Rejection is a yukky thing.
This week as Global Radio in the UK consolidated their local breakfast and drive shows. Industry press juggernaut Radio Today estimates that 250 presenters could be affected by the changes in the UK. And it’s all kicking in, in a month’s time. There are households across the country now wondering “what now?”.
As a radio presenter, your career is built on rejection: The number of demos and conversations that lead to nothing. The number of times a new boss comes in and you have to hold tight to find out if you still have a job. The time the station decides to refresh the lineup and you get offered a weekend show from your daily one. The time another radio group buys your station. Or as we have seen this week: The time Ofcom rules change and the “business” end of things get in the way of your dreams.
The difficulties are that it all gets played out in public and when your product is “you”, it’s very difficult to not take it personally.
I’ve been through redundancy twice, and left my role as Content Controller at Key 103 because of a “restructure”. I’ve also had to let people go: there’s a BBC National presenter who was on the receiving end of me “not renewing their contract” at a local commercial station some years ago, who I am sure (quite rightly) is and will be dining out on it for years to come. Mr C lost his beloved Xfm Manchester Breakfast show, when Radio X (another Global Station) was launched and it was announced that Chris Moyles was going to be networked from London.
Long story short the outcomes were – Tim got his gig on Virgin Radio and BT Sport and launched Hive Content. I launched The Presenter Coach which has gone from strength to strength. And the presenter I let go: well you see it say “BBC National Presenter” right?
Most stories of losing jobs, end with the protagonist saying “it was probably one of the best things that happened to me”. The thing is, in the moment, no matter how well you are compensated, you can’t help but feel utterly rejected when your boss tells you that you are no longer needed in your current role.
Here are a few of things that got me and Mr C through it the last time (and will get us through it next time):
- Permission to Grieve
When you are in the eye of the storm of rejection – it’s not a calm, reflective experience. It’s clunky, difficult and sad. It’s really sad. So allow yourself space to grieve.
The reality is that you are experiencing loss. Rejection in this way isn’t just about feeling unwanted – you will have lost a part of your life you love, and even base your identity on. It’s not easy. I found that once I recognised what I was experiencing was grief, it was a lot easier to cut myself some slack.
It’s easy to put pressure on dusting yourself off and picking yourself back up and to “man up”, but the best use of your time is going along with your emotions as they come and allow them to become part of you.
2. Do Not Get Confused Between MERIT and TASTE*
You were and are good enough to be there in the first place (this is merit), but the new boss wants their station product to sound like a Twix and you are a glorious Mars Bar (this is taste). Or the new boss wants to run a more streamlined business (I’m going to call this taste too!).
“You” are the presenting product, and that means that sometimes your product isn’t right for the station product. It feels personal, but the decision is very rarely personal. (It’s worth remembering this when you are the one delivering the news too.)
Trust you will find your new product “fit”.
3. Put Your Audience First
When your audience finds out you are leaving, be gracious. Remember without them you are just a person talking in a box on your own. A beloved mentor of mine said to me, at the time I was leaving: “if you are comfortable with it, others will be comfortable too”. The minute you become snarky or awkward, your audience will begin to doubt your intentions and feel discomfort. Remember you need them with you, in whatever you do next.
4. “Don’t Make Any Decisions For 10 Weeks”
I have to credit the same mentor with this one and it was excellent advice.
Tim and I held off making any decisions and allowed ourselves time to think (we lost our gigs at the same time). I explored options, tried things out and allowed the thing I wanted the most to rise to the top. Before setting up The Presenter Coach, I thought I was ready to go down a different path. But by holding off for the 10 weeks it allowed me to set my mind and get what I really wanted.
It also meant that Tim and I had time to redecorate the kitchen! Ha!
5. The Rejectee Becomes The Rejector…
Post-rejection is the perfect time for reflection, but you are likely to be vulnerable to making decisions out of financial or spiritual necessity, rather than personal choice.
Sort out your finances and make it so that they will last you as long as possible without work. Establish what time you have* – how many hours a day are spent on sleeping, eating, exercising, netflix. Set some goals and commitments. Think about your habits. Read, learn, eat well, exercise, sleep, find joy.
Do whatever you need to do to be in a position to choose when an opportunity comes your way. Feeling like you can say “nope” to the ideas and jobs that aren’t quite right is important in choosing the “right” thing for you next.
