(By Jeff McHugh) On a multi-person broadcast or podcast, do all hosts get equal airtime? Who should talk more? Who should talk less? Whose mic should be turned off most of the time?
Mic balance is often an underappreciated subject when launching a new show or when reviving an underperforming one.
The best shows today are ensemble casts based on interaction, chemistry, and conflict. Just like your favorite Netflix series or situation comedy. Think of the old Seinfeld show as an example.
Jerry Seinfeld’s name was on the show, but he was smart to share the glory with talented stars playing Elaine, Kramer, and George. Think back now on why that was such a smart move.
• Imagine watching a Seinfeld episode where Jerry did 90% of the talking while the others just stood there.
• Imagine an episode where Kramer didn’t burst chaotically through the door, and was not on the show at all.
• Imagine if 90% of the show focused on a tertiary character like Soup Nazi and you saw much less of the regular cast.
Your show will perform best when your cast works together, sharing mic time consistently throughout every segment in a way that serves the content.
The three most common mic balance trouble spots are:
1. Over-dominant quarterback. One host is absorbing over 60-70% of the word count.
2. Silent or background co-hosts. A player is not contributing or only providing one-word/short interjections.
3. Weak B players. Too much airtime devoted to interns, producers, or random guests diminishes time for your stars.
If you encounter those issues, here are some effective solutions to consider:
Hand-off. Like in American football, a good quarterback passes to other players. You can do the same sort of thing to change the monologue and add energy.
Consider delegating teases, setups, contest explanations, station/show name, slogan, back-sells, and other mechanics. Split anchor duties on news, celebrity headline features, etc.
Plan together to play together. Involve every player in show preparation. If you have a role in choosing content, you are more likely to participate with passion. Discuss mic order — who is speaking first, second, last, etc. — before airtime.
Cut some mics off. Too many players can make conversations difficult to follow, and those players are likely not as entertaining as the main stars. Clear the studio and only use B players briefly and intentionally.
Show up. Respect your team and get your butt in your seat. If the show starts at 6:00, have headphones on by 5:59 or earlier. If the on-air light goes on and you are chatting with a sales rep in the hall, your interaction is missing and show chemistry suffers.
Avoid mowing the same grass twice. Over-dominant hosts often reiterate what has already been said. They sometimes take conversational side roads or zig zag. Eliminate excess verbiage and go in a straight line to create space for co-hosts to interact.
Listen. Follow the half-second rule: Pause before you respond to minimize talk-over and interruptions. Be aware that men interrupt women more often and that female audiences definitely notice when it happens (and not in a good way.)
Don’t change the show for guests. Have all your players interact during interviews, and make guests a contributing part of your show instead of turning your program over to them.
Jeff McHugh is a member of the team at the Randy Lane Company.