Finally it’s happening. Advertisers and marketers are waking up to the great potential of podcasting.
At this week’s Advertising Week conference in New York, there’s interest, even excitement, about audio– both music and speech. Unlike previous years, when our industry was virtually ignored at this annual event, an entire morning of panel sessions has been devoted to podcasts and audio.
“We view voice as the natural next step in technology’s future,” said Julia Chen Davidson, Head of Google’s Partner Marketing this week, at the well-attended Future of Audio Summit. “It’s still very early in the adoption curve.”
“Voice is the new touch,” enthused Pandora’s VP of Ad Innovation Strategy, Claire Fanning.
Podcasting is along for ride, with Anna Bager of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) forecasting 110% growth in annual U.S. podcast advertising revenue until 2020. Many podcast listeners like the advertising they hear “and see it as a service,” she told the audience of marketing, brand and ad professionals.
“These strong numbers speak to advertisers’ increasing recognition that podcasts provide a powerful platform for reaching and engaging audiences,” said Bager in a news release. They are “tapping into the medium’s highly engaged audience.”
Interest in podcasting is enhanced by three recent broader consumer/tech trends:
– Excitement about new research and development of Artificial Intelligence and voice-activated search.
– The explosive growth in sales and adoption of smart speakers.
– Innovation and expansion of voice-assisted technology (VAT) in cars and trucks.
Dramatic changes in automotive center stacks and consoles “is going to radically change media consumption,” Tom Webster, Senior Vice President of Edison Research told a breakout session at Advertising Week. “VAT will cause an incredible spike in podcast listening.”
And yet there are obstacles, despite steady gains in overall Podcast listening.
At Podcast Movement last July, Webster, Amplifi Media’s Steve Goldstein and others righty voiced concern about problems with discovery. While most Americans are aware of podcasting, many find it difficult to find shows, or even understand how to download or subscribe to podcasts.
One promising initiative discussed at Advertising Week is Pandora’s soon-to-be-launched Podcast Genome Project, designed our help listeners find shows based on what’s being discussed. Panelist Lizzie Widhelm of Pandora told a session that its Genome will be able to recommend other podcasts based on the content of an episode.
“There will soon be a time when our podcasts will find us, instead of the other way around,” says the online music and speech radio company’s Chief Product Officer, Chris Phillips. “If we know you care about a particular topic, we can find the podcast (the needle in a haystack), and put it in front of you.”
This project along with growth in voice search and AI could prove to be next big audience accelerator for podcasters.
Richard Davies is a podcast host, producer, consultant, and media coach. He runs DaviesContent.
I hate to dump on “The Daily”.
Apart from editing and producing our own shows, this brilliant New York Times podcast takes up more of my listening time than any other. For news junkies, “The Daily” is part of our weekday morning routine. The show’s genial and ever curious host, Michael Barbaro, is like a friend at breakfast time.
So I take it personally when something is not quite right.
Recently, on several “The Daily” documentary episodes, a bit too much production has been getting in the way of the narrative. The informal, often intimate approach that is unique to podcasting, is occasionally replaced by a more careful and rehearsed construction.
One example came this week in an otherwise gripping episode about the chaotic Trump Administration zero-tolerance policy that led to 2,000 migrant children being separated from their parents.
At one point, the sound of the computer keyboard can be heard as New York Times national immigration reporter Caitlin Dickerson discusses her emails seeking information on the children from the Department of Homeland Security. To my ears, this was distracting, adding neither information nor enhanced atmosphere. Several other soundbites and mood music tracks also got in the way of the compelling narration.
On “The Daily”, the Times reporters are the stars. Let them unpack their deep understanding of the beats they cover without too many interruptions.
Perhaps you disagree with me or think that this is a trivial quibble. But it’s part of a broader trend in podcasts made by companies, where teams of producers and editors often spend many hours crafting a single episode.
Perhaps they take their cues from “Radiolab“, the critically acclaimed, two-time Peabody Award-winning science and philosophy podcast and public radio show that began life on WNYC in 2002. Over the years, Radiolab’s inventive, playful use of sound has been a delight to listen to.
But maybe the show’s influence on fellow podcasters has become too great.
When podcast creators lack the deep skills of Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad, rich, textured sound can be turned into a formula. Some well-written podcasts are burdened by the overuse of ambient sound and music.
This school of complex, layered production can sound precious, and be a barrier to understanding. A podcasting friend of mine from South Asia, who learned English as a second language, calls it confusing. Perhaps that’s because she didn’t grow up listening to the distinct sound of American public radio programs and documentaries.
