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Chapter 3. The Components of Your Podcast > The Voice(s) on Your Podcast

The Voice(s) on Your Podcast

Podcasting is an audio medium that’s extremely personal. Unlike radio, which is often listened to in a car or in an office or in some other semi-public setting, podcasts are almost always listened to by one person at a time. As a result, you’re communicating with your listener on a one-to-one basis.

But it goes even beyond that. Often, your listener is listening to you on a portable music player. When you think about it, then, you’re talking right into your listener’s ear. That’s a very personal way to communicate. (Think about it! How often—and under what circumstances—do people talk directly into your ear? It’s a very, very personal method of communication.)

It stands to reason, then, that the single most important factor in your podcast’s success is going to be the connection that your listener feels with the voice he is hearing through his earbuds. For the most part, that voice is going to be you. In addition to your own voice, you may choose to add one or more other voices to your show.

In this discussion, when we talk about your voice, we’re not using that word only in its traditional sense. We’re not just talking about the quality of the sound that comes out of your mouth when you speak, but we’re also talking about the personality that’s projected by you and anyone else who’s on your show regularly. We’re also referring to the way all those personalities together contribute to the overall feel of the show.

Your Show Host Persona

There is no question about the fact that—regardless of the content or format of your show—the role you play as show host will be the single most important factor in determining whether or not your podcast is successful. There is no content that is so compelling or unique that it will make up for a show host who doesn’t connect with the audience. On the other hand, there are podcasters who connect with their audiences so thoroughly that they’re able to transcend occasionally mundane content and maintain an audience based on the sheer force of their personalities. This aspect of connecting with your audience begins with an understanding of something called persona. For the purpose of this discussion, we can define persona as the personality or character that you consistently project to your audience.

Clap for the Wolfman

One of the best known personas in the history of broadcasting belonged to a radio disk jockey named Bob Smith. If that name isn’t familiar to you, you might recognize the name under which Bob worked in both radio and television for decades: Wolfman Jack.

Like all great broadcast personas, Wolfman Jack’s persona was both carefully crafted and yet extremely natural. And, like all great personas, it was unique. When you heard the Wolfman for the first time, his delivery cut through the airwaves like a beacon. It was unmistakable and differentiated him immediately from every other voice on the radio.

The Wolfman might not be a model for your persona, but you can learn a great deal about crafting a persona by studying what Bob Smith accomplished. You can learn more about this late, great, Hall of Fame personality by going to www.wolfmanjack.org or by renting a copy of American Graffiti the next time you’re at the video store.

Persona is far more than just your voice or what you say on your podcast, although both of those things contribute to it. Persona is the aggregate of several factors, including your

  • Voice

  • Attitude

  • Delivery

  • Sense of humor

  • Political perspective

  • Social perspective

  • Sense of playfulness

  • Sense of outrageousness

  • Energy level

  • Vocabulary

There are no set rules for formulating a winning persona for your podcast. To a large extent, your persona is something that will develop over time as you become comfortable with the podcasting medium.

At this point in the discussion—especially if you have not had the opportunity to spend much time behind a microphone—there’s a question that may be floating around in your mind somewhere. If you’re like many people who hear about this concept for the first time, you may be thinking to yourself, “I don’t want to develop some sort of phony persona. I just want to be myself on my podcast. What should I do in that case?”

This question is certainly not uncommon. It arises from an understandable tendency to confuse the concepts of playing a role and projecting a persona.

When you play a role, you’re adopting a character and personality that is not yours. It’s similar in many ways to improvisational acting. Adopting a character is one way to create a persona, to be sure, but it’s certainly not the only way nor is it necessarily the best way.

Projecting a persona, on the other hand, is not in any way inconsistent with being yourself. It does mean that if you’re going to be yourself, you need to do so in a way that (1) is consistent over time so that members of your audience get what they expect and (2) clearly projects to your audience through your medium.

Being consistent doesn’t mean that your tone doesn’t vary from one show to the next. In fact, it can—and probably should—vary considerably. One day you might be angry; another day you might be ecstatic. Those kinds of variations can be distinctly positive. (Keep that in mind as we discuss predictable unpredictability in a bit.) Consistency means that your audience can hear your underlying persona no matter what kind of mood you’re in.

The ability to project is the other significant factor in crafting your persona. Think of your podcast persona as a music player. If you were to adopt a character as part of your persona, that would be like changing the song that’s playing. Projecting your persona, by contrast, is more like just turning up the volume a little bit. Your listeners won’t engage with a persona that doesn’t project any more than the people they’re already talking to every day.

Turning Up the Dial

Projecting your persona might not be something you’ve thought about before, but the results that come out of a set of speakers or a pair of earbuds are unmistakable.

