The Likability Factor

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(By Randy Lane) There’s an adage in the film and television business that “if we don’t care about the characters, nothing else matters.” That holds true for radio and podcast shows as well. The likability factor is key to the audience caring about characters from the sweetest to the most lecherous and everyone in between.

We all have endearing characteristics that make us likable, but it’s the quirks and flaws that humanize us. It’s ironic that admitting and owning our flaws also makes us more likable.

Screenwriting and storytelling guru, Robert McKee stresses the importance of a character’s “skewed opposites” to connect emotionally with an audience. The familiar James Bond character illustrates this concept:

Endearing Characteristics                             Quirks/Flaws
Cool and confident                                            Arrogant
The good guy fighting evildoers                        Violent killer
Healthy and fit                                                   Guzzles martinis

Edgy Characters

Throughout Howard Stern’s career, he has said inappropriate things about people at inappropriate times, yet he has remained popular and likable. His secret is authenticity and self-deprecation. I often tell edgy characters, “If you’re going to be a jerk, be a likable jerk.”

Flawed Characters

People are attracted to flawed characters with redeeming characteristics because they’re relatable. In the RLC character definition exercise, many talents only want to highlight their positive qualities. Only having positive characteristics diminishes authenticity and likability because it’s not believable. So, we mine for the quirks and flaws that personify a personality in an authentic way.

Bob Odenkirk’s Better Call Saul character is loaded with flaws, yet we still like him even though he’s shady and makes bad choices. Why? Because he’s also funny and cares deeply for the people he loves.

Enhancing Your Likability

Here are 10 ways to establish and deepen your likability:

  1. Authenticity: Being real exceeds all attributes in creating likability. Self-deprecating humor is one of the best ways to establish instant likability. Being vulnerable is difficult for many talents, yet it’s a powerful way to connect with an audience, and it’s highly memorable.If it’s difficult for you to express your emotions on radio or on a podcast, practice it in your everyday life. Start by expressing feelings that are less uncomfortable before moving to the deeper level of vulnerability.

    Caution: New talents have to be careful being vulnerable too early. The audience needs time to get to know you before they can care about you.

  2. Relevance: Plan content around the interests, needs, and wants of your target audience.
  3. Empathy: Displaying empathy toward your cast members, callers, listeners, and people in stories resonate with the audience.
  4. Active listening will not only make you a more entertaining personality and better conversationalist, but it also heightens your likability.
  5. Apologize quickly when you do something inappropriate, or you state a viewpoint that turns out to be wrong. Fred Jacobs eloquently demonstrates this point in a recent blog.
  6. Humor rounds off the edge of controversial personalities and a smile in your voice when you’re being sarcastic or edgy maintain listener approval.
  7. Be inclusive: Reserve the word “I” to being self-deprecating, vulnerable, and factual in a story. Use inclusive words often like you, your, we, us, and our/ours.
  8. Curiosity: Ask questions as much as you make statements. To show that you care and are not flying by the seat of your pants, ask questions first before presenting your viewpoint.
  9. Open body language instantly disarms people and displays trust.
  10. Optimism and enthusiasm are infectious and make people feel good or better.

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