Podcasts: When The Missing Ingredient Is Soul.

If you want to start a podcast, the barriers to entry are low. Good equipment is cheap and there are plenty of smart, simple “how to” guides to get you and your organization in the game.

But what most experts and consultants won’t tell you is that to be successful, your podcast needs soul. You must say something real.

The medium’s intimacy and authenticity are keys to its success. That’s why your podcast has to be three dimensional— not like one of those old Hollywood film sets with nothing behind the nicely painted fronts of stores and houses.

Your host needs should be honest, hilarious or, at the very least, a brilliant faker.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the hit show “Pod Save America”. But what the smart-ass uber-liberal hosts do have is soul. Their mission— delivered with passion and a dose of humor— is to save America from Trump and his fellow travelers by trashing anyone who doesn’t agree with their view of the world. You know where these guys are coming from.

Your podcast doesn’t have to come with a passionate or political point of view. But the hosts must believe what they say.

Millennials— the target audience for most podcasts— come with finely-tuned B.S. detectors. They know when they’re being duped or played.

Bragging or reminding your audience what makes you special simply won’t cut it. Deliver the goods, and do so with the minimum of fuss.

Unlike You Tube Channels, TV or even broadcast radio, podcasters don’t need bells and whistles to be successful. Most listeners start at the beginning and will stay with you for the entire show, especially if the episode is under 25 minutes.

From Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History” to “Armchair Expert With Dax Shepard”, top-rated podcasters know that a simple interview format can work just as well as “The Daily”, “Invisibilia” and other intricately-produced programs.

Podcasts are wonderful ways to enhance your reputation as a thought leader or innovator. But when you open the mike, make sure you speak from the heart.

Richard Davies is a podcast host and consultant. His firm, DaviesContent, designs, produces, and edits podcasts for clients.

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On podcasting: the small picture

The other day a young man in his 20’s told me something very sad.

While he has a strong moral sense and believes in the necessity of profound political change, and would like to do something to make the world a better place, he doesn’t know where to start.

My friend sees no connection between his actions and how to be part of a movement to promote justice, trust and greater social harmony. He feels powerless and dispirited. Disconnected.

The best advice I could think of was to throw a pebble into the ocean.

Look at the small picture.

Do something— anything— I suggested, that might help someone less fortunate than yourself. For instance, it could be as simple as signing up for Reading Partners, a non-profit group that trains volunteers to give one-on-one tutoring for 45 minutes, twice a week, to school kids who are behind their grade level in their reading.

The experience of volunteering can change your outlook on life.

From church groups to social causes, there are countless local, neighborhood efforts happening now to knit together the social fabric that we need to build a more caring, sharing society.

Maybe this young man should use his own skills to teach others what he knows: Promoting their sense of curiosity and wonder.

For me it was podcasts.

After three decades of covering breaking news at a national radio network, I was also frustrated. For a long time I had found the fast-paced daily work to be fascinating and even at times, thrilling. My career had been a gift.

But a few years ago, it started to feel a bit routine. The hourly focus on clashes, contests, calamities and celebrities that is the stuff of broadcast news was becoming more of a grind than a source of fascination. Rarely did we cover those who were calling for constructive alternatives to what was going seriously wrong in our country.

We were not giving an accurate picture of the world. Civics and the critical workings of democracy were not part of the daily news agenda.

But I also wondered about myself. Was I becoming part of the problem— an old and weary grumpy guy, who was perhaps jaded?

I didn’t want to be that person.

My answer was to change careers and became a podcaster, and help others put their message across.

My own pebble in the ocean has been “How Do We Fix It?”— a weekly podcast that I make with Jim Meigs and Miranda Shafer.

On each episode we try to promote empathy, problem solving and constructive ideas aimed at bringing people together, rather than bellowing across the political canyon at the other side.

We also have fun doing it.

Instead of covering the who, what, when, where, why of news, we ask “now what?” Experts are challenged to come on the show and discuss potential solutions to problems that they’ve spent years studying or investigating.

Podcasts are ideally suited for this kind of experiment. They connect the the head and the heart. People usually listen when they are on their own, away from the distractions of their phone and computer screens, when they are likely to be a little more reflective and able to reconsider their view of the world.

Listening to podcasts can offer a way to open your mind.

