The Sticky Prep Technique

The Sticky Prep Technique

by Tracy Johnson

A lot of shows…in facts, maybe even most shows…have a fundamentally hard time creating content that is truly “sticky”. They don’t need more prep. They need sticky prep.

Most of these shows perform fine breaks. Execution is often precise. And it sounds good. But there are few shows that actually leave the audience satisfied, inspired and excited.

And that’s a shame, because radio is so well-equipped to make a difference each day.

In working through this situation with a client, we developed a daily exercise to address this situation. I think it will be a valuable part of this show’s growth. And it may be just what you need to reach that next level of performance and become more than just a background soundtrack.

It could be the breakthrough moment you need to unlock your personality and provide a Didja Hear moment or two each day.

The Sticky Prep Technique

Sticky Prep is a simple concept but applying it to your show is hard at first. That’s because it forces you to get away from old habits. You’ll be challenged to dig deeper than ever before.

Just collecting data and putting together a segment that fills a break is too ordinary. It’s not sticky.

Here’s how it works. Each day, when preparing the next day’s show, choose one topic and build it this way:

Step 1: The Essence

Identify the essence of your break. The essence has nothing to do with the information. It’s not the topic. In Sticky Prep, the topic and facts are just where your job begins. It’s not what your break will be ABOUT.

The essence is what will cause a) the listener to be drawn to it, and b) you to feel something about it. It’s an emotional connection between your performance and the audience’s interest.


Step 2: Point of View

Find a personal point of view in the topic. What is your natural reaction? How do you think? How do you feel? What part off the topic excites you? Does anything stimulate a memory or feeling? What is it you actually care about? Why does it matter? Not from a deep philosophical or psychological perspective, but just something that causes you to be invested in it.That’s where you’ll build the story.

This may seem contradictory to the concept of performing a show for the listener, but it’s not. The audience doesn’t make logical choices based on things they’re literally interested in. They make emotional decisions based on things that attract and stimulate their passion.

Step 3: Pay Off

Then focus on the Pay Off. Where are you going with it? What’s IN IT for the listener? How will the story/break end? What is the feeling you’re going to leave the audience with?

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Just as stand-up comics start with the punchline and work their story backwards. Do the same what your break. What is the end game?

Step 4: The Hook

Once you know where the segment is going (pay off), find a hook that points to the STORY you’re going to tell to get the listener deeper into the break.

The hook should not be obvious to the pay off. It should simply create enough interest to turn their curiosity into giving your story a chance.

Step 5: The Tease

Finally, write a tease that would actually make YOU interested enough to stay tuned or tune in. Put yourself in the listener’s position. In their experience, what would it take to capture their imagination and cause them to turn up the radio when you’re on? Or at least not turn it down until the next song comes on.

What words can you use to make it so compelling that you personally would actually look forward to it? Test the tease with someone in the office, or on Facebook and see how they respond.

Sticky Prep Seems Upside Down

This process may seem foreign to you, In fact, it feels incomplete, doesn’t it? After all, we spend most of the time focused on:

A part of the story that may be quite different from the actual topic that listeners are already interested in. Yes, that’s the point. Your job is to make original content that connects with listeners, not just regurgitate things they already know about. Even if they care about those things.

A personal stake in the story. You’re taught to focus on your audience persona, not on your own self-absorbed world. There’s a fine line between egotistical performances (Who cares?) and relating personal perspectives and stories. That’s the art of It’s Not About You-It’s All About You The key is to find the emotional connection that you and your audience can share.

The Hook and Pay Off. What about the middle part? Aren’t we going to spend time on the Set Up and Dress Up? Yes, you should plan how to tell the story, too. But you’ll find that the details are much easier to create if you have the other parts in place.

The Tease. This isn’t central to the break itself, but a great tease shines a brighter spotlight on your story and increases the audience base for launching the segment.

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Sticky Prep Demonstrated

Here’s a simple explanation of how sticky prep works for your show:

Topic: The Super Bowl football game. This is a great topic because everyone knows about it, talks about it and it’s top of mind. But how do you stand out? How do you get attention for it?

Essence: Why people freak out about this game so much that the world stops for it. And, it compromises personal integrity and principles.

Point of View: My son/spouse/brother/nephew/best friend, etc. works in retail, and is new on the job. He just found out he has to work during the Super Bowl. And he is planning to call in sick so he doesn’t miss it.

Pay Off: A personal moral dilemma of confronting the person, looking the other way, or working back-channels to warn them that they’re planning to skip work for the game. Pick one course of action and focus on one of those things as the conclusion.

Hook: The Super Bowl is going to ruin my relationship with (person)…and it has nothing to do with the game.

Tease: I’m about to risk my relationship with my (son/daughter/spouse, etc.). They may get fired from their job at (location), but they have to learn their lesson.

Notice how this storyline focuses on emotional tension and has potential of strong responses on several angles? It’s rich with potential, and can include several details about the Super Bowl itself (big fan of one of the teams, don’t want to miss the party) or about work issues.


That seems simple enough, but it can be really hard! But stick with it and grind it out each day. Some of my clients are devoting 75-80% of their show prep time to this one break each day And in the process, they’re learning how to prepare differently. Over time, it’s transforming every break on their shows.

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Author: Tracy Johnson

Tracy Johnson specializes in radio talent coaching, radio consulting for programming and promotions and developing digital strategies for brands.

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