Here’s a term that could unlock the next level of performance for many personalities: Tina Fey calls it Relaxed Readiness. It’s a way to find the “sweet spot” of preparation. It means being thoroughly prepared, yet spontaneous. I call it Prepare Tight and Perform Loose.
These terms seem contradictory, but actually are complementary. Deep preparation creates confidence that allows performers to be more spontaneous.
Most Shows Are Poorly Prepared
Air personalities often struggle to find a balance between being overly-prepared and “winging it”. Some are over-prepped and sound stiff or rehearsed. Other shows are under-prepared. They identify a topic, turn on the mic, and hope something good happens.
Personalities have told me they can just talk about their life, confident something entertaining will happen. One said:
I just bring my experience to the air. It’s good enough. My show is totally spontaneous. I plan nothing. That’s how I get such a natural response.
In an interview on a sports-talk station, NFL quarterback turned TV commentator Trent Green was asked how he and his team prepare. The host suggested they show up at the studio and wing it.
Green paused, then responded:
Actually, the team spends dozens of hours off-air exploring topics and discussing angles. We debate the best approach and search for the most entertaining way to present content. The producer takes notes and crafts our organic dialogue into a structured outline for the show. It’s rehearsed, yet spontaneous.
Then the host asked,
But do you ever have times in the production meeting when you get on a roll and the producer says to save it for the air so you don’t lose the magic?
Green paused again. Then he said,
No, that literally never happens. We go through everything in detail so we know what to expect, what’s going to work and not work. That way we don’t step all over each other.
Tina Fey on Prepare Tight and Perform Loose
Comedian Tina Fey is a naturally likable improvisational performer known for spontaneous wit. How does she do it? Here’s what she said about what it takes to be ready to perform:
I call it relaxed readiness. There’s a lot of preparation. So first it’s preparation, preparation, preparation. And then you want to be in a state of relaxed readiness so that if something spontaneous does happen, you’re there and can take advantage of that moment. But I think you only get there with a lot of prep work.
I love that so much. It’s at the heart of Prepare Tight, Perform Loose. That’s why Time Spent Listening is in direct proportion to Time Spent Preparing.
Fey’s techniques apply to radio performance. Jonathan Wier hosts the WKLB/Boston morning show, Jonathan Wier & Ayla Brown. Jonathan is one of the most perfectly prepared personalities I know. His prep is thorough, yet sounds natural, loose, and spontaneous. Here’s how he does it:
The scene in Reservoir Dogs by Quentin Tarantino where the undercover cop is supposed to tell a story to convince the gangsters that he is also a gangster drives my preparation. They give him a script, and they show him progressively memorizing details, and making the story his own until he tells it in a way that is believable and relatable. That’s pretty much what I’m doing. Taking a weird/funny/sad story and then owning it.
Relaxed readiness is a result of deep preparation that results in Prepare Tight and Perform Loose. But it doesn’t happen when personalities take shortcuts in the preparation process.
Being prepared produces confidence and magical moments.