What is talent


This article was originally published by Onnair on 4 May 2016. You can find it here.


Firstly this is more than I would normally write, but it’s a really important article, particularly if you’re starting out and wanting to get better at radio or if you’re a content director coaching young teams.

Grab a coffee and I’ll be ready for you when you get back.... Ready? Good.

I call myself a talent coach.

There’s a couple of reasons for this; firstly it’s the thing I enjoyed doing the most when I was programming radio stations. Some programmers love working on the music, some love research and the analytics of the where the audience is and how to target them better, some love building events and creative ideas, but for me-I especially liked working with the people who were at the coalface, the ones who were talking to the audience and building relationships with their fans everyday.

Secondly, and to be brutally honest, I call myself a talent coach because I hate the idea of being seen as “just another radio consultant”.

Talent coach sounds better...and I’m all about how things sound. Ha!

So, what is talent?

When someone is very good at something-how did they get to be so good?

I want to share with you some of my own thoughts on this, but before I do that, I’m going to direct you in the strongest possible terms to find 45 minutes this week to listen to a Freakonomics radio podcast on this topic - it’s called “how to be great at just about anything” and is the most brilliant, compelling piece of audio on this topic that I’ve heard. You can download it at iTunes, trust me, you’ll thank me later.

I’m now halfway through listening to the podcast for the third time, (yes it’s that good), and it goes to the heart of what all of us in radio are trying to do, which is to find and grow an engaged audience. Of course we do this by putting the most interesting and talented people we can find onto our breakfast and drive shows.

Only a handful of performers can do this, and they do it seemingly effortlessly-if you’ve been listening to my podcast series “Radio Game Changers” you’ll know that these extraordinary individuals who have mastered broadcast radio have unique skills and undeniable talent.

But the nagging question remains, if they can be that good on the radio, is it possible for you to be?

So let me break down for you the key points from this podcast (this is not a cheat sheet for you though, you still must listen to it.)

Here’s what stood out for me.

“Absent of hard work, no one is really great at anything.”

Read that again, because when I heard this on the podcast it was so powerful it almost took my breath away.

“Absent of hard work, no one is really great at anything.”

It got me thinking about the best radio shows and performers who have had longevity in this business - Alan Jones, Eddie McGuire, Jackie Henderson, Hamish and Andy, Matt Tilley immediately spring to mind and all of them have, at the foundation of their success, a combination of talent and a willingness to work hard.

The point is made in this podcast that you need a baseline of talent to be great at whatever it is that you want to do, but if you don’t try hard then there will always be someone with the same amount of talent who is prepared to work harder and therefore out-perform you.

Eddie McGuire makes this very point in episode 3 of Game Changers.

So for anyone reading this who is starting out in radio or in any profession for that matter, if you want to be successful and you’re not prepared to pay the price with hard work, it ain’t going to happen.

You may as well buy a lottery ticket.

Now, the reason this podcast is so brilliant is that despite the importance of sustained effort, there is no suggestion that “hard work” is, in fact, the magic bullet.

This podcast introduces a guy called Anders Erikkson who’s written a brilliant new book called “Peak” and who’s research was used by Malcolm Gladwell to explain his 10,000 hour theory in the book “Outliers”.

Here’s the genius behind Anders work.

He has studied the science of expertise over many years and believes that there are 2 critical elements that talented performers have mastered.

Purposeful practise and Deliberate practise

I’ll let the podcast or his book “Peak” explain the difference between purposeful and deliberate practise, but the basic thesis set out in this podcast is that “this thing we call talent is in fact an accumulation of ability that is caused by deliberate practise over a long period of time”.

I wrote about purposeful practise earlier this year in an article called “outside the bubble"

The fastest way to get better at what you do is practise. Practise with purpose. Knowing that what you’re doing right now is going to make you better in the long run.

Jerry Seinfeld is a great case study for anyone wanting to master any particular skill. From his first standup shows to stardom, he forced himself to work by marking a cross on a calendar for every day he wrote material; soon enough, he had a long chain of crosses, and kept going partly because he didn't want to break the chain.

Since he revealed this trick to a would-be comedian years ago, "Seinfeld's Productivity Secret" has achieved cult status online: there are at least three apps and one website dedicated to helping people emulate it. This amuses its inventor no end. "It's so dumb it doesn't even seem to be worth talking about," he says. "If you're a runner and you want to be a better runner, you say, well, I'll run every day and mark an X on the calendar every day I run. I can't believe this was useful information to anybody!" He spreads his palms, a gesture conveying the sheer obviousness of the insight. "Really? There are people who think, 'I'll just sit around and do absolutely nothing, and somehow the work will get done’?”

So the next question if you’re a young radio peep reading this is-What might deliberate or purposeful practise look like if you want to be great at broadcast radio?

Funny you should ask.

I’ve been working with a young team, Lakey and Larnz who have just scored their first breakfast job in Townsville and through our coaching sessions we had many “purposeful practise” sessions.

The idea was simple.

We structured daily 30 minute iPhone voice memo sessions where the guys would perform content using the universal rules of radio-3 minute talk breaks, one topic per conversation and using the basic constructs of story-telling which is each topic needs a beginning, middle and end. In a very short period of time, though this purposeful practise Lakey and Larnz improved to the point where they were ready for their first regional breakfast shift, after just 12 weeks together.

No studio required.

Just a phone.

A coach.

And the discipline to turn up everyday and practise in a way that replicated what they would do as a breakfast show on the radio.

Now , think about this.

Imagine if Lakey and Larnz are so determined to reach their goals that they continue with this deliberate practise regardless of the fact that they now have a job on the radio? So when you’re at home on the couch watching netflix after your shift, they are working on perfecting the skill of talking on the radio.

Guess who wins on this occasion? Can I refer you back to the previous point “absent of hard work, no one is really great at anything.”

I know who my money would be on.

If talent is in fact, “the accumulation of ability that is caused by deliberate practise” then I’m backing in the performers and teams that focus their energies on what they need to learn and what they need to do to get better at being on the radio.

If you have a modicum of talent, the question then becomes do you have the discipline and the work ethic to develop that talent through deliberate practise into something that can find a large and engaged audience?

To find out more about my iPhone coaching sessions (yes, you could use a Samsung...), you can get in contact with me through my website craigbrucecoaching.com.