Of course, when 250 presenters lose their seat at the ever-shrinking radio presenter table it starts to look bleak. My observation is that now more than ever, the presenters that will be secure are the ones with the “portfolio” career: write the book, make the podcast, own the production company, do the voiceovers, set up a kids club, run an events company – all the while presenting too. And when it comes to changing careers and sectors all together; Lisa Kerr did a talk at Next Radio a few years ago about the invaluable transferable skills you get from radio.
In the same week the radio industry felt a sack full of rejection, I went to PechaKucha Manchester – a spoken word night with 10 speakers, each talk is 20 slides and they have 20 seconds per slide. This week’s theme: “Rejection”. (Anywhere you see an * in this blog is credit to this night). From those 10 talks I was reminded:
Rejection is a yukky thing but…
- it helps you focus on you
- it sets you on the right path
- it helps you reassess and rebuild
- it should be felt in everything you do, because then you know you’re doing it right.
I am on the train on the way to do my first big industry talk. I have memorised it. But all I can think is “what if I forget the words?”. I mutter my words as I recite it in my head over and over. I am consumed with nerves.
I get to the conference in time for lunch. A friend speaks to me and I am incapable of holding a conversation. I am consumed with nerves.
Next, I am pacing backstage reciting the talk over and over. I am on in 10 minutes. I am consumed with nerves.
I hit the stage – the nerves? They’ve turned in to adrenaline. I am flying. I am loving it. And I remember the words.
Many people come to me worried about nerves. They tell me they’ve tried the breathing, they’ve tried the NLP techniques, they’ve tried imagining the audience naked (I’ve never really understood this one!), they say they’ve tried everything – and they are still riddled with butterflies, shaky knees and that overwhelming feeling that everyone can see they are rubbish.
They say to me: “How do I get rid of my nerves?”
Here is your magic bullet:
Trying to ‘get rid’ of your nerves is a waste of time and a losing battle. What you do is manage your nerves, and here are 3 techniques to try.
1) Accept The Nerves
I recently interviewed comedian Hayley Ellis and she talked about how when she started she used to wear a scarf to hide the anxiety rash she would get from the nerves of performing.
This is not uncommon with many actors and comedians talking of having nerves when performing.
The reality is that everyone gets nerves in one form or another. Some people talk about using their nerves, or seeing them as positive – may be telling yourself that they are excitement rather than anxiety.
The trick is to accept them. Fighting the nerves and thinking you are not supposed to feel nervous is a sure fire way to fuel your anxiety. Accepting fear as part of the process is the only way to help reduce and manage it.
I saw comedian David Nihill, writer of “Do You Talk Funny?”, speak at TEDx Manchester, and after speaking to comedians and working through his own nerves his summary was “the nerves will always be there – you have to learn how to manage them”.
2) Do It Again, And Again, And Again
Once you’ve accepted that you are going to get nervous and that the nerves are all part of the process – do it more than once.
Take all opportunities to speak. And make sure you use rehearsal in the process.
I run my speaker courses over 6 weeks. By doing this, people focus on their rehearsal rather than on their performance. From week 1 the participants speak in front of their fellow students and they repeat it every week.
On more than one occasion the repeated rehearsal in front of their peers has led students to acknowledge the reduction of their nerves.
The best way I can describe this is that this is not about getting out of your comfort zone, and staying uncomfortable. It’s about GROWING your comfort zone so the uncomfortable becomes comfortable.
3) Make It About The Audience
It is so easy to think that you are on show and that everyone can see all your vulnerabilities as you stand there on stage and that everyone will notice every slip up and that everyone is staring at you and they know that the stuff you’re saying isn’t as good as you want it to be etc etc etc.
This is all of course nonsense. If people could really read your mind, no one would ever need to speak in public.
Take the pressure off yourself.
The best speakers make it about the audience. In her book “Out Front” speaker Deborah Shames recounts that one of her best-received talks was when she just spent the whole time answering the audience’s questions. Take the light that you feel is shining on you, and shine it on your audience. Make it about them, give them something useful and entertaining and you will get the best feedback.
The magic bullet to get rid of your nerves is that there isn’t one. Once you accept that nerves are part of the process you can work out your way to manage them, rehearse with them and then make it about everyone else but you. Stepping out of your comfort zone should never really be a one-off experience, it should be about getting uncomfortable and then making it comfortable.
