I hear this a lot. Often it’s something that’s said to avoid a difficult conversation, or an uncomfortable situation in the office. It’s a limiting belief that can mean inauthentic relationships are formed, and that progress on a project is halted.
A few weeks ago I used Emma Willis’ example of holding Roxanne Pallet to account as a “comfortable confrontation”. Emma used some of the techniques I talk about in this article.
For radio presenters “I don’t do confrontation” is the reason given for not holding guests or contributors to account. It’s understandable to feel that way, as you are often thankful for contributors and guests being on your show. Asking difficult questions feels unfair, out of character or ungrateful.
The reality is that difficult conversations are likely to happen every single day on air, or in the office. Here are some of the tips I give to help you through that unavoidable awkwardness, and to get the best from the guest.
1. Make sure you know what you want
Make sure you have a good understanding of what you want out of the conversation before you enter in to it. Set your intent. It might be to be kind, or to get the answers that your audience (or you) deserve. As a result, you will have to ask the question that plays devil’s advocate to get the answer you want.
When interviewing someone on the radio about a Cheese Festival the question: “So what are the reasons people like cheese?” Would get you so far. But “why are you celebrating cheese, it’s just a silly piece of dairy isn’t it?” Could get you a stronger, more interesting answer.
2. Check your language
If going at it directly like this is too uncomfortable, you can distance yourself in your language to take the emotion and the personal attack out of it.
Firstly – argue the idea, evidence or behaviour, not the person. The minute you go to personal language like “you’re an idiot for thinking what you think” you have lost the productivity of the conversation.
A therapist of mine suggested to me to use the word “I” in conflict, rather than “you”. In broadcasting I am constantly telling people to use the word “you” as a way to engage their listener. It’s the most powerful word you can use for this. But in the context of difficult conversations it can be a useful tool to use I: “What I am seeing is <example> behaviour which is implying to me…” rather than “You are a really difficult person”.
On the radio it works to use phrases like “Some people might say that this is a silly Festival for Cheese – is it?” or. “What do you say to someone who says that thinks this Festival is a silly idea?”
3. Agreeing is Partial (not Impartial)
I recently spent a day coaching new radio presenters, practicing their interview technique. Their brief was to remain impartial. Presenter after presenter interviewed their contributor consistently grateful, constantly agreeing with them and guess what – it was dull. That may be unfair, but I didn’t really learn anything from the interviews. It is a common mistake to think that impartiality sits in agreeing. It’s actually the opposite.
In the on air interview, or if you are hosting a panel, it is your job to make sure you are covering the information from all angles. Using the language above (e.g. “Some people might say…”) you can put forward an opinion that may not be yours, without having to attach yourself to it. This can make the feeling of confrontation a little easier.
My husband really enjoys a debate. One time we agreed that we would go out on a family day out at 11am. At about 10.30 he and his aunt got locked into a debate about politics of some sort. We all sat there till 1pm till they came to their conclusion.
I mean, he REALLY loves a debate.
I used to hate it. My skin would crawl. I’d feel shame and discomfort. I would want to hide. And let’s be honest, no one really wants to sit around for 2 hours while you’re waiting for a heated discussion to be finished!
But then I wondered what would happen if I leaned in to it. He loves it, I would be gutted if he dismissed one of the things I love. So I decided to try joining in, rather than shutting it down, and use it as a means of practice. For some people they like the opportunity to intellectually spar, and it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about learning.
Even so, it’s so hard not to get emotional, or take it personally! But with him, I am in a safe space. He knows me, I can get my words wrong, I can correct myself, I can practice what it is to be devil’s advocate, to call things out I don’t agree with. The outcome is I am getting better at forming my words and questions in what can be an emotional state & I am better at speaking up in other situations too. And, I think my husband and I have actually found a place to connect a little more.
So find someone to practice with.
I have had to fire people, I have had to deal with getting people to realise they are making mistakes, and I have had to deal with conversations about my own work and behaviour that have been really tough. In every situation the one piece of advice that has helped is this: it’s supposed to feel uncomfortable.
