The hardest part about coaching talent when you’re an on-air talent yourself, current or former, is not forcing your process, or routine, on others. We’re all drastically different people, with varying personalities, strengths and weaknesses, and all of our brains work slightly differently. The likelihood that simply replicating your off-air process will work well for another talent is incredibly low.
At the urging of a buddy’s wife who ran a major organization, I once attended a seminar about managing different personality types that was incredibly eye opening. The speaker’s main point was, what works to motivate one personality type won’t necessarily work on other personality types and worse, it could even have the exact opposite effect. A one-size-fits-all approach to management may sound fair and democratic, but it will never work on more than a portion of a staff.
Being an on-air talent, or former one, who coaches talent can be a huge asset and a huge liability. That shared experience helps us understand what they are going through, but especially if we were really good at it, we can be a little jaded about what it took us to get to that point when looking back retrospectively. Often, we tend to forget how much harder we had to work to accomplish the same tasks earlier in our careers.
I know that I make some general statements sometimes about how much time on-air talent should spend preparing for a shift, roughly 30 minutes for every hour they are on the air. I say that because I’m trying to make that number somewhat manageable considering all the other responsibilities today’s modern DJ has on their plate. In truth, many of the great on-air personalities spend at least as much time preparing for their show as they do on the air each day. But more important than the amount of time spent, is how efficiently and effectively that time is spent. The main thing that separates average on-air talent from exceptional air talent is what happens off the air. Figuring out how to spend that precious off-air preparation time is a never ending evolution that successful talent refine constantly to figure out how to get the most out of every available minute.
One of the main pieces of advice I’ve heard people give to up and coming on air talent is to listen to other successful air talent on the radio. I understand the theory behind that, but it can be very misleading. You can’t learn how to play basketball like Michael Jordan by watching a couple of his game tapes. Just seeing, or hearing, the final product skips over the most important parts, the how and the why. We shouldn’t ask talent to emulate ourselves, or others. Either the process or the end result.
If we truly want talent we coach to be successful, we have to get to know that talent first, before coaching them on anything beyond a handful of the basics. Then over-time assess what makes them tick and slowly lead them to develop their own process specifically designed to help them execute an engaging, interactive and compelling on-air shift. That process may be as simple as bullet points in a notebook or as complex as a completely filled out show-grid with benchmarks, features and content breaks fully scripted. Here's a link to download my weekly/daily show grids for free.
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