Five Tools In-Depth: Charisma

Charisma is the least tangible of Growcasting’s Five Tools of Effective Broadcasting, but it carries equal importance.  If structure is what glues the physical elements of a broadcast together, charisma and energy are what bind the other four tools together.

Growcasting’s mission is to help every baseball broadcaster improve.  Your development should be an ongoing process, but strong charisma will allow your tools to play above their present capabilities.

Your charisma is essentially a representation of your on-air personality, which is what makes the tool more difficult to fully define than the other four.  Effective accuracy, mechanics, quality of information, and structure are easily measurable, but there is a much wider range of what a listener would accept as “effective charisma.”  In other words, a listener will determine that your information is either accurate or inaccurate.  That same listener, however, might be willing to connect with several different broadcasting styles.

Growcasting breaks charisma into three categories: Excitability, Captivation, and Listenability.  All three have a direct impact on how much the listener will enjoy your broadcast.

Ultimately, you need to develop a personality that is authentic, resonates with your listeners, and that you are comfortable with.  Nevertheless, if you can become proficient in excitability, captivation, and listenability, you are very likely to maximize the number of listeners who are willing to tune in night after night.

And remember, as is the case with everything that transpires on a baseball field, just because something cannot be precisely measured does not mean that item is dismissible or unimportant.

Excitability applies to your play-by-play descriptions and is the element that will determine how memorable a specific call becomes in the mind of the listener.  The tone and pitch in your voice should escalate accordingly with the most exciting moments in the game.  Obviously, you never want to sound over-the-top where your voice is bordering on screaming and your decibel meter is locked “in the red.”  A home run in the fifth inning of a 10-0 game should never approach the excitement level of a game-winning home run in a playoff game.

With that being said, your play-by-play needs to maintain a base level of up-tempo cadence to satisfy the listener.  Sounding too bombastic is going to agitate the listener, but that same fifth-inning home run in the 10-0 game still deserves a quality call.  The final few innings of a blowout game are not an excuse for a broadcaster to sound like they are being inconvenienced.  This is one of the most enjoyable professions in the world, and the broadcasters who genuinely sound like they enjoy what they are doing at all times–regardless of the score–are the broadcasters who relate best to their listeners.

For those of you who are hockey fans, it’s very similar to comparing a puck possession strategy to a defensive or “trap” strategy.  Both methods can get the job done, but a fast-paced, puck possession game is more entertaining for the fans.  The broadcaster who maintains an up-tempo cadence for nine innings will retain more listeners than the slower-paced broadcaster who goes several consecutive at bats calling only the pitches and batted balls.

We are not suggesting that you broadcast at a frenetic pace.  There has to be a balance when it comes to your excitement level.  However, a reduced tempo can put the listener into a lull, which might lead to the listener turning off the broadcast altogether.  A slower pace also has the compound effect of limiting the time you have between pitches to incorporate all of your supplemental information.  In our discussion on structure, we explained that this very scenario can deny the listener something that might have made their experience more enjoyable.

Captivation is measured by how well you can keep the listener engaged or “hooked” on your broadcast, regardless of the score.  If it’s a one-run game in the ninth inning, the tension and anticipation associated with the potential for a dramatic ending will be enough to keep the listener engaged as long as you can execute basic mechanics.

Not every game comes down to the wire, though, so how do you keep the listener engaged during a blowout?  First, you need to accept the fact that in a lopsided game, you will inevitably lose a portion of your listeners.  Some of these might even be die-hard fans who enjoy your broadcasts, but if the outcome of the game appears determined, it’s perfectly understandable if a listener chooses to spend their valuable time on more pressing matters.

The goal is to not provide the rest of your listeners with a reason to turn off their radios.  While some listeners will move on during a blowout, there are just as many, if not more, who love their home team so much that they want to enjoy the entire broadcast.  This is where your quality of information and your ability to readily access that information truly become pivotal.

The game might get out of hand quickly, but if you’re aware of every relevant storyline (which can be accomplished through a storyline sheet outlined in our discussion on structure), you can still keep your audience captivated.  A player could be on the verge of a major milestone, or needs a hit in his final at bat to prolong a 30-game hitting streak.  Blowout scores usually involve at least one or two “big time” performances, so a player might be challenging a league or team single-game record.  Maybe a batter is just a single away from hitting for the cycle.  If you’re on top of these details, you will keep the listener engaged longer than you could have ever thought possible in a game where the score is no longer close.

Our definition of listenability might seem remedial, but it’s extremely accurate: Are you easy to listen to?  When the answer is “yes,” it’s one of the greatest compliments a broadcaster can receive.  If the answer is “no,” then how much does anything else really matter?  If you are easy to listen to, you have essentially provided the listener with zero reason to turn off their radio.

For a tool that is already intangible, listenability is the most intangible of our three components that make up a broadcaster’s charisma.  One of the best ways to gauge your listenability is to evaluate how a listener comes away following a lengthy broadcast.  You’re on the right track if feedback sounds something like, “that was a four-hour game, but it didn’t feel like I was listening for four hours.”  This means you have rewarded the listener’s valuable time with a consistently smooth tempo, exciting descriptions, and plenty of high-quality information.

The seamlessness of your transitions from play-by-play to supplemental information play a large role in your listenability.  This was also outlined during our feature on the structure tool.  The more disjointed and staccato your transitions, the more difficult it will be for the listener to follow along.  Aim for having “two separate, but distinguishably articulate conversations at once.”

We mentioned earlier that your on-air personality has to be authentic.  You really need to sound genuinely excited when something exciting takes place.  A similar level of energy should be channeled when the opposing team does something noteworthy.  This doesn’t mean you have to sound more excited for the opposition than your own team, but every significant play deserves an honest call.  The “aw shucks” approach when calling a big play for the other team is amateurish at best, and childish at worst.

Finally, make sure you broadcast with confidence and conviction.  Do not fear making mistakes once you’re on the air.  Mistakes are acceptable as long as they are not self-inflicted, and you are accountable to the listener when they happen.  A timid personality will be exposed very quickly, so invest the time required to sharpen all five of your tools, and watch both your confidence and overall quality of broadcast improve as a result.

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