No matter how small the audience, or simple the format, the best podcasts follow their own path, throwing caution the wind. As a lover of history, one of my favorite examples is the “fireside chat” 4-hour monologues on “Hard Core History”, hosted by Dan Carlin. Each one tells a carefully crafted account of the past. There is not a speck of fat on those shows. They are pure meat.

Anyone who watches TV, goes online or listens to the radio is exposed to a fire hose of information. We are subjected to a mostly negative and overly dramatic view of current events.

The intimate world of podcasting contains an almost infinite range of possibilities to bring us together. Here’s hoping that you will decide to take a dip and jump into the ocean!

Richard Davies is a podcaster and Podcast consultant, who helps people, companies and causes to tell their story through podcasting.

podcasts are so more than sound without the pictures.

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I’m an audio guy. Always have been.

One of my earliest memories was when I was five, sitting on the floor of my bedroom, loading a stack of orange, green and yellow 45 rpm vinyl records with a big hole in the middle, onto a kids’ victrola that my parents purchased to keep their easily distracted child busy.

The recordings were made by Disney. I still remember those wonderful, cheerful voices and the jingles of Jiminy Cricket, Uncle Remus, the Mickey Mouse Club, Brer Rabbit and many more. A little boy’s imagination ran wild.

Today, as in the days before television, there’s an audio renaissance once again. Millions of people are feeding their brains with a vast array of podcasts and audio books.

They know that listening to voices or music is about so more than closing your eyes and hearing sound without video.

But in our highly visual age of VR, digital billboards, 360-cameras, video games and super heroes — with so much emphasis on how things look — many brands, marketers, advertising agencies, and content producers forget this.

  • They don’t understand that sound can create a world that is just as rich, exciting and vibrant as TV or movies.
  • They devalue the potential of well-produced sound to inspire and motivate.
  • They fail to recognize that many of us often prefer audio to print, websites or video for stories and information.

Commercial radio is full of advertising produced by sponsors who fail to grasp the importance of well-produced sound. Those awful Cars4Kids ads are just one of countless, jarring examples of soundtracks that were produced for TV.

The problem has also spread to podcasting as well-intentioned non-profit groups, companies and trade associations, anxious to grow their reputation as thought leaders, slap together episodes with little respect for what made the medium so popular.

Just this morning after searching a podcast app for something to listen to on migration and refugees, I was subjected to a long and poorly produced recording of a webinar.

No, people!

Re-broadcasting webinars or conferences are terrible ways to use podcasts.

While they don’t have to be up to the excellent, groundbreaking standards set by “The Daily” or “This American Life”, podcast content, production and editing do deserve respect.

The opportunity to spread your message inexpensively with storytelling and interviews has never been greater than it is today. But the way we concentrate and listen to podcasts — usually away from our screens and on our own — is different than when we are watching something.

Thinking of podcasts as sound without pictures doesn’t cut it.

Richard Davies is a podcaster and podcast consultant. His firm, DaviesContent, makes digital audio for companies and non-profits.

Beyond outrage and anger… Solutions. A podcast for our times.

We’re gearing up for another great year with more independent-minded, contrarian guests — kicking off this week with Claire Cain Miller of TheUpshot, the New York Times and economics site.

After all the recent anger and outrage over sexual harassment our podcast team decided to do a show about how to reduce bullying and harassment in the workplace. What works? What doesn’t?

Employers are paying lip service to the need for change, but until now there has been little coverage in the media about solutions and training: how to make this a teaching moment.

At “How Do We Fix It?” here’s our un-resolution for 2018: What we do NOT want is the obvious: opinions you’ve heard a hundred times in other places and podcasts.

We’re fired up about solutions — ideas to make the world a better place, topic-by-topic.

Future episodes this month will include the well-known author and skeptic, Michael Shermer, who explains why pessimism is a threat to all of us. Michael also takes apart the human zest for utopia.

Stanford University Politics professor Mo Fiorina is also on our dance card. He will tell us why Americans are less partisan than many think — Fascinating subject for discussion and debate in this time of political flame-throwing.

Please weigh in with your ideas, responses and suggestions. And if you have the time, spread the word about our show with lots of likes, shares and retweets on iTunes, Stitcher and social media.

Here’s hoping that 2018 will be the best year every for humankind and that more of us will throw our pebbles into ocean of progress.

