Have you ever wanted to be the guy everyone stops to listen to?
So have I. So have most people. Unfortunately, I don’t have the looks for television. I can’t speak for you, but it’s unlikely that any of us will be given the platform of a large, entrenched media company in our lifetime.
We have an alternative. It’s called audio podcasting (for those of you who have been keeping your heads down in the past few years), and it’s become a way for average and not so average people to share their ideas, humor, and stories.
After being an avid listener to the staggeringly diverse pool of podcasts out there on the internet, I’ve finally dived into recording myself. While being heard has been nice, producing and hosting a weekly show for nine months has taught me some surprisingly valuable things about thinking creatively, keeping a productive mindset, and working more effectively in my life in general.
Here are some of the (somewhat contradictory, amazingly useful) things I’ve learned from podcasting. Whether you’re an aspiring show host or someone who’s never even considered this medium, I think they’ll hold true for you, too:
1) You learn that most people don’t want to listen to you.
When you’re faced with the microphone and the equivalent of a blank page – silence – you come to the very uncomfortable but very important realization that you might really not have that much worth saying.
Podcasting is the ultimate form of giving your unsolicited opinion, and you may quickly find out that it’s opinion that no one wants. This is healthy – it will make you work harder and stay humbler than the guy who rambles on at business meetings that no one has the heart to honestly criticize.
2) You learn that some people want to hear what you have to say.
Confused? Points 1 and 2 aren’t contradictory, though they may seem to be.
It turns out that some people may actually want to hear what you have to say. This was a shock for me, but just showing up and saying something marginally more valuable every week ultimately did make me someone worth listening to (for some people, at some times, insert other disclaimers here).
People actually do want to be able to connect with people. Whether you have a good voice, a good sense of humor, a sharp intelligence, or a large body of useful research or advice, you have what you need to make that connection happen. Start using the skills that make you worth hearing – you may learn how to master them, and you’ll gain significant confidence in your social forays outside of the podcasting world.
3) You’ll learn how to ask good questions.
One of the most valuable things you can do with your time is to learn how to ask interesting questions. Unfortunately, most people don’t know how to ask targeted ones.
“What do you think of [X]?” is not a good question. “What advice would you give to young people?” is not a very good question. Yes, you’ll elicit responses, but they won’t be of much use to anybody.
“What is one piece of advice most young people accept that none of them should actually follow?” Now that’s better.
When you’re on a live and/or recorded call, you really only get one chance to phrase a question for maximum effect (without looking like an idiot, that is). By raising the stakes for your questions, you’ll begin to notice a steady improvement in their quality, both on and off-air, and your ability to learn from the people around you will go through the roof.
4) You’ll learn how to ask for things.
I have a confession: I hate asking people for things. I’m not alone. Most independently-minded, hardworking people have a certain sense of guilt around begging or even just making requests.
Getting a small podcast off the ground requires a lot of asking. That can be hell for people like us, but whether you need to book guests, ask for reviews, or otherwise request something for or from your audience, learning how to make a request that is compelling and respectful is essential. No one owes you time, money, or respect – a fact as clear in the podcasting world as it is in the business world.
Making these requests well (and earning the right to make them) takes practice, so use podcasting as your opportunity. I’ve found that people are actually quite willing to oblige if you’re willing to take their feedback, interview them about their project, or give them a shout-out on your show. Don’t feel bad about asking – you have a great platform which you can use to return so much value to anyone who helps you. Speaking of which . . .
5) You’ll learn how to create value for people.
If you’re just coming together with your co-hosts and talking about the things that happen in your own relatively uninteresting lives, prepare to have a small audience comprised mostly of creepers and the NSA (a listenership you can always count on!)
One of the things I tried to master in my podcasting work was a focus on content that would 1) entertain listeners and 2) expose them to new ideas and resources. Most digital content that lasts longer than a few minutes requires some kind of combination of these two.
If you take the plunge into making a podcast that does these two things well, you’ll develop a serious discipline for researching, listening to, and refining all interesting information which comes your way. You’ll gain a mindset focused on learning and making better experiences for yourself and others. This is highly valuable, and it’s highly transferrable to other areas of life.
In the end, launching a podcast is much like launching a media company – a small, insignificant one, to be sure, but one that requires entrepreneurial work and thought to succeed. Do it right, and you will become far better at planning, executing, and getting your ideas out into the world. The challenge is worth it.
OK, you saw the title. Drop whatever you’re doing, read these tips on getting the gear, and get started!
(Oh, and you may want some listening material while you’re starting up your own show, so check out our founder’s podcast on education, entrepreneurship, and living freely.)