Why we listen to podcasts and what makes them different from radio and other forms of communication.

Podcasting is now mainstream and has just moved into a new phase. Let’s call it the 2nd Wave.

While most media content producers no longer need convincing that they should be doing podcasts, they’re also starting to realize that this medium is unique and that they don’t know how to make them.

Unique how?

– We’re the blue jeans medium: the most informal and intimate delivery system for compelling emotions and thought. Storytelling can take its natural course.

– Unlike video, ideas are delivered pure and without the distraction of a host’s unfortunate dress sense, wrinkles or bad teeth. There’s just that voice in your ear.

– Unlike radio and TV, which is often on in the background, podcast audiences aren’t usually distracted and don’t “tune in”. They’ve sought out your show, and are listening carefully at a time of their choosing. Parts of each episode may be replayed. Intimacy squared.

– Podcasts offer listeners more control. Episodes may be replayed. Many people listen on earbuds, encouraging a deeper connection than listening to the radio a speaker. The best podcasts are not passive and they often require listeners to bring something of themselves to the experience— their imagination and curiosity.

– Podcast hosts don’t have to “re-set” and remind the audience what they’re talking about. Listeners don’t tune in half-way through. They start each episode at the beginning, allowing for a more linear narrative.

– Unlike radio shows that have to conform to the clock (typically 25 or 50 minutes plus pledge breaks and newscasts), podcasts have no scheduling or timing restraints, and can vary in length. Episodes can be produced daily, weekly, monthly or in seasons.

– Podcasts can be made and distributed without the approval of an executive editor, radio program director, or some other gatekeeper. Many shows are produced at-home, without the need for expensive studio equipment. Creators have more freedom.

– While some podcasts are made with big budgets and are highly structured, with multiple layers of ambient sound or music, there is no single formula for success. This lack of established rules allows for a greater range of voices and subjects.

– Unlike broad-casts that must appeal to a broad audience, podcasts can target a much smaller slice of the population. With social media, hosts and producers have a direct dialog with listeners and can truly find what their audience wants to hear.

– Unlike radio, podcasting is rarely live. That may be a disadvantage, but many episodes are evergreen and have a long shelf life.

The requirements of doing a distinctive podcast require a different set of skills than its closest cousin. After decades in radio, I had to un-learn a great deal when we began podcasting during the 1st Wave in 2015.

“Serial” had just taken the world by storm, and the for the first time, many people had become dimly aware of online audio and were asking “what is a podcast?”

Over the next four years, as audience numbers zoomed steadily upward, almost everyone jumped into production— from individuals and celebrities to media giants, consumer brands and non-profit foundations. The result is a great big, glorious mess.

The 2nd Wave has arrived and to be successful at podcasting, producers must know why it is indeed like no other medium.

– Richard Davies is a podcast host, consultant and producer. DaviesContent designs podcast formats, edits and helps clients make excellent audio content.

Throw away the seatbelts. What I had to un-learn after a long career in network radio.

For more than three decades I spent my working life in network radio news, reading scripts and speaking to the clock.

As a journalist covering politics, wars and the financial markets, I had to master the art of the precis — telling compact, compelling stories using a minimum number of carefully chosen words. As a radio news-talk host, the “re-set” was a requirement. We had to remind listeners every few minutes what we were talking about and who we were interviewing. As a newscaster, I had to make sure that my four minutes at the top of the hour didn’t go as much as one second over.

However informal we tried to sound, there was a certain rigidity imposed by the strict discipline of the radio format. Podcasting is surprisingly different. There are so many radio lessons I had to unlearn.

First. Unfasten my seatbelt: replace the scripts with spontaneity. Many of the best podcasts are off-the-cuff and soulful, with moments of passion and humor. The best podcasters lift the curtain on their personal story and take full advantage of the medium’s extraordinary intimacy.

Second. The “clock” is gone and the need to “reset” also goes away. Instead of tuning in at random times, podcast listeners start at the beginning and usually stay with us for the entire show. Episodes can be as long or short as we want them to be. There is no ideal length.

Third. With other media, distractions are common, but podcasts are heard without the interruptions of timechecks, weather reports, pledge drives, and commercials. Most of our listeners are on their own and away from mobile screens with their instant messages and email reminders.