FixIt: Abolishing Unbelievable.

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We live in an age of hyperbole. “Amazing”, “incredible” and “wow!” are among the most glaring examples of over-used words.

“Great” and “fantastic” are proclaimed when “good” would do nicely. “LOL” has replaced a smiley face, and “thank you” usually comes with “very much” attached, even if the sender doesn’t (really) mean it.

But nothing is worse than “unbelievable”, because in most cases the thing described as impossible to believe actually isn’t. At all.

From play-by-play announcers describing a great catch or a homer deep into the bleachers, to friends and relations talking about the silly things their pets do, we are surrounded by “unbelievable” from all quarters.

Unbelievable is used as click-bait. As in “The unbelievable reasons why your posts aren’t popular” or “The unbelievable reasons dog owners give up their pets revealed.”

The unbelievable number of times that “unbelievable” is mentioned in conversation is part of a larger problem. Simple, plain speech has been replaced by words that often come in CAPITALS or with an exclamation point attached.

We are shouting at each other rather than speaking softly with modesty and simplicity.

The first senior editor I worked for in a radio newsroom decades ago told me to avoid using overly-inflated words. Write in short sentences, using clear and concise language. Watch out for unnecessary adjectives and adverbs, he told me.

It was good advice then and now. (Here’s a good source for writing and speaking tips).

Let’s hope that 2018 turns out to be a year that we can believe in.

Image: Credit Typorama.

Brilliance is Over-rated. Practice isn’t.

Right around the time our first child was born, The Mozart-for-babies craze was at its peak.

The idea was that listening to Mozart’s music – even in utero – would make babies smarter. It was a gimmick by marketers that – brilliantly, of course – played into the belief of many parents that their children were “very bright” or “brilliant.”

As someone who fits nicely into the cultural zeitgeist (more of a follower than an innovator), I was delighted whenever our kids did really well at something, and attributed much of this to their natural intelligence. I thought we lived in a town like Lake Wobegon, where, in the words of Garrison Keillor, “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average”.

But as time goes on, I’ve gradually realized that our society’s fascination with genius – and good looks for that matter – is way overdone.

Sure, intelligence helps. But the vast majority of really accomplished people I’ve met owe their success to “practice, practice, practice” far more than anything else.

“There is no doubt in my mind that intelligence is only a fraction of the ingredients needed to be successful,” said Jim Cantrell of the SpaceX founding team, when asked about the widely admired innovator and entrepreneur, Elon Musk.

SpaceX only became successful after many years of years of struggle, and even failure. “Elon did succeed in the end because he never counted himself out. He never gave up. He kept going,” said Cantrell. Musk’s most important element of success was “dogged determination.”

There are countless stories like this. I’m reading about one of them right now.

The Undoing Project” by Michael Lewis (the guy who wrote “Moneyball”) is a delightful account of the collaboration and friendship of Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Their insights about judgement and decision making laid much of the groundwork for behavioral economics. (Richard Thaler, who won this year’s Nobel Prize for Economics, says both men “changed how we think about how we think.”).

Were both men geniuses? Probably. But on almost every page, the reader is struck by Kahneman and Tversky’s determination and dedication. They stuck at it.

The spark for all those years of hard work was passion. If you’re really fired-up by something, the chances are you will do it everyday. And get really good at it.

I used to wish that our kids would ace the test. But I should have prayed for work ethic instead.

(Years later, I’m enormously thankful that both of our adult children have indeed found what they love to do and spend most of their waking hours doing it. As the years unfold, their odds doing something special are in their favor.)

Richard Davies makes podcasts at DaviesContent.com. He’s the co-host of the weekly news and current affairs solutions podcast, “How Do We Fix It?”

The Most Urgent, Exciting Podcast Since Serial.

I’ve just listened to a riveting edition of “The Daily” – the first-rate morning news podcast launched in February by The New York Times.

Among the latest episodes is a dramatic behind-the-scenes account of how FBI director James Comey handled investigations into Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during last year’s Presidential race. 
Many Democrats blame Comey for throwing the election to Trump. But are they right? As with many of the best podcasts, the story is the thing. Listeners are left to draw their own conclusions. 
“The Daily” is not a radio show. This weekday morning news podcast doesn’t start with “the things you need to know” or a rundown of the top stories of the day.  
Instead, it’s designed to be a daily companion. Something you lend an ear to while working out at the gym, walking the dog or driving the car.  The topics may be deadly serious but the tone is surprisingly informal. Relaxed, even.

