Clubhouse moderator and producer strategies from the world of live radio

Part 2 of our series exploring the shared techniques and strategies between Clubhouse and live radio.

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We’ve reconvened our panel of live radio experts to share their accumulated wisdom about what makes for a great host (moderator), what common hosting pitfalls to avoid, and why the role of a producer for a live audio show is vital.

What are the qualities of a fantastic live audio host/moderator?

The best live radio hosts I’ve worked with are incredibly quick and nimble, often mind-blowingly so. They are able to be in the moment and yet aware of what moment is coming next. They can transition out of one conversation into another and handle an awkward pause. Being able to do all that with a sense of humour, generosity, and humility is next level. The ability to connect quickly with all kinds of people (the breadth of people mingling and interacting on Clubhouse at any given time is stunning) and make them feel at ease is also key. It’s worth keeping in mind that these skills come easy for some and for others they are muscles you can build.
— Tori Allen, Showrunner

A fantastic live radio host is many things, but ultimately they represent the listener in the interview. A host is always thinking about what the listener needs from the conversation. A listener needs to be engaged, entertained and included. So a great radio host not only understands the needs of the listener but how their conversation with the guest can meet those needs.
— Erin Pettit, Showrunner

A great audio host isn’t listening to what the guest is saying. She is also listening to how the conversation is going. She is listening to a producer offering direction. She is listening to where her script needs to get to next. Now, with all that, obviously maintaining an engaged, honest connection with the guest is paramount — but the host’s brain has to also curate the entire session to drive the conversation, and the story, to the ultimate point.
— Dominic Girard, Showrunner

Someone who is able to have their ears on multiple voices at once — the guest, the producer, their own instincts. Plus, be engaging and connected and able to react to the unexpected with equanimity and good humour and ensure that both the guests and the listeners know they’re in safe hands.
— Alison Broverman, Showrunner

Showrunners, Dominic Girard, Alison Broverman, and Erin Pettit.

A great host has a personality. You’re not just reading questions off a script. You have a connection to the topic. It means something to you. Some hosts like to inject their own perspective and opinion into an interview. Others prefer to stay neutral and act more as moderators or a stand-in for the listener. But every good host is quick to veer from their “scripted” questions and follow their curiosity at the right moment.
— Liz Hames, Showrunner

The late Peter Gzowski had a mantra: “I steer, you paddle.” The best live audio hosts chart a course and steer for the benefit of everyone in the canoe: the hosts, guests, and audience.
— Dan Misener, Director of Audience Development

We often teach hosts to imagine the listeners on the other end of the radio or the headphones and ask the questions that they would want the answers to. It’s limiting and harmful to imagine all your listeners are CIS, white, or able-bodied, for example. A host who can imagine the diversity of people listening and imagine what questions they need to be asking is going to be so valuable and powerful going forward. Currently, Clubhouse is a barrier for people who are HoH (Hard of Hearing) or deaf.
— Tori Allen, Showrunner

Showrunners Liz Hames and Tori Allen
What are the biggest challenges that a relatively new live audio host should watch out for?

Moderation. Have a plan going in as to how you’re going to moderate comments and contributions. How are you going to keep the conversation from going off on a bunch of different tangents? Or would you like to encourage tangents? What will you do if someone’s comments don’t meet your standards? How are you going to communicate these standards to your listeners?
— Liz Hames, Showrunner

Rabbit holes and self-indulgence are potential traps for any host. We all have our own interests, and sometimes these can veer a conversation into the weeds. It’s a fine but distinct line between showing who we are as a host and hijacking a conversation. A question line can save you by giving your interview a clear path to follow. It’s okay to veer a bit — and important to do so — but you need to know when to get back on track. Always have a clear destination.
— Erin Pettit, Showrunner

Don’t assume that just because you’re on-air and you have someone to talk to that it’s going to be interesting. There’s a difference between a conversation and an interview — and each requires a different set of skills and a clear plan.
— Dominic Girard, Showrunner

Research and guest preparation is invaluable. For traditional live radio, this is often the task of a producer, but the host needs to know what perspectives and sensitivities guests might bring to a panel or a solo interview.
— Tori Allen, Showrunner

Most live radio shows have producers as well as hosts. It seems like most big Clubhouse rooms have the same function. What should producers be watching out for during a live audio show?

The relationship between a host and a producer is one based on trust. Let your host know that “you got this”. Put out any fires as they come up (have a plan for inevitable technical failure or guests that don’t show up or don’t answer the phone). Have a backup plan to your backup plan. The host is the “face” of the show. It’s their reputation on the line. They need to know that you as the producer are going to do everything in your power to make them look great. Check and double-check the pronunciation of names and words your host may not be familiar with. Pronouncing someone’s name wrong is the fastest way to lose your credibility on air. The same goes for titles and important details — make sure you have it right!
— Liz Hames, Showrunner

It’s okay if the conversation deviates from the script… that’s the magic. But does the host look like they’re still in control, or are they feeling a little lost? A good producer has a way to communicate with the host and has developed a protocol for how much she should be sending notes to help right the ship. A good producer is also listening to what the guest is saying and helps direct the show and adapt the q-line (I.e. “cut this question,” “already answered,” “go back and probe that bit,” “this guy is lost let’s wrap this up,” “go to another guest”).
— Dominic Girard, Showrunner

Have an exit strategy. Everyone always thinks about a great opener for live programming, and that hook to keep people listening off the top. That’s hugely important, but the way you wrap is just as important. It is the final impression you leave with a group of people you’re trying to build a relationship with. Regardless of whether you have an exact timeframe in mind or are playing things by ear with your live show, plan out what you want or need to communicate to your audience and guests to bring the experience to a satisfying close. If things go well with your show, this puts a bow on it. If a conversation fizzles, or participation isn’t what you thought, you don’t want to communicate that to your audience by shutting things down in a way that just comes out of nowhere. Best to end on an intentional and graceful “til we meet again.” That way, no one feels like their time with you ended with an awkward clunk.
— Karen Burgess, Executive in Charge of People & Development

Dan Misener and Karen Burgess

As a live producer, you are there to help the host be as “in the moment” as possible. It’s your job to time out the show and have suggestions on where to trim — always provide solutions, the host has enough on her plate. You can also help your host notice dynamics, for example, if another guest is eager to talk or someone is fading out of a group conversation. It may also be your job to monitor social media and feed questions or comments into the live discussion.
— Tori Allen, Showrunner

The other pieces in this Clubhouse series are:
  • Part 1 focuses on pre-show preparation.
  • Part 3 explores question lines and strategies and how to prepare your guests before the show.
  • Part 4 deals with managing issues during the live show itself, from bad guests to resetting the room.

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