Usually, spare is best. What makes podcasting and audiobooks so penetrating and memorable is the presence of a single human voice in your ears, telling you a story.
Often that’s enough. Intimacy requires nothing more.
Richard Davies is a podcaster, consultant and media coach. He runs DaviesContent.
Friction is the thing.
It’s not as easy, convenient or simple as it should be to discover podcasts, or find shows that fit your range of interests. Confusion and complexity are holding us back.
The first barrier for wannabe podcast listeners is the prompt. iTunes and other platforms suggest that you “subscribe.” But this is a lousy name for it. Sounds like a loyalty program. Subscriptions involve paying for something, but podcasts are free.
That’s the first piece of friction.
Search is also a big problem. Our news solutions podcast, “How Do We Fix It?” is a show that asks experts about what works to improve civic and political life. But someone who searches for “how to fix it,” “solutions,” “fixes” or “what works”, won’t find our shows. Other podcasters have similar problems.
Smart speakers are a huge thing these days. But the vocal prompts for podcasts are not as easy as they should be. Friction!
All this presents a problem and a great opportunity.
Podcasting needs its own industry association or trade group.
Investments should be made by Audible, Spotify, NPR and other big players to produce witty, creative and catchy public information videos and radio spots that would reach out to the tens of millions of people who engage online, but haven’t got a clue how to listen to podcasts. Facebook, where many non-millennials gather, is an obvious place to start. Then advertise on the next Super Bowl!
Big podcasters should launch a contest with an enticing prize for the best five YouTube videos that show folks how to engage with podcasts.
Fight friction with fun.
More than 550,000 podcasts are on iTunes– and the number is growing all the time. Two- thirds of Americans have heard of the term “podcast,” but fewer than one-in-five are regular listeners. With nearly 50 million regular listeners, podcasting has come a long way in the past few years. But it’s time to take it to the next level.
The launch of the new Google Podcasts app may go a long way towards this goal. Until now, Apple has been the dominant player. Google says its goal is to help listeners and make it “easier for them to discover and listen to the podcasts they love.” If the search giant uses AI to improve podcast script and voice search, this would be a major breakthrough.
At Podcast Movement in Philadelphia last week, Tom Webster of Edison Research said: “The key to moving from 48 million weekly podcast listeners to the 100 million mark is understanding why those people familiar with the term “podcasting” have never listened.”
48% the “I have’t heard a podcast” crowd say they’re not sure how to listen. A similar number believe, incorrectly, that podcasts cost money and suck up a lot of data. 37% don’t understand what they are.
The challenges are great, but so is the potential to reach into new, and often marginalized communities. Most early podcast adopters were white men. It’s time for industry leaders to be more diverse, and to reflect the country at large.
Fewer than one-in-four podcasts have a woman host. Thanks to Kerri Hoffman of PRX, Laura Walker at WNYC and others, positive, powerful efforts are underway to correct this. Ethnic, racial, class, viewpoint and geographic diversity are also needed to boost the authenticity, reach and range of podcasting.
Nearly one-in-five Americans own smart speakers. They’re the fastest growing electronic devices since most of us got a smart phone. Smart speakers introduce a different way to listen. Others may be in the room with us. We are not on ear buds nor headphones. Podcast listening might become more social, and in some cases less intimate.
The future for podcasting may include more short quiz shows, games and drama.
How about a 12-minute soap opera with revolving characters that has audiences coming back for more every day? It’s already been tried in the U.K. “The Archers” has been running for nearly 70 years, with nearly 19,000 episodes under it’s belt. It’s the world’s longest running radio soap opera.
With podcasts, what’s old can be new again.
Richard Davies is a podcaster, consultant and media coach. He runs DaviesContent.
A whole crowd of passionate people, anxious to bring improvement to their daily life and practice, are crowded into a room filled to capacity, anticipating their next moves.
Sounds like one of the sessions at this year’s Podcast Movement gathering in Philadelphia — the big deal annual event for podcasters. It’s just getting underway as I write this.
But this room is hot and sweaty and I’m among the weakest students on the mat.
Our yoga teacher tells us: “Breathe.” Ah yes, breathe. As I struggled to avoid falling over, twisting my limbs into a hopelessly contorted tangle, the reminder was needed and much appreciated.
And so it is during the most intense moments of podcasting. We need to breathe. Avoid tensing up. Relax. As Riji, our yoga teacher says” “Be calm. Be prepared. Be in the moment and enjoy what you do.”
Unlike many forms of physical activity, yoga is not a contest. We come to learn from others, not to beat them. In doing so, we learn about ourselves and our practice.
