Al Michaels, TV vs Radio, and Phrases vs Sentences

I love podcasts, and listen to a wide range of them: sports, news, politics, crime drama, entertainment… you name it. I love the easy access and the escapism of a good podcast.

One of my favorites is called Smartless which is cohosted by Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes and Will Arnett, three celebrities who are good buddies and have a really comfortable banter. In a recent episode they interviewed the famous sports announcer Al Michaels, who has been one of the “voices of American sports” for decades. Every sports fan will remember Michaels’ most famous call, in 1980, the “miracle on ice” olympic hockey game, something that I have written about before.

In this Smartless interview, Michaels was talking about the art of broadcasting, and he made a fascinating comparison between TV broadcasting (where the audience can see the game for themselves), and radio broadcasting (where the audience cannot). I won’t make the point any better than Michaels, so I will just quote him directly:

I believe in the “less is more” theory, especially on television. They are seeing it for themselves. You don’t have to “yell” the game at people. I always try to speak in captions and elipses. You don’t need to full sentences to describe what people are already seeing. On radio it is a completely different animal. You have to describe everything, because they cannot see it. On television they CAN see it. When something fantastic happens, say what you have to say, and get out of there. Radio is completely different.


I love this description, and it captures perfectly what differentiates a mediocre announcer from a good one, and a good one from a great one. The great ones don’t “get in the way” of what the audience is seeing on television. And the great ones know that when on radio, the dynamic is completely different, and that the audience needs them to do and provide more.

This matches up completely with the way my colleagues and I think about and teach communication skills. When the audience has multiple sources of information to absorb, what they are seeing and hearing, then it is important to manage those inputs, by making sure neither input is too much. And in particular, if the audience has to absorb something visually while listening to you speak, it can be very powerful and helpful to the audience to modify your delivery accordingly.

When on television, Michaels is acutely aware of managing the competing inputs his audience is experiencing. He is adjusting his delivery because he knows it is complementary to the other input. Captions and phrases.

So too, for you. When you are communicating, and your audience has to manage what they see and what they hear, help them manage those inputs. Try to avoid speaking in long, sweeping sentences. Do as Al Michaels does, and try to think and speak more in captions and phrases. Make sure your spoken word adds to the experience, and complements what the audience is seeing.

And when you are speaking with NO visuals, you can think more like a radio announcer, and verbally “fill in the blanks” more. You still have to worry about distractions. But word economy is less of an issue.

Good luck, and have a great day!

Click here to listen to the full episode of the Smartless podcast featuring Al Michaels’ interview. And the passage I am referring to is at about the 42 minute mark.

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.