What Freelancers Can Learn From Rodeo Announcers

RodeoI recently went to my very first rodeo, and I have to tell you, it’s kind of an awesome time. It’s a roomful of young men showing off what balls of steel they have, and trust me, watching them get thrown around on the back of a horse or a bull, you start to have a lot of faith in the steeliness.

Those guys weren’t the most impressive part of the rodeo for me, though. The part of the rodeo that was most impressive to me was, believe it or not, the announcer.

The announcer impressed me in part because he managed a skill I think every freelancer should have: how to work with a team of headstrong individuals, all of whom have different talents, without anyone wanting to kill him at the end of the show.

It’s a tough skill, and a lot of freelancers never get it. The problem is that most freelancers do work with a lot of headstrong individuals with different talents – their clients, other freelancers, their joint venture partners – and they often turn on one another.

Here’s your announcer’s guide to keeping anyone from getting gored in a sensitive spot.

Acknowledge How Difficult the Job Is

One of the first things we saw at the rodeo was a guy getting bucked off a horse in under a second. This was lightning-quick. It happened before you were even aware he was out of the gate.

For those of you who are (as I was) completely unfamiliar with rodeos, the idea is to stay on the horse for eight seconds, while the horse – which is a huge, strong animal – is doing everything in its not-inconsiderable power to get you the hell off its back.

So this guy doesn’t get anywhere near the eight seconds, and it’s a pretty sorry showing. In other sports, I’ve heard announcers be downright mean to the athlete who has a bad day. Think of basketball, when a player misses a three-pointer. The announcer talks smack.

Not our rodeo announcer, though. First thing he says is, “These guys have one of the hardest, most dangerous jobs in the world. That’s a lot of horse, and it is near impossible to stay on once he spins like that.”

Let’s think about this for a second. Say you’re a copywriter and you’re working with a designer to build a website. Let’s say further that the designer screws up something royally right off the bat. Do you think that maybe that designer is going to be more likely to try harder and make up for it if you a) call him an idiot or b) acknowledge that you don’t know how to do what he does and realize that it’s difficult?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

It also works for the client’s perspective. Instead of telling him the designer screwed up, why not give the designer a nod for learning a job that most people can’t do in the first place and acknowledge that sometimes a tough job gets the better of him? The client may not be thrilled about it, but he can definitely see that every now and then, something gets by even the most talented of us.

And you just helped him see it.

Consider the Past Victories

Before a cowboy ever got out of the gate, the announcer would run though this cowboy’s past achievements for the benefit of the crowd. Many of them had won awards or huge prize money for other rodeos, and some had been in the industry for years. Others had suffered injuries earlier in the season and had still gotten back in there to ride again.

This is a lot like the way freelancers decide who they’re going to be working with. They choose their clients, their colleagues, their venture partners based on previous record. A great record indicates that they’re going to do a great job this time around, too.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. The first draft doesn’t hit the mark, something goes wrong with the coding, someone makes a recommendation that’s just flat wrong.

Harping on the failure doesn’t do much, but it’s hard not to when you’re upset about it. Take a cue from our rodeo announcer, though, and keep the past victories in mind. This is someone whose work you respect and admire. They’re allowed to have an off day every now and then without you losing your cool.

So take a deep breath. Remind yourself why you wanted to start working with this person in the first place. And remind them, too. “I asked you to do this job with me because you’ve always done great work in the past, and I know you can do it for this job.”

Which brings us to the next item on the list: faith.

You Gotta Have Faith

Whenever a cowboy got bucked off in a particularly bad ride, the announcer would often suggest that the next run would be better. This wasn’t false confidence; it was real. He knew that the cowboy was capable of a great ride and while he was sorry the last one didn’t turn out well, he had no reason to expect that this was a permanent state of affairs.

Many freelancers make this error when working with others. One mistake, and they’re already talking about how this person can’t do their job. Two mistakes, and you might as well hang yourself.