And so it is with podcasting.
At last count, there were more than 550,000 shows to choose from. New entrants come into our space every day. Many have important things to say. Unlike broadcasting, where the competition for bandwidth is fierce and ratings are king, everybody here is welcome. The more the merrier. There are so many niches to fill and communities to serve.
“Never be jaded about your practice,” says Riji.
How true this should be for podcasters. As the religious folk among us would say: We are all blessed to be doing something we love and share it with the world.
But how to stand out in the crowd? Or reach the people you want to hear to your message?
First: Listen to them. Find out what they are looking for. What they would like to learn more about? Unlike many prime-time broadcasters, the best podcasters assume that their audience is smart. However, they also understand that listeners are busy. Their time is precious and that they don’t really care what you are talking about, unless you respect them and take them seriously.
So avoid jargon and inside baseball. And I would argue (controversially), avoid the F-word and other trash talk. They get in the way of being your best self.
Invite people into the room.
Riji, the yoga teacher, says pretty much the same thing in each session I’ve attended. But as I struggle on the mat, I hear different things each time.
Above all, she says, “positivity is infectious. Bring a smile with you about what you do.”
And so it is with podcasting. Enjoy your practice.
Richard Davies is a podcaster and audio consultant. His website: http://www.daviescontent.com.
How to ask questions (2). The third in a series on podcasting.
As soon as I published some thoughts on how podcasters can do even better interviews than they record already (my previous blog), I started getting friendly feedback.
Some of it comes from close to home.
While editing and improving the audio quality of our podcast, Miranda excises the “ums” and “ahs” from each interview. So, perhaps this one is aimed at me! “Don’t make small affirmative noises like “uh huh” or “right.” Nod instead,” she says.
Agreed. The people you interview know that you’re interested in what they are saying. There is no need for affirmation from the host in the middle of an answer. More than one or two “uh huhs” during an interview can be irritating for listeners.
If you think a response from you is a good idea, follow up with another question. Or simply say, “tell me more.”
There’s this from our friend and podcast consultant, Donna Papacosta: “Have you ever experienced premature interview termination?”, she asked in a recent post. “At the end of an interview… you thank the subject, snap your notebook shut and switch off your recorder. In the chatter that follows, your interviewee utters the most quotable quote of the last half hour.”
Ouch. That’s happened to me more times than I can count. Donna suggests: keep the recorder running, unless you need to go off-the-record.
When planning an interview, podcasters should try to think of how each question can build a story arc. You might want to begin a podcast conversation with an anecdote or an amusing aside that warms up the guest, lifting the curtain on the subject for your listeners.
Or you could start out with a few basic questions on why your guests are interested or passionate about what they do and what they have learned along the way.
Ask dumb questions, especially if the guest uses acronyms, slang or fancy words. Ask him to explain or define any term that the audience might not be familiar with. During an interview the host should always be on the side of the listener. What would she want to hear? What subject interests him the most?
Brief questions are often best.
Don’t spend a lot of time with your opinions, because the guest may respond with a simple yes or no answer. Then you have to come up with another question right away!
Don’t be afraid to appear dim. Before the recording begins, you can say: “I’ve read your book and understand the topic, but I’m going to ask you some basic questions for the audience.”
One more tip from editor/producer Miranda: Record on two channels. That makes your interview easier to edit and often results in better audio quality.
Richard Davies is a Podcast host, consultant and media trainer. Learn more at DaviesContent.com
How to answer questions. The second in a series on podcasting.
“It was 1992. The closing days of the Presidential campaign and I was beginning to get a name for myself.
Not in a good way.
During crowded press conferences with the candidates all that year, I was the network radio reporter who would ask: “How do you feel?”
Sometimes not-very-polite snickers were heard nearby from fellow members of the traveling press. “What a dumb question” they probably murmured under their breaths. They were far from impressed.
But more often than not a question about emotions or feelings — as opposed to something erudite about policy — resulted in one of the best soundbites of the day.
The point is simple. It’s not about you. Interviewers on podcasts, reporters at news conferences, or panel members at webinars shouldn’t try to make themselves look smart or impress colleagues. Instead, look for ways to engage others.
This is especially true on a podcast, when almost all listeners start at the beginning. They don’t tune-in half-way through, as so often happens during a radio show. A podcast audience is much more likely to stay with you for the entire episode when they’re hearing a lively conversation.
Hosts who are curious and honestly interested in what their guests have to say are more engaging and fully present than those who are merely clever.
