Behind the Mic: Lessons Learned from 70 Episodes of Podcasting

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February 03rd 2022. Episode 001. Comfort zone level minus 100. 

 I remember going for a walk before we started recording, and I could already feel the anxiety building; that tense, tingly feeling you get in your chest, whilst your mind races through every possibility that in reality would never happen, but that it feels like imagining because that’s the mystery and stupidity of the human brain. 

My make-shift podcast studio was set up in my Covid-era home office, and I was ready to hit record.

I was far more interested in my appearance for most of the recording. To not include any ‘uhms’, to keep the conversation flowing, to shake and shuffle my legs as I asked questions – a sort of nervous twitch you get when exploring something new for the first time.

Halfway through, I made a false statement that I thought was true, only to be corrected. Great. Ego-hit and confidence diminished even further. 

Then boom. Technical error. The podcast stopped recording because of a fault in our recording software. But too nervous to say anything and upset our guest, Bryan, we continued with the episode.

One month later, we re-recorded the episode, and the experience was just as anxiety-provoking as the first. But we got there. 

Seventy-something recorded episodes later, and looking back, this anxiety barely exists. I would be wrong to say it has completely gone – there is some pressure when meeting new people, trying to not look stupid or say something that might upset them or even our listeners. 

But the more we record, the more I can step outside of my head and put the focus on our guests. This skill and my deeply empathetic self allowed me to put myself in my guest’s head, leading to some interesting observations.

 

The Different Types Of Interviewees

Podcasting has taken off in recent years and continues to grow. So I guess interviewing or being an interviewee is not a new phenomenon for many people. 

You learn a lot about yourself (and others) during your first interview. And the more you do, the more you start to notice recurring patterns, traits and behaviours that repeat themselves. I can only think of these behaviours as a form of the limits of human personalities.

Based on my experience, I’ve started to notice the personas of our guests, and after much thought, I believe these can be categorised as the following:

  • The Slow Starter
  • The Show Up And Hoper
  • The Non-Stop Talker
  • The Edit Abuser
  • The Whizz
  • The “Great Questioner”

Before I go into detail, neither of these personas are negative. Nor is one notably worse than another.

The Slow Starter

This person is often a little bit nervous, or their self-talk is talking them out of whatever they’re saying. About 30 seconds into their first answer, they ask to start the interview again. 

  • Common Traits: Ultra polite and friendly, perfectionist
  • Behaviours: Twitchy body language, sporadic eye contact
  • Favourite Quote: “Can we start again?”

The Show Up And Hoper

5 minutes before the interview starts, this person will ask us to send the link to our recording software. Yeah, it’s the same link we sent on the joining instructions a day or so before 🙂 . When we ask if they had time to review our questions, they often say no and that they can talk about anything.

  • Common Traits: Extremely confident
  • Behaviours: Shows up 2 mins after the allocated recording slot
  • Favourite Quote: “Can you send me the link for the recording?” [please check the email!!]

The Non-Stop Talker

How do you stop this person from talking? Please email me if you have any tips. This person could speak about the most mundane of subjects for hours on end. 

  • Common Traits: Calm, does not stop talking unless cut off
  • Behaviours: Talk, talk, talk
  • Favourite Quote: All of them

The Edit Abuser

I like this person as they are willing to make a statement at the chance they might be wrong and that we can edit it later. But thanks a lot, Edit Abuser; you just created more work for our editor! 

  • Common Traits: Daring
  • Behaviours: Risk tolerant – will say something bold, hoping it’s correct at the risk of it being wrong
  • Favourite Quote: “Can we cut that out?”

The Whizz

The geniuses among us. Whenever we end an episode with one of these, I need a few days to recover.

  • Common Traits: Extremely clever 
  • Behaviours: Talks in-depth and very well on complex subjects
  • Favourite Quote: “I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I’m saying.” [this is an Oscar Wilde quote btw.]

The Great Questioner

The phrase “That’s a great question” is peculiar, and I am trying to work out the semantics behind it. Either it is a genuine compliment, a stalling tactic or a knee-jerk reaction to something unexpected.