Consider, though, how hard freelancers work and how difficult our jobs really are. Many people don’t have these skills – which is why they hire us to do them. If we screw up the first time, there’s no reason to think we’re not going to be able to get back up on the horse (forgive the metaphor) and do better the next time around.

Giving that encouragement and expressing that faith for the people you work with boosts their confidence and makes them want to shine when they do come back for a second try. No one performs well when their client or their colleague expects them to do poorly. If you expect a great second round and say so, you’ll find that other freelancer will strive to achieve it.

They don’t want to let you down – not when you have faith in them.

I’ve had my first rodeo, and I’ve written my first blog post about it. I think I’m officially a Colorado girl now. Or I will be, right after I figure out how to shear a sheep.

Post by Taylor

Taylor Lindstrom (fondly known as Tei) is a twenty-something copywriter and journalist from Boulder, CO. She’s the team’s rogue woman who wowed us until our desire for her talents exceeded our desire for a good ol’ boys club. She loves the color green, micro-point Uniball pens, and medieval weaponry.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. I have never seen a rodeo up front before, but I think it is a good comparison. It’s tough work staying on I bet.

  2. It sounds like this announcer has mastered the “sandwich” technique.
    .-= FitJerks Fitness Blog´s last blog ..Slimband – The Stupidest Way To Lose Weight =-.

  3. Sounds to me that what this announcer was doing was focusing on the positives. I know it’s a cliché now, but there really is power in positive thinking. And other people would rather be around and work with positive people.
    .-= Heather Villa´s last blog ..Weekend Reading: My fav’s from this week: 2/5/10 =-.

  4. I flippin’ love rodeos.

    There’s a real positive atmosphere to them and a lot of respect for the strong, powerful, manly, rugged, slightly crazy cowboys for doing what they do.

    It’s definitely worth employing patience, faith and giving people the benefit of the doubt.

    It’s also worth building up a strong reputation and earning your place on the back of that horse to give client confidence even if there’s a little blip on the way.

    Good stuff.
    .-= Amy Harrison´s last blog ..Goals Bonus Article: Get Ready For Your Calling =-.

  5. I like this post, I’m a freelancer too and I get inspired in this post. I will take this note and try to practice this kind of attitude.

  6. What I like to do in these situations is to focus on something positive first about X, and then ask for Y.

    Seth Godin had a post recently saying it’s important to leave out the word “but.”

    .-= Jodi Kaplan´s last blog ..The Truth About CAN-SPAM =-.

  7. This is great advice, and what people need in today’s world.
    We go to our local rodeo every summer, and the announcer there is on the same page as the one you wrote about. I never thought to put it into this context, however. Great job!

  8. I am off to my first rodeo in a few weeks! Thanks for this post. As always, Men With Pens make one think.
    .-= pamela wilson´s last blog ..Would you consider self-publishing? =-.

  9. I’ve been to a few rodeos!

    This is a great post, especially the part about not calling someone an idiot if they screw up. If we all believe in each other, we can finally do great work.

    It’s a lesson I’ve learned on both sides of the business fence: client buying the service and now small biz owner providing the service.

    Just like with a resume, our learned inclination is to look for something wrong. Why not look for something right in clients and vendors?


    Giulietta, Inspirational Rebel
    .-= Giulietta Nardone´s last blog ..Psst! Here’s the “secret” to achieving greatness. =-.

  10. This is so great. I always talk high of my associates… especially the art people who design the piece. That way my client is excited that he gets the best job from the best guys.
    I really liked the way you described the announcer’s job. Yeah, we all need to be like that – encouraging each other’s strengths and empathizing the weaknesses.
    Great post, and really so nice reading about those guys who ride the bulls and horses. I never saw it myself in real.

  11. Elliot Ross says:


    One little pick!

    Having done rodeo – I knew a hell of a lot of women who competed as well!

    And I would add one more thing to your excellent list – you probably also noticed that the announcer never assumed.

    Even as the events are just starting – he tells everyone what the goal is, what will have to happen to reach that goal, and what the outcome will be if parts are missed on the way.