I have a confession to make. It wasn’t until I started presenting my own daily podcast that I realised how powerful the connection with your audience can be.
I mean I knew the power of connection.
Of course, I’ve loved all the audiences I have ever broadcast or spoken to. As a producer at BBC Radio 6 Music the connection with the audience was particularly strong: so strong that people would do almost anything for us – they’d tell us personal stories, they’d recommend tracks to us and they weren’t afraid to let us know when we got it wrong too.
We got them. They got us.
But. That wasn’t me speaking to an audience, that was me powering a presenter to speak to their audience.
Everyday Positivity has taught me what it is to feel close to a tribe. These are my people. Not only do I believe that they listen to what I am saying – I would do anything for them too. And that is really special.
That unique connection is gold for any content creator. It’s what powers word of mouth growth. And it’s what the great broadcasters hold above all others.
When it comes to engaging an audience & hitting that sweet spot of being “in sync” with them, most people will tell you to be relevant to them, but how do you do that? How do you create that special something that leads to growth?
- Make It About Them
The analogy I use is that when you are worrying about what to say (this is the same in sales too) then the light is shining on you. Actually, when you are speaking to an audience you need to make sure you are shining the light on them.
What are you giving them? What are they getting from you that’s of use? What do they need from you? How are you serving them? How are you putting them in the middle of your content?
When I am doing the Everyday Positivity recordings I really believe I am speaking to that person in front of me like they are there. My thoughts are with the people I speak to on the facebook group. Equally, when I get on stage, I believe that the audience are mates that I want to excite.
You can hear this in the tone and the language of great presenters. They surprise and delight you, and it’s almost like they are in your head when they speak to you like you are with them.
2. Be Vulnerable
While performance is really important when communicating with a mass of people, having the courage to be vulnerable is vital to allowing your human to be seen.
Let me talk to you about vulnerability for a second though. There is a difference between vulnerability and oversharing. I am guilty of being an oversharer. Oversharing can be useful: it’s funny, it’s shocking and it creates a reaction. But oversharing is also a tactic to deflect people from seeing the real me. I suspect you will know what I mean when you think about your own oversharing tactics! Or indeed you will know when you have spotted it.
Oversharing needs to be used wisely.
Real vulnerability feels different. It doesn’t happen all the time, and I know when I am being vulnerable because it feels really uncomfortable! I worry that I will offend someone or that someone will laugh at me. I question it, over and over. In some cases I am terrified.
But, without fail, those are the times I get the best and biggest responses from the Everyday Positivity audience.
The more you expose the vulnerable parts of yourself, the more you attract “your people”, the more you build their trust, and that will grow your audience.
3. Live Their Life
There is no doubt that if you are living the life of your audience you can speak to them in a way that is connected. That’s why some of the best broadcasters and presenters will just tell you that they are just being themselves and that they aren’t really thinking about the audience, and it works!
But there will be times that you are speaking to an audience that isn’t “just like you”.
This means you need to put in the work.
One thing that comes up in radio a lot, is there are presenters on local radio stations, that don’t actually live in the area. It works to get those presenters to visit somewhere in the broadcast area every week at least (if not more). Sitting in different places for an hour a week and purely observing life can transform the presenter’s perspective of the area.
Do you “know the audience’s patch”? Do you go to the places they go? Do you read what they read? Do you watch what they watch? Do you understand their challenges? Do you care about what they care about?
Get into their world as much and as often as you can.
4. Be Useful To Them
This is an extension of making it about the audience. If you can help them with their life, then you have created a true impact.
Teach them something, inform them of something, share something useful with them.
In radio, I like the phrase we use: “social ammunition” – meaning the job of a presenter is to give the audience useful nuggets to talk about with their friends and colleagues during the day. News, entertainment, music, sport. All of these elements can give something to talk about that day.
In all engaging content creation, useful content is incredibly powerful. Depending on your tribe, it might be that you give tips on how to deal with imposter syndrome? Or how to lay a floor? Or just unboxing a new toy?! All of these things to the respective audiences are useful, it helps them in their day to day life, it gives them their social status, and that means you have created a real lasting impact with them.
5. Use Them
It’s definitely a 2-way street. Your aim is to build your “Know, Like, Trust” factor with your audience. You can’t expect them to trust you if you don’t trust them.
