Be Positive When You Send Texts, email, and Make Podcasts: That’s So Much Better Than Saying “No”.

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Podcasting, by its very nature, is an optimistic endeavor.

From venture capitalists and big media firms who’ve poured huge sums of money into risky podcast ventures, to small teams of independent producers, we are all making a big bet that our shows will reach their intended audience.

The enthusiasm and passion that we express for what we do provides fuel for the difficult times and dark days when it’s hard to pay the bills or hope for a better future.

As we search for growth, it really pays to be positive in all forms of our communications.

“Every time I’m writing an email to people that I work with, and I find myself using the word “not” or “don’t” or “shouldn’t”, I stop, look at it, and think: can you re-phrase that in a way that is not about “not”, and “don’t” and “shouldn’t”, and turn it into something positive?” says Benjamin Dreyer, copy chief at Random House and the author of “Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style.”

During a long, entertaining, and highly informative interview with Preet Bharara on the latest episode of his podcast, “Stay Tuned With Preet”, Dreyer declared: “Honest writing is a kind of truth telling… Good writing is a kind of morality.”

And so it is with podcasting.

No other medium is so one-on-one. When we listen to a podcast it’s usually just that single voice in your ear. Nothing more. Hosts and producers should choose their words carefully to communicate exactly who they are, and what they want to say. It’s their most vital task.

We live in a time of anger and polarization, when hateful, fearful messaging is amplified by social media.

Don’t copy what may appear to work on Twitter or in the political arena.

As podcasters, our measurement of success goes much deeper than the number of followers, retweets or “likes” that we have. With each episode, we are trying to connect in a thoughtful, authentic way with people who may not have heard us before.

“When it’s in the context of love and grace, and somebody really cares for you, you can hear a lot from them,” former Congressman Bob Inglis told me recently on our podcast, “How Do We Fix It?

“If you don’t care from me, I’m not going to hear anything from you,” he said. “We need to reach people and say: We really like you. We think you’re good.”

Our industry is growing all the time, and changing fast. Facing others with a smile on our face and hope in our hearts is a necessary way to stay focused and balanced when things get crazy.

Richard Davies is a journalist and podcast consultant. He makes podcasts at daviescontent.com.

“How do you feel”, “tell me more” and other smart interview questions.

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

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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.