For years I thought there was “a way” to make the uncomfortable, comfortable. There are ways to make things less uncomfortable, but some conversations are always going to be difficult.
Once I embraced the discomfort, I was able to come to terms with understanding that conflict can be a route to growth, that it was something to practice and commit to getting to a more interesting place.
“Just be yourself” is the ultimate in advice when it comes to presenting.
What happens when you know you need your message to be heard, but your authentic self is to be introverted and softly spoken?
What if you are presenting on a music station, and you are a massive sports fan?
What if you are presenting to the board? Do they really want to know that you struggled to find a clean pair of pants this morning?
Being advised to be authentic can open a can of worms, but the desire from audiences for “real people” is not going away. The popularity of TV shows like Love Island and Big Brother show this. The rise of the internet broadcaster (You Tubers / Influencers) is rooted in the sort of authenticity that is lost in the linear broadcasting of Radio or TV.
There are things I regularly talk to my clients about with how to deal this…
1) Be clear on “you”
During your show/presentation prep, write down the 5-10 things you know to be true about you. These are things you love, things you hate, things you are passionate about. These are the things that make you you, and make you human, and they can inform and appear in your content. You can also ask yourself “what are the things I know to be true about the topic I am presenting about?”
Example: I am a massive learner, and I love stories, so my presentations always include something I have learned from an experience, or from someone else.
2) Be clear on who you are speaking to
Engaging an audience is as much about understanding them as it is about understanding you. I know it’s not easy to read people’s minds but you can make a few assumptions. They are of course human (refer to point one). But if it is the board you are speaking to the board, you will have to work out what it is they will be expecting and align yourself with that.
3) Don’t Shoe Horn
Being authentic means being authentic. If you are trying to be authentic for authentic’s sake you won’t get the response that you desire from the audience. Make sure your content, and your stories, fit with what you are talking about. If you are doing a formal presentation, like reading the news, or presenting to the board, there will be opportunities for some personality to come out.
There is a growing trend to admit your imperfections at the moment, it’s a really effective way to engage the audience, and “be authentic”. See the popularity of online sites like The Midult. Self-deprecation, and admissions of your flaws is a guaranteed way to connect with your audience.
But this can be confused with what it is to be authentic, and sometimes too much self deprecation sounds insincere and needy. If you are on stage, screen or on air, you still need to hold your authority.
Positive reflection, observation and aspiration are all still engaging factors. For example, if I am in my true authentic space, there are parts of me that are obsessed with podcasts, self development, CrossFit and I am a bit of a show off. If I was worried about imperfections only, I wouldn’t share some of the more positive, enthusiastic elements of myself. And nothing is more engaging than enthusiasm.
5) Don’t get Stuck In Detail
The thing about authenticity in presentations is that you often don’t have enough time to tell the full story as it happened, with the nuances that went with it. Also getting lost in detail, can lose your audience.
I would love to tell you in detail about the time that I lost a friend’s kid (I did) but I only have a few minutes to do so. So when I tell the story I pull out what I call “the story beats”. These are the most important parts of the story. The bits I remember most: the hideous call to her parents to tell them she’d vanished, the moment we found her, the moment I turned around and she wasn’t there, the fact we were in a huge park, and that the minutes felt like hours. When those beats are put in the right order, I have definitely turned a long story short, and I can add the detail where I need to.
Authentic presenting is about taking all the parts of you and working out which ones will work with the audience you are talking to and the environment you are working in. It is not about baring your soul to everyone, in depth.
Chris Evans announced he was leaving BBC Radio 2 on Monday 3rd September. The station has 15 million listeners. He’s moving to Virgin Radio Breakfast, a station with 400,000 listeners.
For radio presenters this sort of rumbling has an enormous impact, whether you present on the station or not. What other changes might this lead to? Does this affect me? For the better? For the worse? Where are the opportunities?