On our weekly solutions journalism podcast, How Do We Fix It?, my good friend and co-host Jim Meigs and I have found that the connection with our audience runs deep. And unlike TV and YouTube videos, audio listeners aren’t distracted by my crooked teeth, Jim’s beard, or our poor choice of clothing.

Another unlearning curve is that, as independent podcasters, we are the boss — our own program directors and content creators. There are no formats to worry about. Podcasters can develop deeper thoughts than broadcasters, and tell longer, richer stories. This leads to greater intimacy and allows for more innovation and creativity.

Who would have thought that four-hour podcast episodes told by a single-voice narrator could be a hit? With Hardcore History, former commercial radio talk show host Dan Carlin proved that a storyteller of great skill and knowledge can do things that are never allowed on radio.

Podcasts can also target niche audiences who are passionate about the topics being discussed. I am an art lover and one of my personal favorites, The Lonely Palette, lives up to its unusual promise of being “the podcast that returns art history to the masses, one painting at a time.”

While the entry barriers to podcasting are very low, and the equipment is cheap, all that freedom comes at a cost. It’s a bit like the Wild West. At last count there were more than 550,000 shows to choose from. Unless you are linked to a major brand, the challenges of attracting a sizable audience and finding sponsors are steep indeed.

Anyone with a new show has to learn how to be a marketer, come up with a 10-second elevator pitch, and in the words of social media marketing strategist Mark Schaefer, answer the “only we” of your brand — as in “only our podcast tells you this.”

The difference between radio and podcasting may appear subtle. However, professional broadcasters who move into this medium not only have to unlearn old habits, but learn brand new tricks.

This requires a mix of humility, curiosity, and no shortage of energy.

Richard Davies is a media coach, podcast consultant, and co-host of the weekly podcast, How Do We Fix It? at daviescontent.com.

“Thats a really good question” and other silly things guests say during podcasts.

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.

I swam with Muslims in The Sea of Galilee

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.

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.

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.

 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Hey, Hillary! Tell More Stories.


By most measures Hillary Clinton had a pretty good night in her first debate with Donald Trump.  But something was missing.

Her disciplined performance may have convinced wavering voters to be somewhat more comfortable with the idea of her as President.  Clinton’s cool, calm demeanor contrasted with Donald Trump’s repeated interruptions and bluster.  She was also successful in getting under his skin.

However, Clinton did little to overcome her two biggest negatives: likeability and trust.  Neither did Trump.  Both are still disliked by surprisingly large numbers of voters. 

In the two debates to come, the breakout candidate could be the one who tells the best stories.

Clinton’s strongest moment on Monday night came right at the end of the 90 minute debate, after many may have turned it off.  She raised the case of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, who Trump had called “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping.”

She made it personal. Her remark struck home because it was about a woman who many viewers could relate to.  

Same thing when Clinton talked about her late father and his work as a drapery maker. 

“Donald was very fortunate in his life and that’s all to his benefit. He started his business with $14 million, borrowed from his father,” she said.  “I have a different experience.”

In podcasts, the most successful moments are often the most intimate. When podcast guests share something unrehearsed, unexpected or emotional from their lives, they lift the curtain on they are and establish trust with the listener. 

All too often Clinton talks about “it” – policies and programs – while her opponent talks about “me” – himself.

Donald Trump could also be a much better storyteller. And given his extraordinary success in building his brand, it’s surprising he doesn’t know this.

Instead of talking about the “rigged system” in the abstract, Trump could share stories of the working class Americans he speaks for, who’ve seen their living standards decline in recent decades.

In the weeks to come, a personal touch potentially would have a far greater impact than his angry attacks on illegal immigrants and free trade. It would also counter the impression that Trump lacks empathy and is obsessed with his own success. 

Ronald Reagan understood this trick all too well – much to the frustration of his liberal opponents.  In debates and speeches, he always had a good tale to tell.  Skeptical voters who’d been warned that Reagan was a shallow extremist would ask themselves: “How this man be mean or out of touch when he was such a good storyteller?”

It was of Ronald Reagan’s great secrets. But then he was an old radio guy. He knew the stuff that today’s podcasters learn along the way.

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