When you assume you make an ASS out of U and ME. Thats how the cliche goes!
Assuming listener knowledge or interest is something which I have forever been pointing out to presenters, producers and programmers in pretty much every coaching session for as long as I can remember. Its fairly basic, but I absolutely understand how you can get carried away with the latest big THING you are doing as a station and therefore assume that everyone knows what you are talking about… and gives a monkeys!
The fact is that it is at that moment that you have to be right on your game. You are doing a big thing- pulling in extra new or lapsed listeners and so its really important to ensure you don’t assume they know, assume they care, or assume they will stay without some encouragement.
I’ve been in the midst of these situations where you have a big game, promotion or contest running- or event or some smaller running theme within a show. The momentum gets to you and everyone involved, and you just go with the assumption that everyone listening must know what you mean if you just casually refer to it. Some might, but many will be hearing it for the first time and the reality is that most will have only heard a bit of the hype or news and not be aware. You don’t have to exhaustively explain, but say enough to welcome new listeners and give them some context. Otherwise you might as well not mention it at all.
Oddly one of the things which is a big obstacle is a TITLE of the activity or content. Many is the time when I’ve pointed this out to presenters who have said something like “…and we will play [insert contest name] next”. In coaching sessions I have stopped the audio and said, “What is [contest title]?”. Normally the title doesn’t adequately explain what it might be in order to give me enough understanding or intrigue to stay around to find out… “We’ll play cash toilet next”, “We’ll play the big bong shooter next”. Titles are great for marketing and name awareness on one hand, but they don’t do the whole job. Where is the listener interest in what you are doing? The listener interest is in the prize, so ‘you could win £XXX next’ is probably stronger than “we’re playing Celebrity Slug Chess next”. [I don’t know what Cash Toilet is, and I invented it just now, but I’m thinking it might be a fun game, probably better than Slug Chess as that might be a bit slow going].
The same is true with any title or activity. When I was at Smooth and we launched the evening ‘Smooth Sanctuary‘ show when the network launched I remember mentioning to a few in coaching sessions where a link might have said something like, “The Smooth Sanctuary is on later”… What is the Smooth Sanctuary? Is it a building or retreat? Does it have whale sounds and a jacuzzi? Its needs explaining, not much but enough- so “a perfect way to relax into the evening with some chilled songs for a summer’s night, the Smooth Sanctuary is on from 7 tonight…”, or “laid back songs in the Smooth Sanctuary from 7” puts some flesh on the bones rather than assuming listeners know everything you do all the time. Show titles, contest titles and content titles can be great, but they are also a crutch.
Recently BBC Radio 1 had their latest game involving a Giant Jigsaw and Greg James from Radio 1 Breakfast hunting the pieces around the country. It takes a lot of effort to explain what it is, why I should care as a listener and what you want me to do with that information. It’s a BIG ask and something they have done before with a game of Hide & Seek, Escape Room etc, but on the whole they did pretty well at being consistent and explaining it enough without too much assumed knowledge from my casual listen. Matt Deegan writes an excellent post “In praise of the story arc” about this content in his blog. I heard one particular fail, which stood out for me and my critical ear. I won’t reveal who it was who did it, but in a link which had ZERO other references to the game or activity and consisted of just a list of shout outs to listeners and what they were doing whilst listening, the presenter said at the end, “…and don’t forget to keep looking out for those pieces“. There were no mentions of the jigsaw game for 10 mins before or after this reference, and so if you were unaware of it, it would have been totally random and a wasted opportunity. Pieces of what? Where should I look out and why? What are they going to do to me? Why do I care and is it important? Are you ok?
Now as I say by and large with such a complex mechanic and a LOT of moving parts they did a good job in selling in the concept and carrying on the story. I mention it this link though because its an example of the danger when the hype gets ramped and you start to think that everyone must know what is going on and you can get carried away with the excitement. Listeners might be aware but I would bet that they are not as aware, hyped and engaged as you might think, or want them to be. If you assume they are, you know what that makes of both you and me?
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