Ultimately, you have to ask yourself, have you done the work to deal with the outcome – whatever it is?
My first hearing of this latest seismic news was a loud “Wow?!” from upstairs as Mr C got the news that Chris Evans would be joining the Virgin Radio family (Tim is the Evening Show Host on the station).
Then I have that mad succession of thoughts… but out loud:
“That’s amazing! Oh wait. What does this mean for you? What is the worst case scenario?… hang on what is best case scenario?! Ahhhh, remember when we used to watch Chris Evans every morning on the Big Breakfast and he was a hero? Wait… hang on… have you called your boss?? Call your boss!”
This is me in “Wife of Presenter” mode. No doubt, these are the thoughts of the presenter too, but they are happening internally! Tim just asks me to stop talking! He is very excited, his mind blown, he’s considering all his colleagues, and then, he phones his boss 🙂
The fact NO ONE saw this seismic shift in the UK radio landscape coming is testament to the News Corp/Wireless team for keeping the gossip mongers out, and it is also a timely reminder that you don’t know what’s going on inside a station boss’s mind!
Anything can happen at any time, so what can you do to be ready for a seismic shift?
1. Build Relationships If you are already in the gig it’s easy to make sure you are building in positive relationships with your boss and your production team. Make a brew, be proactive, have ideas, make stuff better. A coffee and a chat goes a long way. Oh and – don’t be a dick.If you aren’t in a job already – you have some graft to do. Building relationships starts with building familiarity and then getting in front of people. Networking events are good, emailing is good, oh and don’t be a dick.
2. Have Patience and Tenacity You will never get a job or a promotion from randomly sending some audio, once, to your favourite radio station’s boss. A station production team has to trust that you will be able to steer their ship while you are on air, and fit their brand. This trust building takes a long time. Your aim is to make sure that you are next in line. This takes a lot of graft: building relationships, listening to advice, networking and learning.
There is something to be said for being the last man/woman standing, cos while you will get replies that say “No”, you’re more likely to get no reply whatsoever.
Bide your time. Just. Keep. Going.
3. Collect Experience (in audio form) Keep all your best audio. Make it a habit.
It takes time to build your 3 minute demo, the last thing you want is to be starting from scratch with nothing from the last year. A client and I have been working on gathering audio for the last few months, and we have been back and forth regularly about what we need for the demo and what could be better. It will make for a solid showreel as a result.
But it doesn’t have to be about finding the next job…
4. Create Opportunities through Sharing Audio Regularly When you are proud of something you have done, bank it so you can send it to your boss, and other members of your team. Not everyone can listen all of the time. And it is always good for the sales team, or the PR team to know what you are up to. It makes it easier for them to tell the stories to the people they come into contact with.
If you are trying to break in to the industry, send your demo but ask for advice rather than a job, and get feedback.
Make sure you follow up with more audio that has taken that feedback on board. If you don’t get a reply, follow up with more audio anyway. You are aiming initially to build familiarity, and getting your name in the station boss’s inbox regularly will go some way to do that.
5. And Finally… Get Your Finances In Order I know this seems really obvious but it is a lot easier to make decisions about your career, when you aren’t doing it for this month’s bills. While we can’t all be on hundreds of thousands a year, especially when we are just starting out, financial management means you can take risks without the worry of finding the money to pay your rent.
The basics apply – stash some cash away at the beginning of the month for you, allow for the “holiday pay”, keep your receipts, and save 20-25% of it for tax payments. If you don’t have one already, get an accountant!
The person taking over from Chris Evans will, in theory, leave a gap that will need to be filled that will leave a gap that will need to be filled, and so on and so on. It might be that it’s your opportunity this time, it might not. But this is a long game interspersed with seismic shifts, that you will always need to be ready for.
Engaging your audience is the primary challenge for any presenter, on stage, on screen, and on air. (Keep reading to find out about a new tool I have created that will help you)
The good news is that we humans are hardwired to connect with each other so as long as your audience is captive, they are pretty much ready to connect with you from the start. Your job as presenter is to keep their attention.
