There’s nothing easy about coaching on-air personalities. It’s a delicate balancing act of finding the right amount of praise to build on the things they are doing well and just enough constructive criticism to help them improve problem areas without killing the confidence required to do the job. There’s also no one right approach. Every personality type, and all the subsets within each broader category, are motivated and demotivated by drastically different things. Sometimes it can seem like an unsolvable equation where we’re just saying the same thing hundreds of slightly different ways. Because of all of this, a lot of stations have essentially given up on coaching their talent all-together, which is a huge mistake. Airchecking and coaching talent is still the best way to improve the thing that gives us an edge over the competition, our live and local on-air personalities. Plus, if we’re disciplined and consistent with it, eventually we’ll have a lightbulb moment where we get through to the talent and everything starts to click. Sometimes that takes weeks and sometimes it takes a year or longer. But, either way it makes it all worth it because everything changes. Here are a few ways to coach toward those light bulb moments.
Expect skepticism in the beginning. Not all, but most personality types DO NOT want to be coached. It’s not abnormal for talent to see the coach as an adversary initially. They want to be left alone to do the fun part of their job, performing on-air, the way they want to do it. Sure, they don’t mind someone giving them a pat on the back or telling them how great one of their breaks were from time to time, but they don’t really want critiquing regardless of how kindly it’s worded. That’s why we always suggest starting with tons of praise for the things they’re doing well, but making sure not to encourage any bad habits by complimenting things they aren’t doing well just to have something positive to say. Then telling them one thing they need to work on improving, starting with things that are black and white (not one of those grey areas) along with the main issues holding back the show.
Call them on their BS. Establishing a level of trust starts with setting some boundaries and letting talent know there’s an adult in the room that treats radio like a business. People know when they’re doing something they’re not supposed to and despite the fact that they may push back, hard, make excuses or even walk out of a meeting, they will respect us for calling them out on something they know they shouldn’t have been doing. Plus, sometimes just knowing someone with a discerning eye and ear is watching and listening will cause talent to be on their best game and behavior. Other times the exact opposite happens and they rebel and even recount things said in behind closed doors meeting on the air the following day. In those cases repercussions are generally required to move forward.
Create a creative environment. Try not to make aircheck sessions a lecture. Even in meetings where we have to address something, which is most meetings, make them interactive and fun. Get the talent involved in the process, thinking and commenting on the on-air content they’re creating. Ideally talent begin to develop the ability to aircheck themselves and even start reviewing their audio on their own. When shows start doing this they improve exponentially faster than other shows. Also, make sure to either start with, or end with, a brainstorming session to come up with upcoming content, features or contests so the meeting is forward thinking as opposed to just covering breaks they’ve already done. This will help establish a best idea wins atmosphere.
Be open to multiple different approaches. Again, there’s no ONE right way to coach talent. Start with the audio, play it at the end or don’t review audio at all during the meeting. Pull the best break of the week, the worst break, a random break or have them tell you what break to pull. Have them transcribe breaks, redo them entirely or do a deep dive where everyone on the team reviews an entire show. I cannot stress this enough, what works with one show, or talent, will not necessarily work on another one. Part of the secret to getting talent to crack the code and have one of those lightbulb moments is for us, as coaches, to crack the code on what will work for that particular personality and what will get them to see us as an ally instead of an enemy.
What do you think? How have you coached toward those light bulb moments where everything starts to make sense for a talent? Comment below or email me at Andy@RadioStationConsultant.com.
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