by Tracy Johnson
Discipline is a simple word, but a hard thing to practice. It is defined as “a system of rules of conduct.” For a radio show, the rules of performance should be embedded until it becomes second nature. And the most valuable skill of all is the discipline of editing.
Spontaneous performance isn’t normally associated with editing. The free-wheeling nature of a live radio performance often takes unexpected twists and turns that can lead to great moments on-air. But when personalities take too long to get where they’re going, listener interest fades. And that often ends in tune out.
It’s not that the break is too long. It’s just that it’s too long for the content.
That’s why every personality must learn the discipline of editing.
Attention spans are shorter and shorter. Patience is not a virtue in an always-on world. It applies to everything in life.
A restaurant takes too long to get to your order. Then the server goes over all the specials while your eyes glaze over. They need to edit.
The discipline of editing can be learned.
Personalities can develop a sense for when momentum bogs down and the break is longer than it needs to be. Legendary air personalities like JoJo Kincaid, Broadway Bill Lee, and others injected tons of personality into even the shortest windows of performance.
But it takes practice, refinement, and discipline.
Almost everything gets better when it gets shorter. Marketing guru Seth Godin says:
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. One of the most-asked questions I get is how long a break should be. It’s a valid question, but one that has no answer. It varies, depending on the station, format, competitive situation, and other factors.
But there is a guideline:
A talk break should be as long as it has to be and no longer. And it should be as short as it can be, but no shorter. That will require a balance of spontaneity and the discipline of editing.
This can be confusing, at least a little. It’s easy to agree that editing is important for recorded content, but for a live show? Personalities have to let it go! Right?
This isn’t the time to think about the artistry. That happens in preparation and aircheck reviews.
But there are two things that develop a sixth sense of great personalities.
When every break is carefully laid out, it’s easier to stay focused. When a detour is introduced, a well-prepped show gets break back on track quickly.
Some personalities resist this type of in-depth preparation they want a natural reaction. But that can also be prepped. I review it in the Prep Like a Pro Seminar on Demand.
Here’s another technique: Some personalities practice the illusion of the first time. The goal is to be planned, prepared, and spontaneous sounding. Provide the feeling of spontaneity, not real ad-libbing. Be precise, but sound unrehearsed. It’s all about delivery in the presentation. When you know your material and command your content, it can sound easy.
To improve on the field, football teams watch game film. To improve on the radio, listen to the show.
Take time to analyze performance and identify what could have been left out. If starting it over again, what would be trimmed? What didn’t need to be there?
This performance critique will help you start to intuitively recognize when the show starts to go off course.
The goal is not to just be shorter. It should always be to be tighter. That applies to a 20-second breaks and 12 minute segments.
That comes from editing.
Entertainer Steve Martin has come to love the process. 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 your show will be.
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