Losing the crutch

No matter how able-bodied we may be as radio professionals, we all carry crutches. If they support us that’s fine, if not, but instead they interfere with our movement, they can do some serious damage.

My main concern are the words and phrases that sneak into our conversation and then manifest themselves as crutches that, like cholesterol, in fact retard the flow of presentation.

Everyone in radio has them. They are not the words and phrases that we use consciously and represent part of our characteristic repertoire; these little nasties have lodged in our subconscious and show themselves as jagged and unwanted intrusions in an otherwise seamless flow of communication. They’re called crutches because we constantly rely on them to support our conversation.

Mine was ‘all right?’ Little did I know, until my producer pointed it out to me, that I kept using this phrase – with the question mark – often tagged on to the end of a sentence, such as “…then phone us on the competition line and you could win that trip overseas to see Billy Bob Nobbhed in concert, all right?” My first thought when it was drawn to my attention was how irritating it must sound to the listener.

We are not alone in being infested with subconscious crutches. Public speakers – especially those who don’t read directly from their notes – are also carriers. I once heard a motivational speaker (one of my pet hates) enthusiastically imbuing ‘the power of self’ into a group of middle-management types and he kept finishing every second sentence with ‘OK?’ He didn’t know he was doing it, but I did. After 5 minutes I was squirming in my seat, after 8 minutes I wanted to leave the room, after 10 minutes I wanted to bury my fist down his throat and rip out his tonsils.

The point I’m trying to make is that the moment someone’s identified your subconscious crutch it becomes almost impossible to ignore it. It then becomes highly irritating and eventually a switch off. And as a radio professional you can’t afford a switch off.

So what can you do?

Firstly you need to identify the subconscious crutch; and there’s the problem: it’s in your subconscious. You aren’t aware of it so you have to ask someone else to identify it or you have to listen to recordings of your shows or broadcasts and try and pick it up. Here’s a hint: remember it’s not a word or phrase you use intentionally and you’ll also most probably find it hiding, like a piggyback virus, at the end of a sentence.

A good idea is to ask your PD to listen to an aircheck, preferably with you, and to try and identify any subconscious crutches. This way you have two of you listening at the same time, so you double the attention to detail, and your PD will be most impressed that you have shown sufficient insight and also taken the initiative to address possible problems in your work. Remember: brownie points separate the dedicated professional from the common worker.

The next thing to do is to make yourself continually conscious of what was in your subconscious – knowing it’s there is one thing, constantly facing it is another. You need to bring it to the fore, and I do mean ‘fore’. You need to literally put the word or phrase in front of you. For this you need a thick marker pen and a piece of paper about 15cm X 10cm. Write the errant word or phrase lengthways along the bottom of the page and then fold the top half of the paper back, lengthways, just above the word so that it can sit on the desk and stare at you (similar to the country names in front the representatives at the UN Security Council except instead of the name of the country is the phrase or word and instead of it facing away from you, it’s facing towards you.)

This must then be placed in front of you every time you go on air, and it needs to be somewhere where you will see it every time you open your mouth. At first it may interfere with your flow of thought as you consciously make a point of NOT using the word or phrase, but then this is the point. A subconscious crutch is part of a habit and if you’re going to break the habit you have to disrupt your behaviour somewhat.

You may not be aware of it, but the chances are very good that you do have a subconscious crutch. You therefore have two choices: you can just ignore it and hope like hell your listeners – and your colleagues – haven’t picked it up and switched off, or you can take it out. Placing your subconscious crutch where you have to face it may be uncomfortable at first, but it is the quickest and most effective way of dealing with it. Furthermore, it shows an uncompromising commitment to continual improvement.

And that’s the hallmark of any radio professional seeking ‘the edge’.

[All the work here is original. Nothing has come from any other resource. So, if you’re going to use or repost any of The Edge then please give due credit. If not….fine – be an asshole.]

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