Forget Original Material: Focus on Unique Performances [audio]

Forget Original Material: Focus on Unique Performances [audio]

by Tracy Johnson

Every time I work with an air personality that insists on creating original material that has never been done before, a shiver runs through me. They’re almost certainly going to fail. Their emphasis is on the wrong goal. They should be focusing on unique performances.

There are so few truly original ideas that nobody has done before or is doing now. And the talent that is so convinced they can do it misplaces their efforts. Most content is an idea that’s been done many times before. It looks different and feels different because of how it’s performed and who’s performing it.

Original material doesn’t matter. Unique performances matter. That may sound like a contradiction, but it’s not. Here’s the difference.

Original Material vs. Unique Performances

 When is the last time you had an original idea? Was it was really original? Did you Google it? Chances are, that original material started with something you saw, heard, or experienced elsewhere.

Seth Godin discovered that original material is a dead end to obscurity. When looking for ideas for a book, he was looking for a new topic that had never been done.

He says:

Every time we had an idea, every time we were about to submit a proposal, we discovered that there was already a book on that topic. Someone else had ‘stolen’ my idea before I had even had it.

You can spend most of your time trying to create a new feature, topic, or story that’s never been done. But the idea doesn’t matter for shows focused on unique performances.

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Even Fans Don’t Expect Original Content

The content becomes unique when the personality is injected into the idea.

As Godin says:
No one expects you to do something so original, so unique, so off the wall that it has never been conceived of before. In fact, if you do that, it’s unlikely you will find the support you need to do much of anything with your idea.

Instead of obsessing over original material, focus on how to perform in a way only you could do it. Hijacking ideas allows you to spend energy figuring out how to connect with an emphasis on character traits.

After all, listeners don’t become fans because of the information or the topics. They become fans because of how those things are performed in a style that’s all yours.

Jeff & Jenn’s Unique Performance

Here’s a perfect example of how it works.

On the morning after the $1.6 billion lottery winner was announced, Jeff & Jenn on Star 94.1 in Atlanta hijacked the topic by getting their co-host Kelly Cheese into the story.

This break comes alive because of their personalities, not because of the topic. And, they build suspense and anticipation into the delivery.


There’s nothing wrong with taking inspiration from, or even stealing, someone else’s idea. There’s a lot wrong with simply performing someone else’s content exactly as they did it.

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That’s why we recommend the TESOP method of content curation during show prep.

Be smart about choosing the right ideas to steal. Then make those things stand out in a remarkable, delightful, and important way. Original content doesn’t matter. Unique content delivered in your character voice does.


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