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Blog Posts

Top 5 talk show don'ts

Alex Quigley

There are as many ways to make a great talk show as there are people to host them. Your point-of-view, background, and voice combine to create something unique in the audience’s ears. But there are common mistakes made by broadcasters of all experience levels, and they can be easily fixed or avoided.

Not having a show prep meeting: “We’ll just turn on the mics and let it flow, man.” Some believe that’s the only way for a show to sound genuine; otherwise it’s “rehearsed” or “fake." The harsh truth is that most hosts who eschew show prep do it out of laziness. If it’s just you all by your lonesome hitting "record" and talking, then you don’t need five minutes to talk to yourself about what you’re going to talk about. But if it’s you and a co-host, or even you and a producer, your show will always be better when you’ve got an idea of what you’ll talk about – and when. Commit your general show rundown to paper or at least a e-format. And if the show ends up rolling away from the initial plan because it’s going great…that’s fine. But for the days when less is going on, you’ll always have something to fall back to. People who have hosted together for decades can get away with “winging it” every now and then…but that’s only through knowing each other day in, day out for thousands of shows. Have a pre-show meeting well before showtime so you can research topics/develop production elements, and don’t skip it just because you’re not feeling like doing it.

Lacking an archive system: if you’re planning on doing this show for a long time, you’ll want to know when you interviewed the Prime Minister of Canada. Or when you had on that actor who just passed away in a tragic accident. Or when you’re coming up on a major milestone, like your 100th (or hopefully 1000th) show. Keeping archives – both audio and content – will make your show a living, breathing thing. The audio part’s extremely easy these days: a hard drive can be hooked up to auto-record every show you ever do. As for content, if you keep up with your daily show sheets you’ll be able to search for keywords, phrases, and names to zero-in on anytime you’d like. It seems like nerdy nerdiness, but you’ll be glad you did it once you’re a few years into the show’s lifetime.

Ignoring production values: Movie clips, Peter Griffin quips, sound effects are fun to use. But they’re jarringly-distracting if their levels are too high or low, or if they end too early or abruptly. If you’re searching for a perfect interview snippet, make sure there isn’t background noise or music. If there’s a song that you’d like to use as rejoiner or bed music, find an instrumental or karaoke version of it. (YouTube has made this very easy.) Your voice talking over a singer sounds bad. If you can’t make the production element perfect, you’re better off not using it.

Forgetting the audience: in an effort to “stay true to themselves”, show hosts sometimes outright ignore their audience’s expectations and standards. If you’re doing an internet-only show, you can get more risqué. If you’re on a terrestrial broadcast, you’ve gotta keep the FCC rules in mind. And in both cases, you should consider what your sponsors expect – both existing ones and potential ones. (If you’re not interested in making any money off your work, great! But you probably are…or will in the future.) When you’re just getting started, your existing audience is small. But remember that your marketing efforts will draw in new listeners…and if you’re lucky enough to inherit an existing audience, you’ll have to meet their expectations for content and tone, too.

Airing callers for the sake of airing callers: some of the best shows on the air or on the web allow themselves to be derailed by bad callers. The tendency to put a caller on the air makes sense; interaction with the audience can be the best way to connect to them. But too often phone calls are poorly screened, if they’re even screened at all. You’ll hear seven seconds of awkward pleasantries or “… …uh, are you there?” when the conversation should’ve just kept on going with the hosts. This works the same way with texts or tweets, too. Reading a lame tweet that agrees or disagrees with your point sounds lame. Skip them. As your show grows, you’ll (hopefully) develop a listenership that gets your humor and point-of-view. But early on, you’ve got to use every chance you can to show listeners your point-of-view. Don’t rely on the phones, texts, or tweets.