You got a radio spot to talk about your film. Great! Here’s how to make the absolute most of it, and increase the odds of getting invited back.
- Take a little time before the show to get clear about the key points you want to make. It’ll all go by faster than you think. That said, prepare but don’t rehearse, and be flexible if the host takes it another direction. Roll with it. It’s a conversation.
- Bring notes or printed articles that you may want to reference. Highlight important details on the page so your eyes can find them quickly– just be careful not to ruffle papers.
- Avoid canceling at all costs. If you absolutely must cancel, do this:
- Try to offer the producer a suitable replacement guest, and explain this person’s qualifications to your producer. Daily v. weekly shows will differ, but sometimes the producer might put you on the next day instead.
- Let the producer know as soon as possible. Cancellations suck. Last-minute cancellations suck even harder.
- At the end of the day, you’ve just made this producer’s life tougher, so be very kind, professional and apologetic about it.
- Post about your appearance on social media, including info about how your network can listen in or find a rebroadcast later.
- Bonus points: create a one-sheeter for your host to reference during the broadcast and email it to the producer once you get booked, or, if booked way in advance, within a day or so of your appearance on the program. This page should include the name of the project, your name and how to pronounce it, a website where listeners can go to learn more, whatever social media handles you prefer, and, if applicable, ticketing info, a few bullet points with interesting facts about the project, and a bullet point about the next milestone or event related to the project.
When you arrive…
- Be. on. time. In fact, make a point to be early, so you can arrive and have a second to get your bearings and relax. (Also, once you’ve arrived, that’s one less thing for the producer to worry about, so you’re helping them to like you even more.)
- Hosts are busy, producers are busy. Sit quietly in the green room until you are asked in-studio. (But, do prepare for an abrupt start once you are brought in to sit with the host. There probably won’t be a lot of time to “settle in.”)
- Turn your phone off. You don’t know how far the sound can reach, and you’ll forget to turn it off once you get in-studio. And if your phone rings or dings or vibrates while you’re on the air…. it’s not gonna be pretty.
- Producers will probably ask the correct pronunciation of your name and how to introduce you. Be ready with a quick answer. (Ex: “It’s ‘Guth’ like ‘truth’ and ‘filmmaker and journalist’.” Now’s not the time for, “Welllll, funny story. I kind of have three different job titles, you see…”)
How to be while on the air…
- Don’t wear noisy jewelry. Even the tiniest little jingle form your fabulous earrings might register on the mic, so skip them.
- Don’t give answers that are too short. Try to follow the rule of improv of “yes, and” (or, “no, because”) and add information when answering questions. One word answers are really bad, mmmkay?
- Watch for vocal ticks like “um” and “like” and guard against them at all costs. Answer promptly and speak concisely, but don’t go so fast that you sound like you’re trippin’ balls.
- Don’t feel like you need to be “broadcast”-y. Just be you. Be conversational. If you mess up or get tongue-tied, roll with it: nobody died. Keep going.
- Don’t depend on the host to plug your book/film/award/project, etc. When you reference your project use the title/publication, etc, but don’t overdo it.
- Speak the language of the audience. If you’re on a show specifically geared toward filmmaking, it’s probably okay to use a little bit of jargon since we’ll all know what you mean. But, if you’re on a show with a more general listenership, which is most likely going to be the case, don’t exclude listeners by using codewords and lingo; it won’t make you sound smart, and it will frustrate and make listeners not fully connect with you.
- Don’t be afraid to jump in, but don’t talk on top of others. Rude, sure, but it also sounds like absolute, chaotic hell to the listener to hear many voices at once.
- Be high-energy and positive. Not like four-cups-of-coffee-and-a-Redbull energy, but alert and on your game. If you’re tired or crabby, perk yourself up by jumping around or shaking your hands out, having a little caffeine, etc. Broadcast is exciting and you might have adrenaline already, so be careful not to over caffeinate.
- Treat even the craziest of crazy callers with respect, no matter what. Take the high road.
- Be genuine! Don’t be fake, or a jerk, or act or be over the top. Just be you. Broadcast, but radio especially, is just a conversation between two people. Connect with your host through eye contact. Be yourself. And remember, you got invited on the show for a reason: they want to talk with you. So, just do you.
- Be mindful of the date your segment will be broadcast if you aren’t live on the air. If you’re taping on, say, a Friday afternoon, and your segment won’t air until Monday, don’t mention the weekend, etc. This also applies to referencing the weather.