Try this experiment: Sit down with a friend and some recording equipment. Record the results as you speak in a normal, conversational tone. Take no more than two minutes to tell your friend what your favorite CD is and give two or three reasons why you like it.

Now, get ready to re-record yourself taking the same two minutes and making the same two or three points. This time, however, create a mental image for yourself of an imaginary dial that controls how much you project as you speak. Turn the dial up about 20 percent, then make your recording. Listen to the two recordings, one after the other, and the difference will be clear.

If it’s going to be successful, your podcast needs to be engaging and entertaining. (There’s a reason we refer to each episode as a “show”!) All of that begins with your persona. What you now know that many podcasters don’t is that your persona doesn’t develop by accident.

Do You Need (or Want) a Co-Host?

Your decision about whether or not to have a co-host for your podcast is entirely subjective; ultimately, there’s no answer that’s definitively right or wrong.

There are a number of plausible reasons for going it alone:

  • You may value the flexibility of not having to coordinate with another person to create a show

  • Your vision for your podcast may be a very personal one that would not easily accommodate another personality

  • Your podcast is specifically designed to promote you as a personality or some product or service you’re involved with

  • Your kindergarten report card said, “Does not play well with others”

On the other hand, there are some great reasons to have a co-host:

  • Your podcast was conceived as a joint venture with someone you like or someone with whom you share a business interest

  • You want to balance a couple of different perspectives

  • You know someone who can bring some quality or expertise to your podcast that you can’t provide by yourself

  • You want to share the workload of regularly producing a podcast with someone else

If you decide to have a co-host for your podcast, there are a few rules you’ll want to keep in mind to make the arrangement work as well as possible for you, your co-host, and—most importantly—for your listeners.

If Possible, Have Distinctly Different Voices

Ever wonder why so many radio teams are comprised of one male and one female? This isn’t the only reason or even the most important one, but it certainly is a significant factor. Keep in mind the fact that your listener—unlike a television viewer—has no visual cues to differentiate one voice from the other.

One very popular podcast is hosted by two brothers who sound a great deal alike. Of course, there’s not a great deal that can be done about it. After all, brothers do tend to sound alike. Still, the situation can be confusing to the show’s listeners, especially newer ones who have not learned over time to distinguish one brother from the other.

Like the situation with these two brothers, you many not have a great deal of control over this aspect of your show. If you do have control over it, though, and if you have a choice, pick a co-host who has a voice that is distinctly unlike yours.

What to Do When Two Voices Sound Alike

Unless you or your co-host is willing to try to adopt a completely different “on-air” voice (not recommended), your best bet it to get in the habit of giving your listener cues to differentiate between two similar voices.

The easiest and most effective cue is to use each other’s names as often as possible. (In fact, whether your voices are similar or not, this is still a pretty good practice.) Of course, there’s a point at which that becomes distracting. Precisely where that point lies is a judgment call that you’ll have to make. In any event, you’ll be doing your listener a favor if you use names noticeably more often than you’d use them when you’re not podcasting.

Don’t Talk Over Each Other

This is a variation of the same issue you face when you’re dealing with two similar voices: Your podcast cannot provide your listener with visual cues about what’s going on. What might come across on television as an energetic exchange of views will simply sound garbled on your podcast.

There’s nothing wrong with an energetic exchange of views. The trick to making that work on your podcast is to simply take turns. It’s not something that necessarily comes naturally—and it’s easy to forget in the heat of the moment—but with a little bit of practice, you can establish the habit of not stepping on each other’s lines.

Assume Distinct Roles in the Podcast

There’s an old adage that says if two people agree about everything, then one of them is unnecessary. That’s not a bad rule to follow on your podcasts. In addition, there’s a corollary you can add to the rule: If two co-hosts are performing the same functions on the show, one of them is superfluous.

The most engaging co-host pairings generally work in one of two different ways:

  • The two hosts are adversarial and disagree about almost everything. The Fox News pairing of Hannity and Colmes is a perfect example of how this type of co-hosting arrangement works.

  • One co-host is somewhat subservient to the other. This co-host functions not quite as an equal but, instead, acts as a surrogate voice for the listener. He or she asks the questions a listener might ask and reacts out loud in ways that a listener might. Think of Robin Quivers and Howard Stern.

Creating distinct roles for each of your podcast’s co-hosts has one additional benefit. No matter how charismatic you are, chances are you’ll rub some listeners the wrong way. If your co-host’s role is differentiated from yours in a meaningful way, you increase the likelihood that any given listener will be able to find someone on the show with whom he or she can establish a bond.

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