The Most Powerful Question You Can Ask During A Brainstorm

Don’t underestimate the power of ‘what if?’.

Sometimes we can stand in our own way when we refuse to let our imagination run riot. The most powerful question you can ask when creating content is ‘what if?’

When you’re working on your next idea why not ask that question multiple times. One ridiculous ‘what if?’ could lead to a ridiculously creative outcome. 

Views expressed do not represent the view of RTÉ.

Photo by Emily Morter


For more posts on content creation & creativity follow me on twitter @alanswan or on instagram @alanswanirl

Get your ideas sweat on with this simple trick

Do you have difficulty coming up with ideas? You sit down, pen in hand, blank page at the ready and then nothing. It happens to us all. But have you ever asked yourself “have I exercised my ideas muscle recently?”.

Your “ideas muscle”? What part of the body is that located? Well according to author James Altucher we all have one and we should practise using it everyday:

“It’s important to exercise the idea muscle right now. If your idea muscle atrophies, then even at your lowest point you won’t have any ideas. How long does it take this muscle to atrophy? The same as any other muscle in your body: just two weeks without having any ideas. Atrophied”

He adds.

“Take a waiter’s pad. Go to a local cafe. Maybe read an inspirational  book for ten to twenty minutes. Then start writing down ideas. What ideas? Hold on a second. The key here is, write ten ideas.”

Altucher recommends doing this EVERY day. Just 10, good or bad, silly or sad. Like going to the gym, that constant repetition builds up your muscle. In other words you need to get your ideas sweat on.

“when you exercise in the gym, your muscles don’t start to  build until you break a sweat. Your metabolism doesn’t improve when you run until you sweat. Your body doesn’t break down the old and build the new until it is sweating. The poisons and toxins in your body don’t leave until you sweat. The same thing happens with the idea muscle. Somewhere around idea number six, your brain starts to sweat. This means it’s building up.  Break through this. Come up with ten ideas”

Don’t worry if you can’t come up with 10, it’s all about getting the pen going. Getting those reps going. Before you know it, you’re an iron man ideas athlete.

I adore Altucher‘s writings, his honesty and outlook on life. I do this muscle tactic every day and it has helped me greatly in my creative life. His full post on the topic is here and I highly recommend his new book which is called Reinvent Yourself

Attention! It’s all about attention

A recent piece from Fast Company highlighted the work of US public radio station WNYC and how they are finding innovative ways to push the medium forward. It’s a great read.

For me though it reinforced the challenge facing radio, with one word jumping off the page.

“ATTENTION”

As audience behaviour changes and becomes more fragmented, you as a broadcaster are now in the attention game, not the radio game. Listeners don’t have time for you unless you bring some value to their lives. You’re background noise.

According to Dean Cappello, WNYC’s executive vice president and chief content officer “You have to fight every moment of the day for somebody’s attention,” Cappello said. “And if you’re not doing that, they’re going to move on to something else.”

He’s right. If you don’t stand out, grab attention and be memorable, it’s over. Forget your closest FM competitor. That doesn’t matter anymore.  You’re up against Netflix, Snapchat, Spotify, You Tube, World of Warcraft & thousands of other outlets fighting for attention.

The positives? In a world of distraction you can be the curator that pulls the best from all the noise. You can be the broadcaster or podcaster that illicit those ‘Me too’ moments that really strengthen that bond between you and the listener. Look at Snapchats biggest stars, they are playing the oldest radio tricks in the book. Storytelling, entertainment and authenticity on a one to one basis. They are grabbing a big % of that attention through building a traditional relationship with the viewer.

So when preparing for your next show, think ‘Attention’. Forget the long rambling links, add some structure and get to the point. Spend that extra hour working on your prep, finding those features that will make you famous for doing. Call a random listener after your show and ask them what they thought, build those relationships. Go deep with your data, use your analytics, what streams worked best, what podcasts got the most downloads, what tested well, you’ll see pretty quickly what’s working and what’s not. How responsive are you? Can you put unique spin on a breaking story? Put aside a day for planning for your next quarter, spending those hours ripping your show apart, amplifying the really great bits and coming up with the ideas that will get you your slice of the attention. I assure you that if you do even a quarter of those things, your show will be instantly better for it.