These days you have the ability to speak to the audience “off air”. The Everyday Positivity facebook group is a place where the listeners share stories and advice that I ask them for. To progress this I will be asking what they like, what they want to hear, and what they would like to be involved in.
Equally, if they feedback through the reviews that they don’t like something I use it. It guides me to be self-aware, and vulnerable. I have used it to improve my work. I have used it to understand my tribe more. I have used it as pure content.
Do not be afraid to ask your audience about what they do and what they want. You will be surprised what grows from it.
Ultimately your aim should be to impact one person, to change one person’s life. Because if you impact them then they will tell their friends, who will tell their friends, who will tell their friends…
You’ve got your presentation style sorted, you’re confident and you’re comfortable performing. So what happens when you throw another person into the mix? Contributors, guests, panellists, callers – they all add texture to your programme, podcast or conference, but your job is to get the best out of them for the audience.
Here are the things to consider before you get into it…
1.Research Your Guest
A sure fire way to make your interview go on longer than you need it to is to get your guest to tell their story ‘from the beginning’. This is fine if you are pre-recording and you have the time to edit. But if you are live you are going to need to get to the point as soon as you can.
Researching your guest means you can set the scene for them in your introduction. I say to my clients “you hold the who and what, your guest holds the why and the how”.
A well-researched interview can drive the conversation forward faster too. Imagine being able to say “you must have been having a tough time then because you were also trying to launch a community centre” rather than “so what was that like?”
Tip: It’s not always possible, but it’s good to speak to your guest before you interview them. It reassures them and it means you can suss out some of the best stories before you are on stage / on air with them.
2. The Basics: Who, What, Where, Why, When, How?
When working up your research and deciding what to ask, start with the basic questions. Make sure your audience understands who you are talking to, what they are talking about (the when and where fits in here). This is the information you need to be able to run a great interview.
One of my clients had a guest on their panel show talking about a vegan festival he was running. It wasn’t until he got on air that she discovered he wasn’t vegan. In listening back we realised there were no vegans in the room, but all the prep assumed there would be a vegan in the room. The whole segment lost its credibility. Even with the biggest of production teams, it’s easy to assume you have all the information – so questions like what, where, when, who questions will uncover all the context you need.
Stories hide in the hows, whys and “what reason”. Questions like “How did you make that happen?” or “why did you decide to do that?” then get the answers you need from your guest. Note that “what was the reason?” is a softer way of asking “why?”
3. Make It A Conversation: Listen
Have clarity about what you want to hear your guest speak about, come with a list of well-researched questions, and then the key to a great interview is to listen to what the guest says to get that second question in. This makes it more like a conversation.
Listen out for chunked up language and get the detail on it. For example:
Interviewer: “What were you like as a child?”
Guest: “I grew up in Birmingham, and my parents would probably tell you I was a wild child, but I remember it being a happy time.”
Interviewer: “When you say wild child, what did you get up to?” or “What was it like in Birmingham at that time?” or “what made it a happy time?”
The stories are in the examples, listening allows you to ask the follow-up question (which may also be a challenging question too – see 5)
4. Open, Closed and Non-Question-Questions
Open questions allow your guest to tell a story, create opinion, share knowledge and experience. Closed questions have one word or short answers. Both are useful and a mixture of both questions can make for a good interview. Closed questions are particularly good for wrapping up an interview.
Depending on your guest you might find that they are keen to talk, in which case even a closed question will bear fruitful answers. One of the best ways to bring something out of your guest is to share your own experience or story as part of the question – this is the Non-Question-Question. These questions don’t really have a question mark at the end and can start a bit like: “In my experience” or “I’ve done that before and I found x y z” makes it sound like you are chatting and it gives the guest the opportunity to share their story.
I’ve written about this before – confrontation is something people avoid, but by failing to challenge your guest you are failing to give them the opportunity to give a stronger more thought out answer.
You can soften the challenge with language like “What do you say to people who say…?” or “Some people may be thinking…”.
Often the challenge is about being curious and hunting down the why and the how of your guest’s point of view.
6. Know When To Move It On
While you should listen and acknowledge your guest, sometimes you are on a time limit and you have to wrap it up. And sometimes they are saying the same thing over and over again – it’s time to move it on. Don’t be afraid to politely interrupt them, challenge them or ask a closed question.
