The f-word podcasters think the most about is….

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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.

More friction.

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.

“Can Podcasting Save The Planet” is the latest episode of “How Do We Fix It?’

Richard Davies is a podcaster, consultant and media coach. He runs DaviesContent.

 

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How Do We Fix It? What Your Voice Says About You.

   
Most people don’t like the sound of their own voice. Play back a recording and they cringe.

But the good news for wannabe podcasters and public speakers is that vocal mechanics don’t matter nearly as much they one did. 

We live in a visual age and a much greater range of voices and accents is perfectly acceptable. Think of well-known public radio hosts or TV news anchors who have less-than-perfect and, sometimes, even irritating voices.  

You don’t need to have the rich, smooth tones that Peter Dinklage brings to his role as Tyrian Lannister on “Game of Thrones,” or the professional panache of Dame Maggie Smith in “Downton Abbey”.

Actors do need vocal lessons, especially for theater performances. But long gone are the days when male radio announcers sounded like the Voice Of God, reading from stone tablets on the mountaintop.

As a very young reporter in 1980, I was told by a broadcast news executive that I “didn’t have the pipes” for a job in network radio. I was crushed. I still have his dismissive comment that was scratched in pencil at the bottom of my application letter.

My lucky break came a couple of years later, when women broadcasters crashed the party and changed radio forever. Their hard-won victories also allowed tenors like me to slip through the door. No more need for guy vocal fry. Once I finally realized what was going on, I didn’t have to pretend that I had a bass voice that was far deeper than the one I was born with.  

The same is true today for women. Authenticity is far more important than authority. You don’t need to “fry” or crackle your voice to get people to take you seriously. 

In the 80’s, the first generation of women network news anchors were trend setters, bringing a much more relaxed, conversational style to the airwaves. 

Once again, with the exciting growth of podcasting, vocal patterns are changing. There is now a premium on bringing your true self to the microphone. If you have something of value to say, people will listen, especially if it’s a compelling story. Content matters far more than if you speak with a foreign accent or have a high or low voice. 

Most of us podcast fans have them, quite literally, in our ears. We listen alone with ear buds. It’s just you and the podcaster. No other medium is as intimate as this one. 

I’m not suggesting that technique and tone don’t matter. At the first podability.com podcast boot camp during April in New York, I shared some of what I know about vocal performance. A few bullet points:

  • Smile before you speak. Be grateful that you have something to say. Listeners can hear your enthusiasm.
  • You set the tone for your podcast. A positive attitude puts your guests at ease. When interviewing, bring positive energy to your questions. Guests often take verbal cues from you.
  • Getting a good night’s sleep and eating healthy improve the quality of your voice. Look after yourself. 
  • Many people gargle or drink a hot beverage before going into the studio. Techniques vary. Do an online search for “vocal exercises” and pick ones that work for you.
  • Get your blood flowing. Bend and stretch before you switch on the microphone.
  • If you stammer or have a pronounced lisp, you should get coaching. A vocal tick that gets in the way of clear communication is something that needs to be addressed.

What matters most is that you bring your own inner voice and experience to the table. As an Anglo-American, my accent and rhythm of speech often varies according to whom I speaking to. Years ago, I tried to rub this out and copy others. Now I believe that I was wrong.

All of us have our own unique soul. When podcasting, broadcasting or speaking in public, the bravest and best thing we can do is to bring our true self to the microphone.

For 29 years, Richard Davies worked as a news and business correspondent for ABC News. In 2015, he formed DaviesContent, a digital audio production and consulting firm. His podcast is the solutions show, “How Do We Fix It?

Photo: Richard and whiteboard at Podability.com