Choosing content that is relevant to your audience is important.
Making your content relevant to your audience is essential.
You are always trying to create moments of connection. One way to do that is to get topical. Get in your audience’s “zeitgeist”. If you can, understand where their head is at, from what is going on for them culturally. When you reference it in your content, it will go a long way to keep them engaged.
Ever noticed how when someone starts talking about Christmas in May, it jars doesn’t it?
But when the first Christmas cups appear in Starbucks in November time, you know Christmas is on the way and you can get excited about it!
This is how being topical can help you be relevant.
Basic topicality is acknowledging the day, is it a Monday vibe or a Friday vibe? Then you can think about whether you are in the midst of their holidays like Easter, Valentines Day or Christmas. Then there are specifics in the news or entertainment world.
I recently did a workshop for some lawyers right at the deadline of the new GDPR proceedures. I used the opportunity to make jokes around the amount of emails we were all getting, and the amount of work they were having to do for their clients. It was an easy win, and the response from the participants was unprecedented.
If you are presenting regularly on air, on social media or on stage, then you start to get good at knowing what your audiences will like. You get good at finding your “go to” websites (BBC News / TMZ / BuzzFeed etc.) to inspire your content ideas.
As a content creator I often like to get ahead with my web content, so it’s good to be able to plan ahead the topicality.
To help you with this I have pulled together a Content Calendar for reference. I will share this information with you in my weekly newsletter (sign up here).
Use the information as you wish, as long as your audience recognises it.
Why has everyone suddenly gone podcast mad? Business leaders, thought leaders, radio presenters, tv stars are all getting on the audio train lately. Feeling like you might be too late to start yours? Don’t.
Here’s why you should consider it:
1. Podcasts are really easy (and cheap) to make
Not only is the equipment super cheap, it’s easier to edit out mistakes, and you don’t have to put your make up on or do your hair before you press record. Podcast wear = whatever your think is appropriate, and that may be your pyjamas.
And as a quick overview:
You need 3 pieces of equipment for podcasting: 1) a microphone 2) an audio recorder 3) an audio editor
If you work in radio or media production, you probably have access to these already, but all can be found for under £100 each. You can even record you speaking on applications like zoom.us (free) and edit on something like iMovie. Plus that phone in the palm of your hand has a load of audio recording/editing capacity.
Then you need a host to put the audio on to, check audioboom, libsyn, soundcloud, Acast
And then you need a platform to broadcast from: Apple Podcasts, Acast, podbean (see point 3)
2. You’ll Find Your Voice
When you are working on behalf of a company, you have to adhere to brand image, editorial policies and formats. This can get in the way of you finding your true voice and being able to express what you care about.
With a podcast you really get the opportunity to put your passions and interests first. Give people the chance to get to know you and your values. It feeds your other work as well by encouraging you to form stories and communicate succinctly. If you do a weekly podcast, it will improve your day to day communication.
3. Apple Have Upped Their Game
It’s been a long time coming but Apple are about to release analytics to podcasters. The newly titled “Apple Podcasts” is the main platform for podcast listening and up until now, they’ve kept the analytics hidden from podcast creators. If you’re a creator, you’re going to be able to see just how people listen to your audio, whether they listen to the end, skip bits or tune out.
This data means that we can only start to improve, and if you are starting now, it gives you an efficient feedback loopmaking it efficient for you to improve.
4. You’ll Reach Your Audience & Create A Meaningful Connection
It’s fine to treat your audience to your vlog, but if you want to get content right through into the hearts and minds of your audience, listening is where it’s at.
Well produced audio has a habit of seeping in to the brain in a way that visual can’t. Let’s face it, your listeners are busy people, they can’t stop to watch you all the time they have things to do. But they can listen to you while they have things to do.
I have been working in radio for the last 20 years and have helped people produce podcasts, consutled and done a lot of listening. It’s time for me to start too, watch this space.