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Making it personal

BY TY STOCKTON
One of the most important rules for both broadcasting and writing is to make your material resonate with your audience. It has to strike a chord for every individual who is listening or reading. If it doesn’t, channels will change or magazines will be put down.
(For the sake of simplicity, please note that the following relates both to writing for newspapers and magazines and to speaking on the airwaves. I’ll focus on the broadcast side, but the same principles apply to writing, as well.)
No matter what you’re talking about, you have to find a way to phrase it so it becomes personal to each individual listener. For some stories, that’s easier. In a story about an increase in hunting license fees, you can explain how many fewer boxes of shells a hunter could buy if the increase goes into effect. A story about the population of wolves in northwestern Wyoming could focus on trends showing a decrease in hunter success for elk, or it could talk about an increase in tourism spending and the resulting benefits for business owners in Jackson and Cody.
You might have more difficulty making other stories interesting to your listeners, especially if you don’t have good guests or interviews for your week’s shows. All of us have experiences of our own we think might be of interest to our listeners, but they have to be more than just an unrelatable anecdote, at least from the listener’s perspective. And more importantly, you really don’t want to come off as a know-it-all blow-hard.
The easiest way to avoid that is to allow an expert to do the talking. Any radio show, whether it’s a two-minute segment or a full four-hour program, benefits from good, engaging guests. The guest is the expert on the topic at hand; he or she can speak about the issue or the activity, and your job is simply to guide the conversation to areas that will be particularly interesting to your listeners.
But what if your topic or your program doesn’t lend itself to guest interviews? Or what if your guest turns out to be a dud? In some situations, you may be called on to do the bulk of the talking. If so, there are a number of techniques you can use.
HUMOR: Injecting a little comedy into a topic works wonders to help you hold a listener’s attention. Even the driest subjects can hold some humor, if you know where to look. The great Patrick F. McManus mentions in his writing guide, “The Deer on a Bicycle,” that even in his days covering straight news stories, he tried to find humorous angles to keep the reader reading.
One of my favorite types of humor is self-deprecation. When you have to be the one talking about a topic but can’t find an expert to be the voice for the topic, you can easily sound like the self-appointed expert. To avoid this, poke a little fun at yourself. Everyone has failed at something, and outdoor pursuits like camping, hunting and fishing are more apt to produce these failures than many other activities. Instead of telling my listeners how to make the perfect fly-cast, I tend to explain why the back of my neck is scarred from a lifetime of waiting too long to transfer from the back-cast to the fore-cast. While this is a good technique to avoid sounding like a know-it-all, you need to avoid damaging your credibility. Don’t overdo it. You don’t want to be known as the bumbling idiot of the outdoor world.
PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: There are times when you might be the best source for the topic you’re talking about. Don’t be afraid to use your personal experiences in your show. Tell about how you built your snow cave. Talk about the sneak you put on that pronghorn buck, and the challenges you ran into as you belly-crawled the last 100 yards. When you do, make sure it doesn’t become a brag session. Use some humorous or self-deprecating techniques, if possible.
Be sure to speak about those experiences in a way the listener can understand — and more importantly, identify with. Find balance between the details of the story as it related to you and the broad, less individualized, topic you’re discussing. Meet it in the middle, where both you and your listeners live. ◊
A member since 2001, Ty Stockton has also served on the OWAA board of directors. Stockton hails from Cheyenne, Wyo. A boyhood living a stone’s throw from the Wind River in central Wyoming ruined him for any productive, meaningful indoor occupations. He is a freelance writer, photographer and radio host. Contact him at stockyty@ gmail.com.

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