Host Michael Barbaro is your podcast pal. And he has a sense of humor. 

Always intelligent and never patronizing, he manages to combine a sense of urgency and charm while quizzing Times reporters about the biggest stories on their beats. Listen to “The Daily” daily and Barbaro becomes much more than a newscaster or anchor.  He’s a true podcaster.  The voice between you ears. The guy who takes you by the hand – so to speak – leads you down a trail and tells you a story.  
In “The French Election Explained” he started the Q and A on Paris correspondent Adam Nossitor with a warning about his poor pronounciation of French names – using Jean Luc Melanchon, the socialist candidate, as an example. Nossiter schooled him with the correct pronunciation.  May-lan-shon.

Such a nice podcasty way of starting the segment. And a far cry from tone of the gray lady’s print edition. 

The script at the top of the show is tight, especially Barbaro’s opening sentence, which sets up the main topic for each show. With that done and the listener hooked, “The Daily” feels fairly spontaneous.  Sound is used sparingly but with great effect.  Like a fine photo on the front page of a newspaper, actualities illustrate, setting the tone for what reporters discuss with the host. Kudos to the show’s production team.


Winston on a stroll in the park.

As you may have guessed, “The Daily” has become my morning fix. I listen to it when walking our dog each morning.  Winston doesn’t know it, but he gets a better and slightly longer walk now that I have my “Daily” routine. He flat out loves this show!

How fascinating that a newspaper – not NPR or PRI – has come up with most exciting thing in our business since “Serial” blew the doors off podcasting in 2015. 

With 100 million-plus “Serial” downloads, our humble industry went from nerdy niche to the coolest dude in the media ‘hood. Newspapers, magazines, online sites and (gasp) even radio expanded their coverage of podcasting. Media giants jumped in, trying to grab a spot in the podcast limelight. But many have stumbled – not understanding the difference between a radio show and a podcast.

Before listening to “The Daily” I’d never heard of Michael Barbaro. Had no idea what he looked like. But it doesn’t matter if podcast hosts start out as unknowns. With each new episode they can win us over. 

Another thing about The Daily – and I’ve written about this before –  it’s short. Not a heavy lift each morning. Barbaro takes his time to unfold a story. Episodes feel unhurried, but they’re usually less than 20 minutes. 

Smart move. 

The average commute in the U.S. is less than 25 minutes. Unlike most podcasts, this one leaves me wanting more. And besides, Winston is a middle-aged dog. He doesn’t need a 40 minute walk every morning.

Richard Davies is a podcast consultant and co-host of the weekly podcast, “How Do We Fix It?” – a solutions journalism show. 

 

The Huge Mistake Environmentalists Make About Their Opponents

Just this week I received yet another appeal for help from an environmental group.

“President Trump has unleashed his biggest attack on climate action yet,” said the fundraising email.  His executive order takes “dead aim” on climate protections.

Days before, another “urgent” email in my in-box spoke of how EPA head Scott Pruitt’s extreme positions show “what we are up against.”

The threat is real but the language is wrong.

Green groups are making a mistake when they portray their opponents as strong, not weak; Bombastic, never bumbling; Powerful – instead of being old fashioned and out-of-touch.

Recent appeals by the Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Friends of the Earth reflect a movement that remains in a state of alarm more than five months after the election. As the British would say, they’re on the back foot.

If environmentalists want to win the fight they should cheer up, spread a message of hope and use a sense of humor. After all,  they’re up against a President with a sagging approval rating. A clear majority of Americans supports action on climate change.

Conservatives and capitalists also care about clean air and water.  They don’t want a return to the bad old days of urban smog and acid rain.  Environmentalists can win if they reach beyond their liberal base, explaining what they are FOR, as well as government policies they oppose.

The future is full of opportunity. As former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote this week, the U.S. can still make great strides in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

“Those who believe that the Trump administration will end American leadership on climate change are making the same mistake as those who believe that it will put coal miners back to work: overestimating Washington’s ability to influence energy markets, and underestimating the role that cities, states, businesses and consumers are playing in driving down emissions on their own,” said Bloomberg.  Private enterprise, partnering with cities and states will make a practical difference.