  • Common Traits: Too kind
  • Behaviours: Deep breath and slight stutter when you ask a great question.
  • Favourite Quote: “That’s a great question”

Common Interviewee Personas

Do any of these resonate with you? 

I was definitely a Slow Starter, to begin with, but now I see myself as a Non-Stop Talker. Extraverted people hit me up.

 

 

The Weird Things That Happen During Interviews

Interviews are intimate settings. You’re one-on-one with a stranger. As an interviewer, you absorb the pressure of maintaining a great interview, which usually entails keeping the conversation flowing while actively listening and concentrating intently. 

As an interviewer, you also possess the power to steer the conversation where you want. What this means is different for each interviewer – some like to ask very tough questions, some like to dive deep, and some like to get a holistic overview of the subject matter expertise of their guest.

But, as well as the recurring characteristics of our guests that I’ve started to notice, strange occurrences happen, which, when they happen more than once, make you pause for a second and realise that this must simply be another aspect of human behaviour.

Did They Answer The Question?

When you ask a question, whether consciously or not, you set internal criteria to determine an appropriate answer. 

So what happens when that criteria is not met?

It’s a tough one. 

Sometimes, people don’t answer the question in the way you expect, and this, I believe, could be for several reasons:

  • They don’t have the knowledge
  • They don’t understand the question
  • They don’t want to answer the question, so they swerve it using clever tactics
  • Their answer is too complicated for the interviewer to understand

When this happens, as an interviewer, it is very tricky. Do you ask the question again? The fear that your guest might think they have already answered the question and their internal monologue changes to “Why are they asking me this again?” OR do you swiftly pretend you are happy with their response?

There is no right way to deal with it, and with the pressure of time and maintaining a good interview, the course of action is usually down to instinct.

In any case, when you feel that your guest hasn’t answered a question, this weird sort of feeling occurs inside of your body, a slight sense of unease that you might have to ask your guest to revisit their answer (in a roundabout way) or that you’ve just upset your listeners because you didn’t get a good answer. This reaction usually leads to more strange behaviour, such as an awkward silence or a ‘swiftly moving on’ twitch, rustling your papers for the next question.

You also look at each other and try to communicate whether the question was answered. It’s a glance that begs, “Did I answer the question?” or from the interviewer’s side, “Did you answer the question [can I move on]?”

Missing (Not Listening Or Concentrating On) The Answer

GUILTY.

Every now and then, during an interview, the brain will wonder. And sometimes, that wonder is at the worst moment possible – the end of a guest’s answer. 

Mini-panic.

Dealing with this is always tricky. In addition to the pressure of performing well, the guest is glaring at you, waiting for your response.

What do you do? 

A common tactic of mine is to respond with a very generalised question – a question that is so broad that the guest (and even me) don’t really know makes sense in the context of what we’re discussing, but one that can hopefully be answered in a roundabout way. 

This might be something like: “Is that right?” or “Do you think so?” or, more tactically, a question related to an earlier answer that is somewhat related to the nature of the response of the question I just missed.

Another tactic is to swiftly move on to the next question. A blunt “uh-huh” and then a scramble through my questions or brain to find the next question.

Warning, however. 

Sometimes, guests give an answer, to which they await a follow-up. It’s almost like a ‘leading answer’ (if that is such a thing). And when you move swiftly on, you can sense the split-second micro-expression of disappointment in their body language or facial movements.

Silence

The dreaded silence. The point at which everyone has run out of things to say, and no one can think of how to quickly fill in the awkwardness.

The perception of silence is obviously so bad that “removal of silences” seems to be a key feature of any editing software available on the market.

Personally, I do not find silences that awkward. 

They are a natural part of the conversation and only become uncomfortable when your discussion is deemed ‘entertainment’ (like a podcast).

 

 

The Skills You Develop As A Podcast Host

Putting yourself through hours of interviews results in developing habits. To most people, these habits are also seen as skills.

Going With The Flow and Lightheartedness

People feel the pressure during podcasts. There is a visible difference in people when we start rolling the camera; one mask comes off, and another goes on.

