loose.


Football teams watch game films to improve, but it is alarming how many radio shows avoid airchecks. Listen closely to your performance to identify what could have been left out. This will lead to new positive habits.

Ask yourself:

If starting it over again, what could be trimmed? What didn’t need to be there? How could we have tightened this to make it shorter, leaving more time for natural, focused conversation?

More often than not, one of two things causes extended, rambling segments. Either the cast is thinking more about what they are going to say than what is actually happening on the air or they have prepared too much information and try to cram it all in.

The best way to make the adjustments is with regular performance critiques.


Every performer should constantly strive to be tighter, just as world-class athletes train to create an edge to be more efficient. All segments should be tight, focused, efficient, and right-sized, whether the performance window is 20 seconds or 20 minutes.

It’s the discipline of editing, a process Steve Martin has come to love. He says:

“Editing is one of your most powerful tools to success. Changing, subtly reorganizing, taking things out. It’s thrilling, Editing is the best feeling you can have. Getting rid of things that aren’t working by pruning leads to growth. As you perform more, you’ll learn to sense when material isn’t going to work halfway through its delivery. In these moments, confidence will allow you to edit the line in real-time, cutting and altering depending on the mood of your audience. You’ll also begin to build a catalog of material that you can draw from when you need to revitalize your act.”

Develop the discipline of editing and practice it daily. You’ll be amazed at how much more effective the show will become.

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