Simple storytelling and the Radiolabification of podcasting.

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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.

 

“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.

Lessons I learned from “How Do We Fix It?” Podcast #1

  Developmental Psychologist Abigail Baird… Our first guest on our new podcast.


This is launch day, and there’s excitement in our house.  

I’m writing this on the morning of June 10th, two months to the day since I moved on from full-time employment as Business Correspondent and news anchor at ABC News Radio to work on my digital audio startup.

Our new weekly half-hour podcast, How Do We Fit It?, is now searchable on iTunes and other podcast sites.  There are four episodes so far with new ones being added each week.  Please subscribe! 

With a great deal of help from our fab producer, Miranda Shafer, we built a website that has lots of info on us and what we are up to.  We’re also posting photos on Instagram and thoughts on Twitter and Facebook.

My buddy, former Popular Mechanics Editor-in-Chief,  Jim Meigs, and I are both practical guys, impatient for solutions.  We’ve spent decades reporting the news, and want to move past tired old left vs. right rhetoric of yesterday to something new.

Instead of despair, our podcasts are about hope.  Each show is a lively conversation, built around a smart guest, who is known for fresh thinking and innovative ideas.

The expert we reached out to for our first show is Abigial Baird.  As Developmental Psychologist at Vassar College, Abi studies the teenage brain.  She’s a thinker and a doer – the proud mother of two young twins.

As dads and journalists, Jim and I know what a challenge technology presents for parents and kids.   Computers, video games and mobile devices are a huge temptation. But are they an obstacle or a great opportunity as children learn about the world? 

Here on our first show, Abi shares her humor, enthusiasm and wisdom as a caring parent and a whip-smart neuroscientist.  We learned a lot listening to her.  We think you will too!

Please download and subscribe to our podcasts.  If you like what you hear, share us on social media.  We’d very much like to read your suggestions for new shows.

We are public radio without the N P R.  Thanks for being part of our brand-new community.

I’ve Got a Blog. So, Why Am I Launching a Brand New Kick-Ass Podcast?

  

 Co-host Jim Meigs and I on the How Do We Fix It? Facebook page.


We’re in the final stages of building a brand new weekly podcast, and I’m pretty excited about it.  If all goes well, How Do We Fix It? will be up on iTunes by June 10th.

That would be exactly two months to the day since I left ABC News Radio.

Why bother? Why throw our podcast pebble into the frenzied media firmament?

Unlike many news and public affairs shows, where the tired old left vs. right arguments are hurled across the table, our half-hour podcast is a spontaneous conversation about new solutions and fresh thinking.

Rather than shouting at each other, we take some of the best ideas out there, no matter where they come from. 

Jim Meigs and I are both good friends, who’ve spent decades in the news media.  Jim has been editor-in-chief of four magazines, most recently Popular Mechanics.  I covered politics, business, and finance for ABC News Radio.

We don’t agree on everything (far from it!).  But Jim and I are both practical guys who think there’s a big hole in the market for a show that tackles tech, teaching, taxes and many other controversial matters in a positive way. It’s time for a show that sheds more light than heat.
  
We’re building a website for our podcast at http://www.howdowefixit.me


In the first episodes of How Do We Fix It? we’ve had a lot of fun learning from some of the best in the business.  

Phil Plait, who writes the highly popular Bad Astronomy blog at Slate gives us some great insights into how to fix the space program.  Elizabeth Green, author of the excellent book, Building A Better Teacher, has solid common-sense advice for parents who worry about the quality of teaching in public schools.  And motivation expert Ron Friedman has fascinating thoughts on how to create a happier workforce. Those are just three of our shows.

Jim and I are thinking outside the box and going beyond labels.  How Do We Fix It? talks about practical ways to put theories into practice.

We’ve also had a ton of help from our producer Miranda Shafer, audio mixologists Jim Briggs, Denise Barbarita of MONOLisa Studio, and Joe Plourde, as well as composer Lou Stravinsky. Thanks all!

These shows came about after years of lively chats that Jim and I had together over dinner, coffee or simply out hiking together.  We want to make the world a better place, and are tired of politicians, pundits and others shouting the same phrases and making the same mistakes over and over again.

We hope you’ll listen and suggest new episodes and smart people who we can have as guests. Pull up a chair and join the conversation. Like and add your suggestions to our Fix It Show Facebook page, and please follow @fixitshow on Twitter.

Instead of kicking up a lot of dust, we like to bring people together as we talk about the stuff government, businesses, communities and all of us can do to improve our lives. 

That’s something new, people!