- Swearing. Don’t even. But, shit happens (see) and if you accidentally do, do not, whatever you do, say: “OMG, sorry, sorry, shit, I didn’t mean to do that! Sorry, OMG OMG!” Just keep going. Reason: if you’re on 7- or 10-second delay, your chatter will make it very hard for the producer to “dump” a few second of your audio in a seamless way. If you’re being taped to air later, you’re just going to give an editor more to have to cut out. (But, do apologize when you go to commercial.)
- Speaking of commercial breaks: try not to chit chat during break about the topic you’re there to discuss, or, much at all. Save it for the air! Reason? You might have a really great moment with your host and trying to recreate it a few minutes later it on the air will sound rehearsed. When in doubt, take a cue from your host about how much conversation is appropriate during commercial breaks, as it does vary by host and show.
- If you do chat during commercial breaks, don’t reference the conversation once you’re back on-air. It makes listeners feel left out of the conversation.
If you absolutely must reference something you discussed with the host off the air, do it, but try not to do it too much. (“Like the thing we were saying on the break that was so funny…. “) Keep the listener/viewer in the conversation.
A word about being on the phone…
- If you are going to be a guest on a program by phone, try to be on a land line. We know, we know. Nobody has a land line anymore. We know. But, try. If you must be on a cell phone, be in a place where you get absolutely, amazingly, impeccable service. If your service sucks and you start breaking up on the air, there’s a good chance the producer is going to drop you to save the audio integrity of the show.
- Do the segment in a quiet room, and never on speaker.
- Be sure to turn your radio off, and let others know to stay the hell out of that room during your interview.
- Pro-tip: take advantage of the ability to have your notes, printed out articles to reference, etc. in front of you when calling into a show.
- Another word about phoners: it’s really, really easy for listeners to get very bored very fast when listening to a voice through a phone on the air. Take steps to guard against this by being energetic, professional, and over-enunciate. You’re already going to sound less clear just by virtue of the fact that you’re on a phone.
How to move while on the air…
- Be really careful about not breathing into your mic. But do get close (really close) to mics in front of you, and try not to turn your head away from them. Same applies to being on air via the phone.
- Remember: the show invited you to speak with them. Lean in, be interested, make eye contact with the host. Act like you want to be there.
A few special notes about eating and drinking…
- If you are prone to getting dry mouth, pause to drink water when your host is speaking. Dry mouth is a super gross sound on the air. Super gross.
- If you have to taste or sip on the air for a show, get away from the microphone, whether that means moving yourself away from your microphone for a second, or turning you head away from your lapel mic. Better yet, don’t eat or drink unless you’re on a cooking show, or you’ve gone to commercial break.
- No gum, no mints. Ever. Nothing in your mouth. Listeners can hear it when you speak.
After the show…
- Thank the host/producer/network on social media. Then, follow-up a day or so later with a polite thank you email to the producer and to the host. This will help you get invited back, especially if you take the time to thank the producer; hardly anyone remembers to thank the producer. Seriously.
- If there is a podcast posted online, share it with your social networks, again making sure to properly tag the producer/host/show, etc. They’ll appreciate the effort.
- Listen or watch your segment to check for vocal ticks (like saying “like” a lot, for example) so you can get better and better each time you make a broadcast appearance. It might really suck and be painful to listen to yourself, but do it anyway and help yourself improve.
- Stay in touch, but not too closely. Keep the producer in the loop about big developments, ways you can be useful or offer expert insight on relevant news topics, but don’t drive them crazy with too-frequent contact.
A note about pitching producers…
Once you have been on the air a few times, and as your work progresses, you might find yourself needing to pitch a producer. Great! It’s important to build and nourish these relationships for the long-haul, so pitching is recommended.
First, remember that producers want every idea to be great. Think about it: when you give a producer a great idea, you’re making their job easier, so don’t timidly approach like they’re some kind of mean gatekeeper. Be cool, be friendly, and be brief. Use a straightforward, clear subject line. Be kind and don’t send something long. Just a “hey, I have this story I wrote. I’m willing to talk about x, y and z aspects of this subject. Here’s how to reach me today.” Boom. (And, it goes without saying: proofread– you are, after all, pitching yourself as an expert source.)
Amy Guth is founder/executive director of Strangewaze, a filmmaker, journalist and talk radio host on WGN-AM in Chicago. Follow her on Twitter at @amyguth.