Ultimately, a good interview is about getting the guest to enlighten the audience. Researching, challenging and being curious will help you to get to the gold and fast.
“Be bigger with your arms” I said as my client was trying out her performance.
She moved her hands up with her elbows almost stuck to her sides.
“No bigger” hoping that she would open up her arms wide
She moved her hands out to the side and kept her elbows glued to her sides.
“Ha! Bigger than that – hold your arms to the side”
She started laughing, feeling the vulnerability, but she raised her arms and spoke her line and that was when she became the leader she should be.
Whether you are on stage, on screen or on air – the performance space shrinks you.
I always tell my clients that in the performance space you need to be vintage you plus 10% or more if you’ve got it.
That means you need to be a tiny bit bigger, louder, more vibrant than you are on a Friday night. And keeping that energy up throughout your performance is tough.
As a presenter you are like the ringmaster – your energy can change the room, and people always remember how you make them feel.
Here are my 5 tips to keeping up your energy:
- Use Your Body
Just like your brain can send messages to your body, your body can do the same to your brain, and most importantly your mouth!
I was working with a presenter who, when I said “what can you do to build your energy here?” said “well I could stand up…”.
Sit forward or stand up – your body will tell your brain to be more urgent and active, and in turn, you will have greater charisma and energy. Even if you are on the radio, be expressive with your arms and your face as this will increase your “follow the leader” vibe (eg your audience will want to come with you).
It might be that before you start speaking you do your Wonder Woman Pose, or get big, or even get your heart rate up by jumping up and down. You’ll be surprised how your vocal tone follows.
2.Use Your Voice
Your voice will give your energy away. I used to hear Mr C on the radio in the early days and I could hear when he was tired!
I think we can agree that low and monotonous vocal tone sounds very boring and will lose your audience. When you are tired your mouth also stops pronouncing your words – as if your lips get lazy!
Asking presenters to put more energy into their work means they can stumble on the following trip-ups. The first is talking too fast. More energy means more energy – not to talk like a Duracell Bunny! So remember to stay well paced. The second is that you end up just shouting. And probably monotonously.
The best for vocal tone is to remember your voice has a lot of pitches or tones within it and you can use them all in your presentation. Initially try starting sentences with emphasis and high pitched and then working “down the stairs” as you finish the sentence.
3. It Should Feel Corny
Whenever I ask presenters to be “grander” in their presentation, they find themselves feeling like they are using “obvious” language, and they feel really corny in their delivery.
I want you to consider 2 things.
Firstly – the obvious is there for a reason. Opening your best man’s speech with a well delivered “Ladies and Gentlemen” is a well trodden path for a reason: it works.
Secondly – getting comfortable with cliche is the first step to finding your own voice. Sometimes you have to open the door to the the cringe, to find what’s the other side. If you refuse to be cliche or a bit cringe from time to time, you are unlikely to find your own true voice. Treat it as part of the process.
4. You Don’t Know There Till You Go There
Rehearsal is the space where you discover your style. Use rehearsal time to try new things, and the things you are afraid of.
If you are terrified of moving your arms from your waist then try rehearsing with your hands above your head. If you are feeling shy, rehearse your talk by acting out “being really confident”, you’ll be surprised what you find.
These are my favourite moments of any of my presentation courses – the moment where a client finds their power and their energy. It’s a truly amazing moment when they let out the giggle of vulnerability, and then go for it. It’s like they light up! This moment never happens in an unprepared performance. It only happens when you push through some of your worries in your rehearsal time.
5. Prepare and Protect Your Energy
Performing can be tiring for some people. I know that when I am booked to do a talk, or when I am recording my podcast, not only do I ensure that I am eating and exercising well in the build up, I also make sure I book in some down time afterwards.
I learned this from one of the presenters I worked with at the BBC. I noticed they were deliberately booking in their rest time after any performance. They were one of the most consistent presenters I have worked with.
Another radio presenter I work with acknowledged that the quick drink after work on a Friday was affecting their Saturday performance and they were frustrated by that. They got sick of walking out of the studio feeling like they’d not been entirely on their game. They felt like they let their listener down
Your audience needs you on your A-Game. In fact they need for you to generate the energy they are lacking, through your energetic performance! Make caring for your energy levels a habit.