Does your team have the kind of chemistry that’s good for the numbers? If not, can it be coached and developed? There is research that strongly suggests that the answer is “YES.” We’ve seen it first-hand, especially in metered markets where it’s possible to track shifts in viewing on a day-in, day-out basis. People who like and respect each other coordinate their behavior — their movement, in particular — in specific and observable ways. And what you observe on the outside general reflects what is going on inside. A team that is mentally on the same page will work together differently than a team that is at odds in one way or another. And viewers can see it, hear it and sense it.
Researchers have observed that rapport — getting “in sync” — has three components:
Delivery. At least as far as rapport is concerned, the critical elements of delivery are 1) rhythm (in particular, the way that your team’s delivery syncs with the overall rhythm on your newscasts), 2) the particular ways that each anchor coordinates gesture with voice, and 3) how well one anchor’s delivery meshes with another’s. This last can be as complex as the way Anchor A’s gestures flow into and out of the gestures of Anchor B, and as simple as their respective posture. Multiple studies have shown that “people who assume like postures are judged to have a higher rapport with each other than do those whose posture are not similar,” writes one researcher.
Does this mean that anchors should be mirror image of each other? Absolutely not. But you should be aware that the research into the effects of roughly mirrored posture — and other forms of communicative mimicry — are thought provoking, to say the least. Rapport, it seems, may depend on it.
Emotional positivity. If you’ve ever attended four groups to test anchor teams, you know that people will notice and draw conclusions about the way your anchors seem to feel about each other. And they can place an extraordinarily high value on teams that clearly respect each other and enjoy working together. This can be a particular challenge for talent who genuinely do not like each other, because it is tough to get away with faking positive regard for someone — especially in high definition!
Attentional focus. The importance of this begs a couple of questions: Do your anchors really pay attention to each other? Do they really pay attention to other things – stories, reporters, the weather guy — together? If it bugs you when an anchor starts to shuffle papers about half a sentence before a coanchor finishes her tease, it should. The action is distracting, and it can signal that the anchor is not really dialed in. This is also why scripted questions can be such chemistry-killers. They make it easy for anchors to say the words (often someone else’s words!) without really owning them mentally or physically.
Chances are, if the chemistry on your newscasts is not as good as it could be, your numbers aren’t as good as they could be, either — and some attention to performance in one or all of these areas is in order. And here’s an important bonus thought: Chances are you pay the highest price with female demos, because women’s brains are hard wired to be so much more sensitive to relational and emotional stimuli than men’s brains are.
More on that later.