Be direct. Keep questions brief, if possible. Humor works. So do challenging questions. But unless being obnoxious is part of your act, don’t try to show up the guest or be snarky. On the other extreme, avoid being a toady, who repeatedly flatters guests. “That’s so interesting” or “it’s such a good point you’re making” works once or twice during a twenty minute conversation, but no more than that.
Preparation is essential. Know your stuff. An interview should have moments of surprise, laughter and spontaneity. When the answer provokes a follow-up, don’t stick to a written list of questions. “Tell me more” is a gentle prompt that enables you to go a little deeper.
Two more ways to get the best from a guest is to make her/him feel comfortable before the microphone is switched on. If you edit your podcast before it’s published (you should do this), explain beforehand that a guest can “re-do” an answer. Second, put some energy into how you ask your questions. If you do, the answers are likely to be more animated.
Another way to improve interview technique is to listen to the pros.
We all have our favorite hosts. Mine is Terry Gross. For more than 40 years, she has been voice of the NPR’s “Fresh Air.” Next month in Philadelphia, she will be the closing keynote speaker at Podcast Movement’s annual get together. I’ll be on the edge of my seat, taking notes on what she’ll tell the audience.
Podcaster Marc Maron called Terry “‘the most effective and beautiful interviewer of people on the planet.’’ I love her infectious laugh and warm, deeply intelligent manner.
“Gross is an interviewer defined by a longing for intimacy,” wrote Susan Burton in a lovely profile for The New York Times Magazine. “In a culture in which we are all talking about ourselves more than ever, Gross is not only listening intently; she’s asking just the right questions.”
Many podcast hosts who are relatively new to the game are understandably nervous. But some of the best interviews I’ve heard were by amateurs, speaking with friends or those they love.
Have you listened to “Storycorps”? This brilliant non-profit organization founded by radio producer Dave Isay has been recording and collecting conversations for years. “Our mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world,” Storycorps says on its website.
“Storycorps” has countless examples of loving, empathetic and surprising questions and answers. “Listen. Honor. Share” is their motto. Not a bad thing for us podcasters to include our own mission statements.
If Moms and Dads, sons and daughters and cousins can ask great questions, so can you.
Richard Davies is a Podcast host, consultant and media trainer. Learn more at DaviesContent.com
This is the first of several blogs on making better podcasts. Today: how to be a great guest.
The other day I was interviewing a young woman who wanted to work on a podcast project with us.
About half of her answers began with the all-too-frequent comment, “that’s a really good question.” I wanted to reach into the phone, wag my finger and call her on it.
We all love compliments. But most of the time it’s important to mean what you say. Or, at least convince the person on the other side of the microphone that you’re sincere.
This is especially important when being interviewed on a podcast. Any experienced host can tell when you are using flattery to mask the truth.
Another frequent mistake made by podcast guests and panel members is giving long answers to questions. An interview should be a conversation, not a monologue. Keep you answer to less than 60 seconds. An interesting or provocative comment should invite a follow-up from the host.
One way for podcast guests to be more succinct is to avoid repeating their main argument twice.
A great many professional speakers, professors and authors feel the need to make a point, then say it a slightly different way, and sum-up their long-winded answer with a third version! You’d think they’d know better. But surprisingly few publishers or public relations firms offer media training to authors and clients.
A few more do’s and don’ts:
– If you’re podcast or radio show guest, beware of tangents. When possible, make your main argument first, and then give an illustration or anecdote during the second half of the answer.
- Be direct and avoid overstating your case with words such as “amazing”, “incredible”, or “that’s so important”. Avoid bravado. Be humble.
– Listen carefully to the questions and fully engage with the host. If it’s a face-to-face interview, use eye contact to establish rapport with others. Humor is also a highly effective and often undervalued way to break the ice and establish authenticity.
- Before an interview, ask if the show is live. With an edited, prerecorded podcast, feel free to ask for a “do over” if you’re unhappy with your answer.
– Journalists — and podcast hosts — love people who speak in sound-bites. Prior to an appearance, write down three or four brief sentences that are core messages. Rehearse them.
Good prep before an interview improves your performance. As part of this, ask yourself what you really want to say. Skilled guests know all about framing. They also understand the difference between simple repetition and finding several different ways to make a similar argument.
One way to be the guest who keeps getting invited back is to remember how friends, readers or clients responded when you first discussed a project that you were working on. If they found one particular phrase to be of interest, so will podcast listeners. They are usually hearing your “pitch” for the first time.
Next: How to ask good questions.
Richard Davies is a podcast host, consultant and media trainer. Learn more at DaviesContent.com.