Words matter. Framing is the secret sauce of message control.  Republicans and conservative groups understand this. Their appeals to are clear, sharp and to-the-point.

To fight back green groups should punch-up their language.  Instead of a continuous stream of shock and outrage, try mockery.

Why not borrow from the right’s playbook? Greens could wrap themselves in red, white and blue. The biggest growth in U.S. energy jobs is not in dirty fossil fuel, but in the renewable wind and solar industries.

Hopefully, the upcoming Climate Rally in Washington D.C. will reflect a dynamic sense of optimism instead of a dirge of despair.

 

 

 

Too Much Opinion. Not Enough Reporting. How Do We Fix It?

This is written in response to a Medium post by Lewis Wallace, a talented, brave and passionate young journalist who worked for the public radio show, Marketplace.  He was fired this week for refusing to take down his post.  The headline was: “Objectivity is Dead, and I’m okay with it.”

I disagree. A reporter’s job is to report, not to tell listeners what to think. It is a humble calling. Reporting is a craft, not an art.

One reason why Trump became President is the narcissism of our time. We all think we’re entitled to yell at each other. That everyone’s opinion is equally valid. It has become acceptable to take a verbal fire hose to those we disagree with.

There’s a place for resistance and protest. But bombast, ridicule and contempt are drowning out respectful disagreement, even good natured argument.

From TV, online media, newspapers, commercial radio and podcasting, there is much more opinion today. Not enough reporting.

One reason why so many people distrust us journalists is our lack of diversity. Not enough diversity of opinion. Diversity of class. Geographic diversity. We must do a better job of listening to those who make us uncomfortable. That includes listening to those who felt that Trump was preferable to Clinton.

The most important pursuit is the quest for truth. But truth can be elusive. This makes our jobs difficult, but profoundly important.

Journalism should strive to be more like science, where good researchers employ skepticism as they try to disprove their theories.

Objectivity may be in the emergency room. But it is not dead. Your view and my view of objectivity will be different. But we should still be searching for it just around the corner.

With respect,

Richard.

 The F… Bomb Has Become a Filler Word. How Do We Fix It?

The jump the shark moment for the F-word may have come and gone. Even the erudite David Brooks of the New York Times used it recently in his otherwise uplifting book on self-discipline and modesty, “The Road to Character.”

A four letter word that once caused shock – or at least embarrassed giggles – has become a filler word.  Something you say to fill the space between the stuff that actually matters.

It’s lost the power to shock.  Everybody says fuck.

Other filler words include “meanwhile, “like”, “basically” – and the very worst and most frequently heard –  “you know”.

Many thoughtful, well-educated people punctuate their sentences with  “you know”, you know?   The term has become the new “um”.

Those who use it in serious conversation dilute the meaning of what they are trying to say. I have a highly articulate, smart, funny friend in the financial industry who uses “you know” in virtually every sentence.  It drives me crazy. She’s probably unaware of it and I’m too chicken to say anything.

Guess I haven’t walked too far on my road to character. Sorry, David Brooks.

When hosting a talk radio show years ago, a program director pulled me aside. “You say um a lot,” he told me.  “Don’t do it. In between thoughts, stay silent. It can be kind of powerful.  People will listen more carefully to what you’ll say next.”

Great advice –  especially for a guy who loves to talk and trips over my words in a rush to say the next thing.  A little pause sounds so much better than filling in the time with meaningless filler words.

Easier said than done, you say?

Actually, no.  As soon as I became aware of what I was doing,  it was surprisingly easy to cure my verbal tic. It’s a little bit like weeding.  Almost everytime time I noticed an “um” forming in my brain I would pause and pick it out of my speech pattern.

Another tip: speak in short sentences. “Structural filler-word patterns are triggered because of the way you structure your sentences,” says writer, Anett Grant. “Using oral bullet points gives you time to think about what you’re going to say while reinforcing your main point.”

Clarity is the best friend you have when speaking.  Especially when you are serious. Weeding out the filler words is a great way to sound smart in business meetings, sales presentations and at the dinner table.

When you don’t have much to say, remain silent.

Richard Davies is a podcaster.  Hear his “um” free show, “How Do We Fix It?” with co-host Jim Meigs on Acast, iTunes and Stitcher.  He also runs DaviesContent – a podcast production house.