Very few essays about talk radio begin with a quote from a long dead French novelist, but I feel it's important that Jean Giraudoux gets the credit that he so richly deserves. That's because he's the person who said "The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made."
The most common piece of advice fed to aspiring broadcasters is "be yourself." That's all well and good, but the self that usually appears on the radio is the self that appears on Facebook. It's our best self; it's the self we want to project to the outside world.
In other words - "be yourself," and when you can fake that, you've got it made.
When I first started out, I discovered that I was TERRIBLE when I had to go off-script. That's because I kept pressuring myself into believing that every line I uttered into a microphone had to be either the funniest thing or the most insightful thing ever said.
The reality was that I was neither funny nor insightful. In fact, I just sounded constipated.
Then it hit me. I remember it well. It was on a Saturday morning at WTMJ in Milwaukee in the fall of 2003. It just happened. A great burden was lifted from my shoulders. I didn't feel that I had to be amazingly insightful or incredibly funny. I just had to be me. I spoke into the microphone as if it were my best friend.
All of a sudden, my on-air performance improved by leaps and bounds.
I no longer sounded constipated.
Whenever I work with people who are appearing on radio for the first time, I can tell when someone is swinging for the fences - trying to come up with the most insightful or funniest thing ever. I tell them what a good hitting coach tells his players: don't hit home runs.
Try to make contact. A base hit is OK. If you hit line drives, one of them will leave the park. It's the same thing in radio. Be yourself. Be relaxed. Be conversational. Once you are relaxed and in your comfort zone, your intelligence and sense of humor will shine through.
...and you'll have it made.