Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, in Part 1 of my Podcasting Must-Haves series, I bequeathed upon you the history of how Power Athlete Radio was born, and came to be. What wasn’t so succinctly pointed out was this: with a few bucks, some internet, and a little bit of knowhow, you could start your own podcast. I know this because that’s exactly what I did with Power Athlete Radio, which is now topping the fitness charts on iTunes week after week. In this blog I want to cover the nonnegotiable must-have items required to start your podcast and grow it to a chart topper.
As an inexperienced podcaster, I would read through blog after blog after blog trying to figure out what we needed to do to step up our game. I’d listen to other people’s podcasts (aka OPP) and try to figure out what they were doing that we weren’t.
The list I was building became broad, and it was clear that some of the advice was format specific. Are you a solo caster? Do you interview guests? Will interviews be in person or over the phone? Maybe a video conference? Are you filming your podcasts to post videos? Will the show be conversational? Informative and lecture based? Story telling? We could continue to drill down and get into a lot of the nitty gritty, but we won’t. With that said, this list is not a finite list.
Rather, these are the items that I believe will continue to propel Power Athlete Radio to the top spot in Fitness on iTunes, and are also extremely applicable to any podcaster recording in any format.
It’s a Long Road
It would behoove you to understand the history of the premier podcast in strength and conditioning, Power Athlete Radio, before we dig into the must have items. You can find that post here:
As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, the must haves are not all hard items… They are soft skills, which makes them broadly applicable, so let’s dig in.
1. Motivation in Dissatisfaction
Getting good isn’t easy. Hell, even getting better is hard, and you can get a lot better and still suck. I always dug this Dave Grohl quote.
“When I think about kids watching a TV show like American Idol or The Voice, then they think, ‘Oh, OK, that’s how you become a musician, you stand in line for eight fucking hours with 800 people at a convention center and… then you sing your heart out for someone and then they tell you it’s not fuckin’ good enough.’ Can you imagine? … It’s destroying the next generation of musicians! Musicians should go to a yard sale and buy and old fucking drum set and get in their garage and just suck. And get their friends to come in and they’ll suck, too. And then they’ll fucking start playing and they’ll have the best time they’ve ever had in their lives and then all of a sudden they’ll become Nirvana. Because that’s exactly what happened with Nirvana. Just a bunch of guys that had some shitty old instruments and they got together and started playing some noisy-ass shit, and they became the biggest band in the world. That can happen again! You don’t need a fucking computer or the internet or The Voice or American Idol.”
Grohl’s sentiments resonate so much with me as I go back and listen to the first 100 or so episodes. Spoiler alert: in our case with podcasting, you will most definitely need a computer and the internet.
The point here is to establish expectations; when you first start, you probably won’t be great. You might suck. But that’s the beauty of being a whiltebelt; you’ll be ripe for progress. Don’t let your dissatisfaction dissuade you from putting in the work.
You need to find motivation in that dissatisfaction. You need to learn to be positively dissatisfied.
2. Genuine Curiosity
Your show may start with a tick list of items to cover. It might even be scripted. I think people enjoy the candor of a podcast host who can elegantly bring their thoughts to life in real time through the mic, which is why I’m not a huge fan of scripting to a ‘T’. If that’s not you (yet), that’s fine. You need to start somewhere. You will likely venture into the space where you have a guest on. To get the most out of that conversation, you must be genuinely curious about what they have to say.
Polling their expertise with a Q&A session might seem effective, but that is not a conversation. Q&A is a series of transactions. Allow the curiosity you have for your guest and the respect for the time they are taking to talk with you to build a rapport. Use that energy to “roll” with them. Let them steer the conversation. When you feel like they are getting momentum, don’t be afraid to pump air into their tires and build them up.
I’m not suggesting you pander. I suggest you thoughtfully provide an environment for them to thrive.
Listeners gravitate towards authentic passion, curiosity, and debate. So don’t be afraid to disagree, but if you do, you should have something to back it up, and you should be willing to learn.
3. Comfort with Nonlinear Thought
As mentioned above, you will probably want a plan when you’re talking with a guest. I’d over plan here, but I wouldn’t force the plan on the conversation. Don’t commit to a script to cover all your points. Be prepared enough so that you can access any point in your plan as the conversation starts to head veer toward it.
I refer to this as having whimsical discussion points.
Think of this as a pool of questions or points to discuss, instead of an ordered list. Slowly navigate through the conversation and weave into as many points as you can while allowing the guest to steer the conversation.
4. Vocal Awareness
Do you hate your voice? Well, you better be open to learning to love it. If you plan on putting your voice over the airwaves and you aren’t willing to listen to it, why would you expect your audience to listen to it? Some common faults I’ve experienced in listening to my lectures and shows, as well as being guests on OPP is a lack of vocal range.
Monotone presenters are THE WORST! You need range; variations in inflection, tone, cadence. This might not come naturally, but it’s a skill you can learn. It requires practice and feedback.
Even with solid range, you need to be aware of your language. First, let’s talk about soft language. We call them “filler words”. These are the um’s, so’s, like’s, kinda’s, you know’s, etc. etc. etc. that contribute NOTHING to what you have to say. These. Need. To. Like. Go away. Or something.
I fall back on soft language as I search for what to say next. But I’ve also found that silence in the form of a reflective pause in what I am looking to communicate is just as effective, and less distracting. You can even stop, stay “let me gather my thoughts here” and then continue.
Do not pollute your podcast with soft language. Use strong and definitive language, and get in the habit of listening to your lectures and interviews and holding yourself accountable. Eventually, you will be able to feel soft language approaching, anticipate it, and finally control it.
5. Lust for Feedback
At first, you must be your own critic. You will know what you’re doing wrong. Just listen to other A-List podcasts like Power Athlete Radio, find what we’re doing that you are not.
You also need to ask people for feedback. Organic listeners especially, but until then hit up family and friends who are into podcasts and let them know they have permission to be as candid and honest as possible; you are in a safe space.
Even have family and friends on your podcast for fun, you don’t have to release it. It can be a practice run, and see if they can give you feedback on what it’s like to be on the other side of the mic.
Always thank your critics, acknowledge their points, and commit to change. Lean into things that sting a bit to see if there’s something real in there. Odds are there is.
If you get nothing but “good jobs” but still you know you have further to go, consider asking outside your circle, and even paying for feedback from experts in the field who are willing to help.
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John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.
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