Now, have I got your attention?

Views expressed do not represent the view of RTÉ. 

Photo: Attention! by msmornington

For a radio duo who know how to grab attention, read my recent post on Hamish & Andy

 

A free content creation masterclass from Hamish & Andy

If you’re a broadcaster or a producer, actually if you’re any type of content creator the 47 minute talk below is essential viewing. It’s a masterclass in content creation and broadcasting from Australian duo Hamish & Andy recorded by Commercial Radio Australia, the national industry body representing Australia’s commercial radio broadcasters.

Hamish & Andy are an Australian comedy duo formed in 2003 by Hamish Blake and Andy Lee. They currently host the radio program ‘Hamish and Andy for The Drive Home’ which airs in Australia nationally on the Hit Network. Masters of grabbing attention and creating a unique connection between them and their listeners, the duo mix traditional radio techniques with sometimes off the walls ideas. When it comes to content creation nothing is impossible.

Grab your favourite beverage of choice, a notebook and take an hour out today to watch this. It’s that good.

2 key takeaways for me. I love their thoughts on being authentic.

“Really the number one critical thing that we always try and make sure we hit and are in check with is that level of authenticity. If, this is just yesterday, sure it’s not the greatest example of all time. I have a chicken suit built that I was very passionate about, but I really wanted that first moment when Andy saw it to be authentic because he … That’s the real reaction. What we’re trying to give, what we try and do in our show in every afternoon is to try and hit that level of authenticity so we’re all enjoying the same moment as the listeners at the same time”

Hamish adds.

“I think, again that the trap to just make sure that nothing goes wrong with it you can fall into is over preparing something and then having to fake or reenact a genuine reaction when it comes around to 4:00 in the afternoon. Trying to keep that authenticity and that realness as a present really that you’re giving the other guy on the show because they’re the funnest moments. When something happens for real, we take that really seriously. I know when I get kicked out of the meeting for half an hour it’s a good thing because I’ll be given some sort of present that afternoon. There can usually be a highly embarrassing situation, but that’s the fun. We know that when 4:00pm happens, we’re not just trying to recreate something funny that happened in the meeting. We’ve saved the fireworks for the afternoon”

According to Andy when it comes to being prepared you have to have balance.

“It’s about finding that magic balance between prep and leaving enough spontaneity in the show. For us, we’ve found there’s sort of 2 ends of the spectrum, over-prepared and not prepared at all. Not prepared at all is also …”

Hamish “Dangerous.”

“Just sailing the ship. It’s about going, and so for our show, and this is different for every show, but for our show, as Sammy would know, you know every mic break, we’ll just have one word or one line of what we want to do in that slot. For us, that works, about 1 sentence to describe 5 minutes of content seems to be about the right ratio for us, but it took a fair bit of trial and error to figure that out”

One of the most inspiring teams in the radio world, I can’t wait to hear what they create in 2017.

MMA Journalist Ariel Helwani on how to kickstart your career

Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing one of the world’s most successful MMA journalists Ariel Helwani for my podcast “The Outerview”. While our conversation was focused mostly on the art of interviewing, Helwani offered some great advice on how to approach potential mentors in media.

“A lot of people do email me and I’m somewhat disheartened if I’m being honest, by what they write. Because they say to me, “I would love to be an MMA journalist, what do I have to do? “,  “Can I come work for you?”, “Can I come work for your site?”, “How did you get started?”, and to me, if I’m going to reach out to someone who I look up to or I want advice from, I will do my research first and I feel like my story has been told enough times now where you can get a sense for “Okay, what was my road to this point”, and maybe then you read the interviews and then maybe you can ask a few follow up questions, but to be honest, when I started that website, it was fairly easy for me to come up with the idea, “Okay, what do I have to do?”

Helwani adds.

