In what seems like a lifetime ago, I was once deeply-entrenched in the radio industry. Graduated from college with a certificate in radio broadcasting, where I specialized in on-air announcing. For a few months, you could hear me on the radio doing the overnight shift and the weather on weekends at a country radio station.
Though I’m far removed from the radio industry nowadays, many of the skills have proven useful outside of the industry. Having trained to speak on the air has gone a long way towards being able to communicate better as a human being. These days, it’s helped give me a sense of direction for how to approach my on-camera presence when I’m streaming.
More than a game
In the world of radio, there is a lot of musical crossover between stations. Want to hear that new Ariana Grande jam? You can probably find five stations in your area playing it at any given time. The phenomenon is even more extreme on Twitch or any other streaming platform. For the most popular games, viewers can tune into one of thousands of live channels or countless VODs for a glimpse at the title of their choice.
With so many options, gameplay is not a true differentiator unless you’re not among the best in the world at said game. For the rest of us common folk, viewers will stay because of what we add on top of the gameplay. This could be anything from your ability to hold a conversation, to the attractiveness of your physical appearance, to your penchant to rage when you lose, the way you freak out during a jump scare, or any other variable that you add to the mix. The power of what you add is so strong, that viewers will even come back even when you’re bad at the game if they like you as a person enough.
Radio knows this too. My mom could listen to her favourite music on a number of different stations when she drives to work, but she’s listened to the same station for decades because she enjoys listening to the banter between the particular morning show hosts on that station. She can’t get that anywhere else. What do I have to offer that no one else can? That’s a question I’m constantly wrestling with.
You’ve got a friend in me
When I went to school for radio broadcasting, one of the words that kept coming up as we learned how to be on-air personalities was “companionship”. Great announcers have the ability to make you feel like you’re talking to a friend, even though the communication is one-way and they’re talking to thousands of people at once. They end up becoming a part of your life, as you listen to them during your commute, at the office, or as part of a podcast that you listen to at your leisure. The music will constantly change, but listeners will keep coming back to listen to the banter from their favourite on-air personalities.
That element of companionship is just as important, if not more so with streaming. Unless I’m the best player in the world at something, they won’t come back to watch me play just for what I offer as a gamer. They come back because of how I enrich their lives as a companion. Whether I have their undivided attention, or I’m on in the background, we’re in this together. My experience in radio has helped me understand this phenomenon and adjust my presentation to best fit this format.
Unlike radio, viewers have the ability to directly communicate with me, taking companionship to a whole other level. I’ve come to realize that streaming is way more than just getting people to watch me play games. It’s about the community that forms around the channel. We all get to know each other and build bonds with each other, which is satisfying for all involved when it clicks.
More than just follows and views, I’m looking to build a relationship with you. It’s amazing when weeks or months later, we can continue conversation threads about each other’s lives that may or may not have anything to do with gaming. Even if you’re lurking, I hope I can be a friend to you in some form.
Master of Ceremonies
While the best radio announcers always sound natural, they put a lot of work into their talking segments. A lot of research takes place, drawing from many different sources for material. They they put thought into how they’re going to bring up those points, what their stance is, and how they make that entertaining for their listeners.
As a streamer, you have to be prepared to talk as well. The big difference is that radio hosts can put together tightly-planned segments that maybe go for a minute or two max. When you’re streaming, you need to carry a non-stop conversation for hours at a time. Simply reacting to the gameplay isn’t entertaining enough to entertain.
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Early on, I tried to make mental notes of things to talk about. However, I’d usually forget them, and the parts I did remember weren’t nearly enough. These days, I keep a notebook with me, writing down anything that could be worth discussing on stream, from gaming news, pop culture events, world news, personal anecdotes, and more.
One piece of advice that’s always stuck with me is, “Know a little bit about as much as possible.” Having at least a surface-level knowledge in as many different things helps you keep the conversation fresh, better prepares you when viewers go out in left field with a question, and makes you look smarter overall (without having to put in the effort to actually be smarter). On certain days, the natural flow of conversation with viewers will carry itself. But when the chat needs a nudge, I try to be ready with something for us to talk about.
The best radio broadcasters aren’t just booming voices that introduce the songs you’re about to hear. They’re humans like us, who share with us their wide range of emotions, their own unique perspective on the world, and a lifetime of stories to share. It takes a lot of effort and trust in yourself to open up that way, especially in a public venue. But when people listen to the radio, these are the things that make them connect with their audience.
Same principle applies for video games. Unless you’re one of the best gamers in the world, you can’t carry a show by being a game playing robot. Similarly, they don’t want to see you as being happy all the time or angry all the time.
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Of course, you should be mindful of your privacy, but viewers want you to be human. They want to see your range of emotions, especially if something in the moment is making you feel a certain way. They want your thoughts and opinions on topics related to and unrelated to games. They want to hear your stories! If you’ve tuned into one of my streams before, you know I lean heavily on story time. Opening up your heart goes a long way towards having others open their hearts for you.
My past experiences with radio have given me a starting point, but there’s much work to be done if I want to be the best streamer I can be. I’m still trying to get a grasp on how to be a compelling personality and worthy friend while playing games at the same time. There are still a lot of nuances to interactions on Twitch that I’m figuring out. And I’m still coming to grips with shifting my mindset from, “Watch me play video games!”, to “Let’s hang out!”, which is more in line with where I think streaming is right now. I may never offer a stream with high-level play in any game, but I’m willing to take lessons from everywhere in order to be a better streamer and a better friend.
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