    So everybody is truly on the same page with what they are going to see!

    .-= Elliot Ross´s last blog ..Do You Stick Around? =-.

  12. Just stopping by for a quick minute to say that you guys have been awarded a Sunshine Award over at my blog 🙂
    .-= Heather´s last blog ..Sunshine Awards – Congratulations Everyone! =-.

  13. Hi Taylor,

    I had no idea that freelancers could learn that much from rodeo announcers.

    I guess the announcer you describe was a really good one.

    I haven’t been to a rodeo but I think that the announcer there wouldn’t last very long if he was putting anybody down. His roll is to be uplifting and to create excitement and positive expectations.

    He is constantly scrutinized by the performers and the audience.

    That’s quite different from the freelancer who is more often than not out of the spotlight.

    It’s therefore harder for a freelancer to stay focused on the positive at all times but the points you’ve made in your post make a complete sense.

    For freelancers to be successful and to last it will really help them to view their roll as similar to that of announcers.

    The people that work for them need to be cheered on in order to perform better and thus make the customers (the audience) enjoy the performance and come for more.

    .-= Vance Sova´s last blog ..Alex Jeffreys Marketing With Alex Las Vegas Workshop 2010 =-.

  14. I think I need that announcer sitting in my pocket and giving me ego boosts all day. Seriously though, before we are critical of others, we should acknowledge their achievements and abilities. Afterall, if a web designer walked off the job, would most copywriters or clients have the ability to fix the problem?

  15. I think I need that announcer sitting in my pocket and giving me ego boosts all day. Seriously though, before we are critical of others, we should acknowledge their achievements and abilities. Afterall, if a web designer walked off the job, would most copywriters or clients have the ability to fix the problem?

  16. Yet he who has never royally screwed the pooch on a client job cast the first stone I guess.
    .-= Paul Cunningham´s last blog ..What Makes the Ultimate Blog Post? =-.

  17. The Aleksandar says:

    Althought I saw rodeo announcers just on film, I get this as excellent comparison.
    .-= The Aleksandar ´s last blog ..HTML or PHP pages for site? =-.

  18. Thomas White says:

    Nice article! Thanks a lot!
    .-= Thomas White´s last blog ..DWG to PDF Converter Pro 2010.4 2010 =-.

  19. Richard Tast says:

    As one who has, and still does announce at rodeos, the method/manner in which this announcer works is common to almost all of us.

    As announcers for a rodeo we are there to both inform, as well as entertain our audiences. To berate or belittle a bad ride, or timed event run does not inpsire an audience to enjoy the activity taking place. That does not mean we claim every ride, even if lost in 2 seconds is great; obviously it isn’t. But to suggest the cowboy who lost the ride is lacking talent or ability is insulting, in a manner of speaking to both the audience’s intelligence, AS WELL as an insult to the individual contestant.

    To suggest however that “no matter of how good a rider may be, they do not always win, and in this case the horse has won the round; but the effort for the ride is certainl yworth your paying this guy off with your appreciation for that effort, isn’t folks”; or any variation on some such phrasing.

    The intent of those of us behind the mike at a rodeo is to blend it all together for the audience, but also for the individual contestants, who, for the few moments each is up, they are, at that moment the star on stage. And beleive it or not, even though they may be very focused on what they are about to do, they do hear what the announcer has to say about them, in it can make a difference in their mental/emotional state of mind, and, and can aid in a win. It’s a ego boost to them because their is no one else, save but for the audience rooting for them.

    Of all the sporting events in the country, I beleive those who announce rodeo have possibly one of the most diffuclt jobs, and we do 90% of it completely extepraneously. We have no other’s to fall back on; no statists to feed us information; no commercial breaks, just 2.5, or so, hours to be a sportscaster; statistical source; ego booster for contestants; a form of entertainer for an audience that is comprised of knowlegeable rodeo afficianados to complete novices, and straight-man for the rodeo barrel-man(rodeo clown.


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