Talk radio is among the best potential venues for groups to shift public opinion and one where everyone can learn to be effective. A bit of preparation will make get your message out.
- Familiarize yourself with the program before calling in (especially if you don’t like the host). If you expect the host might be antagonistic, it’s especially important to know some point of agreement you can use as a “launching pad.”
- Cater to the audience. Speak their language and from their perspective unless you deliberately want to provoke them.
- Focus on one main message (and make the messages and framing consistent across the members of your group or coalition).
- Stories/emotion + facts/reason = persuasion. Try to quickly integrate an element of each, especially if your audience is not already on your side. In that situation especially, a compelling story is more powerful than facts.
- Know your sources. If you are going to assert a fact, be prepared cite to a source that is respected by that show’s audience (don’t cite Fox News when appearing on a progressive station or The Nation when calling into Rush Limbaugh).
- Practice your 30-50 second pitch out loud. Repeat until you can do it smoothly and comfortably. Keep a few bullet points (not a script) in front of you if that helps (no one will see you looking!).
- Be concise and direct. Prepare to make your best case quickly (most callers on most shows get less than one minute), but speak in real sentences, not just sound bites. Skip “how are you doing?” and pleasantly go straight to the topic.
- Be prepared for the screener. If the show is open to all views or the host is sympathetic, just make your quick pitch. If you don’t normally hear views that dissent from the hosts’, be aware that you may need to bluff to get on the air. In this case, starting with a point of agreement with host can be critical.
- Make sure you have time and a headset or speakerphone for the wait (but take it off once the screener cues you unless it’s a good one). Be prepared to wait for long periods before getting on the air. And turn off your radio when cued by the screener!
- Listen to the show from the start, if possible, when you plan to call. Get in the queue early. At the least listen from the start of the hour so you know the theme and what’s been said recently.
- Direct people to your preferred source for more information and action. Articulate it clearly. If not well known, repeat it if possible.
- Close with a clear call to action (if applicable).
- Try humor and modesty when trying to persuade others.
- Use a calm, confident voice. Practicing your pitch makes this easier. A positive tone attracts people to your ideas.
- Avoid long pauses. Hosts hate dead air.
- Remember your real target: the listeners. Don’t get caught in trying to “win” an argument. Focus on the message you want the listeners to take away or the action you want them to take.
- Befriend the host. Even host with starkly differing views may come to appreciate a respectful and well-prepared antagonist. Pay them a genuine compliment when possible and let them know you listen.
- Take notes a soon as you hang up to improve your performance next time.
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