“We live in an age where people are accessible, so everyday I decided that I was going to write 30 to 50 Myspace messages,  just wrote to fighters, and you know, if one or two responded, great! Now I have one or two interviews, and all I was trying to do was get one interview out a day, because I love the art of interviewing. I love talking to people. To me, you give me a room with two chairs, a desk, maybe two cups of water, and that to me is the greatest set in the world. I realised that “Okay, let me reach out to these guys and put out these interviews”, and so when people reach out to me, it’s like “Okay, what do you want to do? Be different”. Look at everyone else, be different, what’s your style, and so sometimes I feel like, you know if I’m being honest, I feel like the younger generation is a little lazy and they want someone to just hold their hand and tell them exactly what to do and give them the big opportunity, but it doesn’t work that way. I’m still scratching and clawing. I’m still trying to make it as well. Sometimes it’s good, but sometimes I will say “Oh my gosh, you know, you could’ve looked it up and come at me with some better first questions to make this good first impression”.

It might sound like simple advice but you would be amazed at the amount of media students who reach out to me on a regular basis who want to take the short cut and land the big gig straight out of college. Helwani’s advice of doing your research and figuring out what initial direction you want to take will stand you in good stead. No one is going to hold your hand and give you the big gig. But there are those who will give a helping hand and point you in the right direction. You’re going to have to graft to stand out.

So what’s your first step?

You can hear the full interview with Ariel below or via iTunes here.

How to deal with silence from Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong is one of the most controversial figures in the sporting world. His recent interview on Newstalk’s Off The Ball revealed a fascinating insight into his character, but the 30 minute interview also showcased one incredibly important lesson that has put the fear of god into broadcasters over the years. The fear of silence.

In the clip below listen to an absolute stunning moment (at 11min 40 secs) where interviewer Ger Gilroy asks Armstrong a well researched, smartly constructed, hard hitting question. Armstrong answers, Gilroy not satisfied with the question continues to probe and is greeted by silence.

Now for what feels like an eternity the interviewer could have panicked, broke the tension and tried to approach the question from another angle but didn’t. He was brave enough to use the silence to his advantage and put Armstrong on the back foot. It’s a broadcasting masterclass from Ger Gilroy.

Next time you’re faced with an uncomfortable silence, enjoy it. The world hasn’t stopped, you haven’t committed a broadcasting sin. In fact used sparingly, silence can grab attention and make the listener turn you up. Everyone loves a little bit of tension and in the case of this interview there was only one person who didn’t enjoy the silence and that was Armstrong himself.

Photo by Sebastian David Tingkær

Views expressed do not represent the view of RTÉ.

When Bruce Springsteen wrote a shit song

Irish stand up comedian Des Bishop has recently started his own podcast and it’s a brilliant listen. One of his most recent guests was comedian John Bishop. During the conversation John revealed how Bruce Springsteen inspires him when it comes to creating a new show.

“I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. I read something once, and it’s brilliant. I hope it’s true, because it sums up a lot of what I think. I always have in my mind now, particularly if I’m developing a new show, you’re considering what you’re going to talk about and where it’s going to fit in, from your life and everyone else’s … He wrote a song called “Can’t Have You”. The words of the song are: “I’ve got Rembrandt’s hanging on the wall, but I can’t have you. I’ve got houses across the country, but I can’t have you.” It has something to do with a split with his wife, or whatever, the reasons for the song, but the song was all about, I’ve got more wealth than any man can stand, but I can’t have you.

He played the song for Little Steve Van Zandt. Steve Van Zandt said, “What’s this shit?” He said, “I’m just saying what I’ve got. I’ve got houses across the country. I’ve got Rembrandts on the wall. I’ve got cars.” He said, “Why are you singing about that?” He said, “That’s what I’ve got. I’ve got this, but I’m splitting up with my wife.” He said, “Why are you telling everyone what you’ve got?” “That’s life replied Springsteen.” Van Zandt then says “They don’t want you to tell them about your life. They want you to tell them about their life”

He adds.