Unless you have hosted or been a podcast guest, you will put pressure on yourself to perform. After all, this media will go out to the world and be part of your digital footprint forever. Scary, right?

Absolutely.

But after a while, you start to care less. 

You begin to accept yourself and your style. You no longer sweat the small stuff: the mispronunciations, missing the answers, your voice tone, how you look or sound on camera.

This attitude can be translated into all areas of life. Your self-image becomes less concerning, and as a result, your self-esteem improves.

When you put yourself into similar high-pressure environments, you feel at peace. After all, you’ve made a fool of yourself many times on the internet AND got positive feedback from your guests and audience. If that isn’t a trigger for internal approval and self-acceptance, then what is?

Active Listening

According to Stephen Covey, Active Listening is a key habit of highly effective people.

Active listening involves listening intently and attempting to understand the exact message someone is giving, rather than just the words they use.

A common way to implement this in a podcast or interview setting is to ask follow-up questions to a guest’s answer. The chances are, they will say something exciting (if you ask good questions).

A non-active listening response is to ask a follow-up that aligns with your own biases or assumptions or move on to the next subject. However, an active listening response will be to remain on the subject matter and ask follow-up questions until you understand the conveyed point. 

It’s all too easy to steer a conversation toward your interests. But by listening actively, you experience a much deeper interaction and a better understanding of the topic being discussed. 

This also helps with understanding your own biases; when you actively listen back to your episodes, you notice where you unwillingly steer the conversation. By being aware of this, you can tackle it and communicate better.

Empathy & Transference 

In psychoanalysis, there is a theory known as projection. Projection is a defence mechanism whereby you attribute your feelings or thoughts to someone else rather than dealing with them yourself. 

A typical example is the spouse who cheats because he/she suspects their partner is cheating. 

Whilst projection typically deals with negative emotions, this concept can be framed in another way.

Have you ever been involved in an interaction whereby you suddenly feel inspired and energised? The chances are the person you interacted with was transferring their state onto you. 

This is one of the secrets behind motivational speakers. 

They can transfer their positivity onto you, making you feel great about yourself.

When it comes to podcasting, this skill is practised in every interaction. I literally have the power to steer the mood of the conversation wherever I want. It can take some time for guests to warm up and for your state to be ‘transferred’; however, it works most of the time.

For me, this involves lots of smiling, using the person’s name, cracking a few jokes and showing that I am truly listening to what they have to say (see the previous section on active listening).

I challenge you to try it in the next interaction you have. Approach the conversation from a place of genuine empathy with a lot of energy, and you will slowly notice the other person come around to your state of mind.

Conversely, if you want to bring the other person into a negative state, then be miserable. We’re all guilty of doing this when we have a bad day and want others to feel our pain!

The power of projection and transference should not be understated. This has contributed to my success in business and interacting with clients and stakeholders… people are emotional; if you can rile up internal emotion, you possess extreme power.

 

 

Life Lessons From Seventy-Something Podcast Interviews

The journey from our first podcast episode, filled with anxiety and errors, has been filled with growth and learning. I’ve faced technical difficulties, self-doubt, and the occasional miscommunication. 

The nervousness and concern about perfection have mostly faded, although they haven’t disappeared completely.

Throughout this journey, I have encountered various types of interviewees – from the ultra-polite Slow Starters to the extremely clever Whizzes. 

Each brought their own unique flavour to the conversation. These experiences taught me patience, adaptability, and the importance of going with the flow.

Despite what comes across in the final edits, not every interview went as planned.

There were instances where questions went unanswered or my mind wandered, leading to moments of awkward silence or confusion. Despite these challenges, each interview sharpened my skills, refining my ability to actively listen and empathise with others. I’ve learned to embrace the unexpected, using it as an opportunity to dive deeper into the discussion and explore new perspectives.

Beyond the mechanics of recording a podcast, this experience has been a lesson in self-acceptance. I have learned to care less about the minute details and focus more on the human connection being cultivated. Sharing stories, insights, and ideas has overshadowed the initial desire for perfection, bringing a newfound confidence and ease to each recording.

The podcasting road is unpredictable, but the growth, connections, and insights gained make every moment worth it.