10 Takeaways From 10 Years Of Radio Coaching


(By Jeff McHugh) There I sat in a squeaky studio chair behind the board at WMTY 1090 in my college town of Greenwood, South Carolina. Twenty years old, responsible for signing on the little 1000-watt AM transmitter. Every day, I would lean into the Sennheiser mic and try with all my might to emulate my morning radio heroes.

I would have been a huge success as an entertainer. There was only one thing holding me back: I am not funny.

I began exploring different paths. Having studied management at Lander, I got a job as an Assistant Program Director, and to my surprise, people began saying I had a knack for coaching.

I set a goal to one day be an outstanding VP of Programming like Guy Zapoleon or a renowned talent coach like Randy Lane. And boom — here I am. This month marks ten years of working in my dream job. Lucky me.

It turns out that the same philosophies that I follow in coaching broadcast talent work equally well in coaching CEOs, VPs, and executives outside of media. For the last seven years, I have also trained people at companies like Apple, Google, Mastercard, and Delta in public speaking and leadership presence at Lifehikes.

Thinking back on a decade of fun and laughs, the successes and the wisdom that comes from falling flat on one’s face, I have been considering how to describe my way of encouraging and guiding talent. Here are ten coaching principles that work for me.

  1. Talk less. I try to shut up and keep my word count low. When I get them talking through an idea, the people I coach work through their learning faster. Concise coaching is also clearer and easier to adopt.
  2. Ask instead of telling. I could say, “You should tease upcoming content more.” Or I could ask, “What do you think would be a good way to let audiences know something great is coming in the next segment so they might stick around?” Inquiry works better than assertion. I call it the Jeopardy coaching theory, like the TV game show where answers have to be in the form of a question.
  3. Everyone is out of their mind. This applies to management as well as talent. As a follower of psychologist Albert Ellis, I have found it helpful to accept that humans behaving irrationally is normal and nothing to get upset about. It is also OK when I sometimes behave irrationally.
  4. You are not managing people. You are managing emotions. Motivation comes from emotion. Learning begins with emotion. People connect or divide based on emotion. Positive emotions are motivating. Negative emotions like fear and anxiety are demotivating.
  5. Assume positive intent. Consider the possibility that each person and each team might be doing their very best. When you start with that mindset, people sense it. Assuming laziness, stubbornness, or other negative motivations until proven irrefutable is ineffective.
  6. Guide people to universal truths. The written-in-stone principles behind great radio and podcast content are also true in Shakespeare, stand-up comedy, Oscar-winning motion pictures, and other great content. The other stuff is a grey area and unimportant.
  7. Coach authentically. My friends at Dick Broadcasting used to call me “The Dork.” My geeky, over-the-top enthusiasm is easy to make fun of and I used to hide that side of myself while coaching. I later discovered that authentic passion is contagious and now I let my dweeb flag fly. Be yourself.
  8. Never give up on someone. 99% of the people I coach collaborate well and we work together on improvements as their ratings increase. Occasionally I encounter resistance to change. I learned to temper my internal frustration, modulate my impatience, and like rock water wear them down gradually with time and gentle pressure.
  9. Ask, how can I help you? As a leader, we sometimes do not get feedback from our teams. It has been surprising how many people say they were helped by coaching exercises that I believed were not effective.
  1. I never think I am great. If I sweat and give a maximum 110% effort to the point of exhaustion I sometimes reach “adequate” and occasionally “good” at facilitating training.

I have ten more, even better tips on coaching to share with you but I will save them for my 20th anniversary.

Jeff McHugh is known for developing remarkable talent for both morning and afternoon drive. He brings an uncommon mix of positivity, creativity, and strategy to the shows that he coaches. He is a member of the team at the Randy Lane Company. Reach Jeff at [email protected] and read his Radio Ink archives here.


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