by Tracy Johnson
We all have demons. Some are real, most are imagined. It can be used as a weapon, but when the demon isn’t tamed, it becomes an enemy. The enemy haunts until confronted, gaining more power. It’s difficult to perform with confidence in a weakened condition. Soon, you become a victim of the power of the enemy. For most of us, the enemy is fear of failure.
Fear of failure is the archenemy of radio personalities. More than anything else (other than lack of talent), it’s what holds them back.
Fear is defined as:
An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.
Personalities face very real fears, every day. Those fears include:
But the grand-daddy of them all is fear of failure.
Fear is normal. We all face it, and in fact, it can be motivation. But it can also be crippling if it paralyzes you. Fear of failure is the ultimate enemy of self-expression, creativity, and growth. It’s a feeling that leads to despair and ultimately becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: failure.
To confront the fear of failure, understand that personality radio is a sloppy business. It isn’t perfect. Ever. It’s filled with mistakes, errors and missteps.
There are very few perfect segments, let alone a perfect show. Yet radio managers usually focus on correcting negative behavior rather than encouraging positive growth. It’s almost as if they feel that if they can simply neutralize bad habits, everything will work out.
When that happens, talent learns to perform to stay out of trouble, not delight the audience. In an effort to fix all the things for which they’re criticized, air personalities stop taking risks. They perform the basics in a way that keeps them out of trouble. It also makes them ordinary and disposable.
You’ve heard those shows. The radio dial is full of them. They’re fine. They may be technically excellent. There’s little to critique, and the PD likes that just fine. It’s easier, meetings are faster and they can move on to other things on their to-do list. But these sterile, ordinary, boring shows make no impact.
In the process of overcoming their fear, they become generic, blending into the media landscape. They stay out of trouble and have fewer meetings with management, but become ultimately disposable. There’s no reason to exist.
The fear of failure causes personalities to stop growing. They fall short of their potential because they simply stop trying. They don’t stop caring, but they lose the inner drive to succeed.
It’s natural for personalities find reasons (excuses) to avoid anything outside their comfort zone, and when that comfort zone is avoiding negative feedback, ordinary shows result.
Yet failure is really a matter of perspective. And so is fear.
Contrary to popular belief, Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb, but he perfected it. When Edison was conducting experiments to find the best solution, he was asked if he didn’t become discouraged with each failure. Edison replied:
Failure? That’s not a failure! I’ve eliminated another possibility that won’t work. Each time brings me closer to the solution.
Michael Jordan is considered to be one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Yet, he was cut from his high school basketball team because his coach didn’t think he was good enough. He didn’t look at it as a failure, but a short-term setback that provided the motivation to excel.
Or consider Warren Buffet, one of the world’s most successful investors and businessmen. Did you know that Buffet was rejected by Harvard? Yeah, and Richard Branson is a high school dropout.
And how about Major league great Duke Snider was feared as a home run hitter. He also struck out more than just about anyone in the league. Yet he didn’t let those failures keep him from swinging for the fences. His philosophy:
Swing hard, just in case you hit it.
Think of the opportunities you’ll miss if you let your failures stop you.
To grow, we have to change. To change, we must try something different. And different is always uncomfortable. There’s a chance trying that new feature or new tactic on the air won’t work. That’s okay.
It’s important to realize that in everything we do, there’s a chance of failure. But without trying, we never grow.
Start by adjusting your attitude. Keep repeating to yourself that:
Your fear is stupid.
It is irrational.
Your fear doesn’t take into account your experience, talent or ability .
Sometimes it is right.
But your fear always needs to be ignored.
Your fear causes you to lose trust in your career and life plan.
Your fear wants you to abandon your project and “start” something else because it feels like a much better idea. (Hint: it’s not.)
However, there are a few ways to reduce the fear of failing:
Many people experience fear of failure simply because they fear the unknown. Remove that fear by thinking through the “what if’s” of your decision. I work with a show that executed virtually every topic the same way:
Introduce the topic
Solicit phone calls
Record and edit calls
Play back calls in the next break (or two).
There were several problems:
So I asked them, “What if your show took live calls instead of recording and editing them?”
This scared them. It’s not how they operated. But after some encouragement, we decided to try it. After all, what could happen? What is the downside? And what is the potential gain? So what if it’s sloppy for a day or two? It could lead to a breakthrough that leads to incredible growth. And it did.
Almost immediately, the show became more spontaneous,, their breaks were faster-paced and the show had more sizzle. Part of the reason was that flying “without a net” adds adrenaline in performance, and that energy is contagious.
Positive thinking is an incredibly powerful way to build confidence and neutralize fear. When managers compliment talent when they do well, they do it more. That leads to confidence, and confidence is contagious.
Positive reinforcement produces more positive behavior…and vice-versa.
When something goes wrong (and it will go wrong), evaluate the negative impact it might have. Chances are it’s not disastrous. Turn the page and move on. Reduce the amount of time spent on problems and increase the time spent building your strength.
A veteran CHR show was stuck in a rut. Topics were generic and they sounded self-absorbed. It was a bad case of IMEWEUS. It would have been easy to criticize the show for where they were failing. But that wouldn’t inspire growth. It would more likely cause them to focus on reducing the negative, and as a result withdraw and stop trying new things.
The program director and I decided to take a different approach.
We praised them for topic selection and willingness to be vulnerable when sharing personal stories on the air. Instead of criticizing them for turning their focus inward (on them), we demonstrated how their personality would be more powerful with strong statements that didn’t start with “I” or “me”.
They discovered that simple adjustments in how they present their point-of-view makes a huge difference. For example, “I never cross the street against a red light. I think it’s dangerous and careless” is not as powerful as, “Are you kidding? Don’t cross the street against a red light. It’s dangerous”. This simple tweak unlocked their power to be even stronger personalities. And they stopped saying “I, me, we and us” as much.
Best of all, it was a creative and positive adjustment rather than a confrontation that could have left them thinking, “Nobody cares about my opinion on the radio.”
Many experts recommend visualization as a tool for growth. Imagining how your show will sound after making an adjustment or reaching a goal is a great motivator to keep moving forward.
However, visualization produces an opposite result in those paralyzed by fear. Research proves that a strong negative mood results from visualizing one’s life when judged or scrutinized.
So, what can you do to increase the chances of success?
Start by making small changes and setting small goals. It should challenge your comfort zone without being overwhelming.
Make small gains and earn some fast, early wins to help boost confidence. For example, if the goal is to tell better stories from your personal life, focus on doing it just once per day. Spend most of your show prep time in developing that one break. Then listen to it back and critique it, making notes on how you could have (not should have…could have) improved it. As it becomes easier, apply your new skills to more breaks each day.
Or, maybe you want to become a more likable personality that reflects the local community. Instead of trying to do it all at once, start by injecting local references (businesses, celebrities, streets, landmarks, neighborhoods, etc.) into existing content once per hour. Then once per half hour. Soon it’ll become a new habit.
When you nail it, celebrate it. Be proud of it and reward yourself!
But don’t be overwhelmed and try to make major adjustments in a short time. Take one step at a time to build confidence and keep moving forward.
Are you afraid of failing? If you’re an air personality, find a coach or mentor that inspires confidence. If you’re a programmer, be that mentor.
Most of all, don’t let fear stop you from moving forward. That’s when failure is insured.
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