“That is what you’ve got to have. Sometimes if you’ve never been at that position … For me, if you want to talk about class or life experience, the more experience you’ve got, the more you can relate to a wider audience of people”

That line “they don’t want you to tell them about your life. They want you to tell them about their life” says so much. John’s observation is bang on, it’s not what you share from your life, it’s how you share it. Remember that line next time you’re looking for relatable content to cut through, it will serve you well, time and time again.

To hear the full podcast listen here I highly recommend Des’s conversation with Jason Byrne. An hour of incredible storytelling.

Springsteen Picture by Shayne Kaye

Views expressed do not represent the view of RTÉ.

Waiting to be picked for that perfect presenter role?

Are you waiting for the phone to ring? Waiting to be chosen for that perfect role?

I just finished a wonderful book called “The Art of Creative Thinking” written by Rod Jenkins. One chapter “Be a generator” tells the story of an actor who hates having to audition because his fate was in other peoples hands. He realised it would be smarter to try and create a role and not wait for a director to pick one for him. The actor discovered an interesting book about a boxer that he thought could be the perfect vehicle for his talents. He believed this story needed to be told and he was the actor that would play him. After carrying the story around for months and showing it to an endless amount of people he eventually convinced a producer to finance the film and get it made. The story was Raging Bull, the actor was Robert De Niro. The rest they say is history.

Jenkins advice is clear.

“To produce anything worthwhile , you have to be proactive and generate it, not sit around and wait”

So if you are waiting for a producer to hand you that presenting role then you may be waiting a while. Here lies the beauty of podcasting. Create the show you would like to present. Get it out there and let the world hear it. Otherwise it will stay in your head and that’s never a great place to live.

Still waiting?

Go!

Photo by Jonathan Velasquez

What makes James Corden’s content such a success?

James Corden and the executive producers of ‘The Late Late Show’ Ben Winston, Mike Gibbons and Rob Crabbe understand how creative content works. In 17 months his show’s YouTube channel has attracted 7 million subscribers and notched up 1.7bn views worldwide, while his Britney Spears Carpool Karaoke is set to become the 33rd YouTube clip from the show to hit 10m+ views. In other words they understand the workings of a good feature and the needs of the viewer. In a recent interview in the Guardian newspaper Corden revealed a key point that as a content maker you should revisit time and time again.

“There’s a great bit in that Jerry Seinfeld doc where someone asks him if being famous helps with doing standup and trying new material, and he says: ‘I get three minutes of good grace from an audience whereas someone else gets 30 seconds, “We very much felt that we just had 30 seconds. So we knew we had to put a stake in the ground early and go: ‘We are a show where people come and do stuff.’ 

He adds.

“I genuinely couldn’t tell you how many people watch our show, because I feel like in this slot we’re not really in the ratings business, we’re just in the relevance business. My major ambition is just to stay relevant.”

Corden’s features always have a simple premise. He always gets straight to the point and he hops on relevant zeitgeist news stories straight away, putting his unique spin on them.

Audiences don’t want to waste time. How much grace have you earned?

You can read the full interview here

Views expressed do not represent the view of RTÉ.

Radio, Snapchat and Instagram’s ‘Stories’

Recently I had a lengthily conversation with an experienced broadcaster who was surprised about the amount of attention certain snapchat influencers were getting and what did they had to do to increase their own views.

I politely suggested that why not try and do what worked for them on the radio. Why not be themselves and be completely open with the audience? For that’s why certain Snapchat stars are blazing a trail online.

Snapchat and now Instagram’s ‘Stories’ are truly a platform for authenticity. Just like radio it’s a real personal connection between you and the viewer. You can use cool filters and face changing accompanying apps but it’s real hook is that the content is ‘in the moment’ and then disappears. Listeners can get a real sense of a presenters life, a real relatable view and isn’t that what we strive for on-air?? It also doesn’t waste your time, one tap of the screen and you move to next snap. Like a good link you just get straight to the point.

To cut through on social you must speak in your true voice. Like radio the broadcasters who really stand out are those who put it all on the line. Are you willing to do that? Because if you are, you could be the next great radio star.

Views expressed do not represent the view of RTÉ. Photo by Maurizio Pesce