Finding the right combination of spontaneity and planning confuses many personalities. Detailed show prep doesn’t mean the performance comes off stiff or sounds scripted. Similarly, a show can deliver natural, spontaneous reactions and have a plan. Tina Fey calls it Relaxed Readiness to find the “sweet spot” of preparation and performance. I work with personalities to master Prepare Tight and Perform Loose. There’s an entire seminar on it here (Insiders Link).
Prepare Tight and Perform Loose are terms that seem contradictory but are complementary. Deep preparation creates confidence that allows performers to be more spontaneous.
Most Shows Are Poorly Prepared
Most shows are either overly prepared or “winging it.” Both extremes limit potential. Shows that button down every detail often leave no room for improvisation and, as a result, sound rehearsed. It’s like working for the prep rather than making it work for you.
Other shows are radically under-prepared. They identify a topic, turn on the mic, and hope something good happens.
In our initial meeting, one personality boldly and proudly told me:
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.
Guess how that was working out? Not well. This doesn’t work for anyone, including those with a lifetime of experience. In an interview on a sports talk station, former NFL quarterback turned television host Trent Green was asked,
You sound like you have so much fun on the show. How do you and the other cohosts prepare? Do you just show up at the studio and wing it?
Green paused, then responded:
No. 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 each piece of 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 and natural responses?
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.
Prepare Tight and Perform Loose
Balance is the key. Comedian Tina Fey is a naturally likable improvisational performer known for her 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. That takes a lot of preparation. It’s preparation, preparation, preparation. And then can be in a state of relaxed readiness so that if something spontaneous does happen, you 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 this concept. That’s why Time Spent Listening is directly proportional 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:
It’s like 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.
Relaxed readiness doesn’t happen when personalities take shortcuts in the preparation process. Being prepared produces confidence and magical moments.