A number one train in motion
…Yeah, I know it’s a pain— especially in rush hour, at the weekends when there’s limited service, or if the guy sitting next to me is manspreading.
But there are also times of unexpected delight on the New York City subway, when a stranger makes you smile.
Friday nights are often the best time, with trains full of happy young people, heading out on dates, parties or planning to start the weekend at a bar. Their laughter and energy are infectious.
Then there are those times such as 9:30 this morning on the number 1 train heading south, when a young woman in her mid-twenties, wearing a shiny light blue cloak with a Columbia University logo, hopped on.
This was her graduation day and she could barely contain her smile.
The people sitting nearby all congratulated her. “It’s a big day— a real milestone”, one middle-aged man said, perhaps thinking of his own kids.
The young woman with long blonde hair was positively beaming. Just before she left the train at W. 116th Street, I asked about her degree. “Masters in International Relations,” she said, almost embarrassed that she was smiling so much.
Someone else nearby said: “Go make the world a better place. I think we need it.”
So, best of luck to her and all graduates who are launching new lives in this commencement season of possibilities. May they find not only work and a way to pay the bills— and the crazy high costs of student loans— but also purpose and a belief in the abundance and blessings of life.
We need their hope, energy and optimism to make the world a better place.
And sometimes we also need the subway and other public places to introduce us to the unexpected.
The Sea of Galilee at sunset…Looking west
Us versus them.
Right against wrong.
Accept the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement. Wag your finger and reject it outright.
Far too often in our beautiful, colorful, chaotic and profoundly interesting world, political and moral arguments are reduced to simple either/or choices. My side good. Your side bad.
In his White House address, President Trump used harsh words about the Iran deal. Instead of suggesting a way to work with European allies and craft something better, he called the deal “horrible” and “disastrous.”
No doubt Trump’s rhetoric will be matched by his opponents. The day after his brief address, members of the Iranian Parliament burnt paper U.S. Flags and chanted “death to America.”
Increasingly in our debates, nuance and compromise— all needed in any realistic or interesting dialogue involving different interests and points of view— are tossed out in favor of dogma and name-calling.
We are all the poorer for it.
Narcissistic name-calling from politicians, pundits and celebrities on cable TV, talk radio and in social media silos only reinforces this sorry trend and confines us to our information silos.
There are much better ways to move forward, have a conversation and learn from others. We’ve learned this on “How Do We Fix It?”, when my co-host Jim Meigs and I ask guests about solutions and what works.
Understanding begins with listening. Growth can come when we change our minds or at least challenge pre-conceived beliefs.
This lesson is almost always reinforced by travel.
During the past two weeks, on a trip to Israel, I was in the happy position of being the least informed person in the room. Normally talkative and full of opinions, I had to listen and ask questions.
What I learned surprised and impressed me. This determined, enterprising, dynamic, inventive and youthful country is far more diverse and pragmatic than I had expected.
Israel is a Jewish state, but it is anything but monolithic. While Orthodox sects play a prominent role in public life, especially in and around Jerusalem, secular Israelis are in the majority. People have come from all over the world. They’re confidence and pride in being Jewish is obvious, even to this first-time visitor.
Back home in the U.S. we hear only about the negatives: a frozen peace process and bitter conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
None of this is to deny that the violence at the Gaza border or the yawning gap in living standards between the two peoples are distressing facts of life. But they are not the only factors to consider. The suffering of many Palestinians is undeniable, but so is the determination of people in all parts of the region to go to work, raise their kids and live their lives.
Arab-Israelis make up almost one-fifth of the population in this small country that is size of New Jersey. While visiting northern, western and central Israel, I saw prominent mosques and minarets, and heard the Moslem call to prayer.
Islamic and Christian religious sites and traditions are treated with respect.
During a brief stay at a resort on the Sea of Galilee (not really a “sea” at all—more like a medium-sized lake), not far from where Jesus started his ministry two thousand years ago, I sunbathed and swam next to a group of young Arab men and women, who, like me, were on vacation, enjoying the warm weather.
For most people normal life goes on. Weekends in Tel Aviv are celebrated on the beach, in restaurants and cafes.
The threat of war is no less real than I had imagined before my trip. And yet that possibility may well add to the appreciation of quotidian rituals.
At a time of ongoing tension, the flame of hope is not extinguished.
Richard Davies is a #podcasting consultant and host of the weekly solutions journalist Podcast “How Do We Fix It?“. DaviesContent designs, edits and makes podcasts for companies and non-profit clients.