Plastic. It felt like I was listening to a piece of plastic talk to me on a podcast recently. A piece of plastic had gained just enough sentience to push some knowledge down their podcast, and I was on the other end. And I wasn’t enjoying the experience.
Strangely, I was reminded of an event I attended years ago that featured several speakers rotating out on the stage, each giving short talks on a variety of topics throughout the evening. Some were sharing their passions. Some their expertise. And for one guy, a book he read a month ago.
Yeah, not kidding.
Within 2 minutes of his talk, we knew something was off. Specifically, we in the audience knew that this guy was just parroting what he’d read in the book. Sure, we got some of his passion, but the passion was a breathless gushing over shallow concepts he’d read about, but clearly hadn’t put into practice, let alone mastered.
And here I was again, this time in a car, listening to someone recite concepts they likely had mastered, but with all the personality of a plastic patio chair.
The connection between those two was a lack of themselves. The presenter didn’t have any personal “here’s what this book did for me” stories to share. The podcaster didn’t add in their point of view to the knowledge they’d chosen to share. Both felt artificial to me.
Are We Not Entertained?
While I’m grateful for the army of un-paid curators who work tirelessly to keep Wikipedia a valuable resource for everyone, reading a Wikipedia entry is oftentimes incredibly boring. And that’s by design. As a repository of knowledge, it’s important to Wikipedia that they maintain a neutral point of view.
But few people read Wikipedia for entertainment purposes.
The phrase “podcasting is an intimate medium” is considered a bit gauche these days, though I’ve probably uttered it or immortalized it in print many times over the last 16 years. But as stated in the opening, it’s possible that some podcasters have gone too far in the other direction, sucking out all the humanity from their episodes.
And that’s not very entertaining.
Blending Humanity With Information
Humanity has a huge impact on the podcast listening experience. Though it’s a bit of an oversimplification, shows that convey their humanity to their audience tend to be better. The converse is also true: remove the humanity from a show, and the listener experience is worsened.
Yes, even short-form, fact-based news programs need humanity. Podnews is an excellent illustration. James’ focus is getting you the news about podcasting in an efficient manner every day. He’s ruthlessly committed to keeping each episode very short, which doesn’t allow him a lot of time to wax poetically on any given topic like some people. (Hi, me!) Yet somehow, James finds a way to inject his own humanity in the narration, rather than just regurgitating headlines. It sounds human, just not long-winded.
Journalists like podcasting not only because they can go deeper, but because they can use themselves as part of the story. That’s historically been a bad thing in traditional journalism. Thankfully, we don’t hear as many reporters talking about themselves in the 3rd person any longer (“This reporter was on the scene to…” 🤮). Journalists who podcast find their podcast listeners want to hear how the reporter was affected by covering the story they’re conveying on their podcast. Because stories change humans, even those (or especially those) who cover them.
Narrative-driven stories -- even those where the voice of the narrator has been purposely removed from the final edit -- still need to show the humanity of the person/people behind them. Yes, the stories gathered from interviews or conversations are filled with humanity. And even if they are all covering the same topic, they’ll just sound jammed together if the personality of the producer(s) isn’t woven throughout and is easy to identify. Evidence of an architect should be subtle, yet obvious. Yeah, that’s a bit of an oxymoron.
Your Listener No Longer Needs You To Read To Them
We're already seeing new apps and services that encroach on our podcasting territory. We’ve done a good job of selling the narrative that podcasting is a found-time activity. So much so that companies are finding ways to use the technical architecture of podcasting - audio files delivered to a player - with very little human interaction. And tons of scale.
Right now, you can use one of these apps to make a podcast episode out of any text found on the web. And not in a dead-sounding robotic voice. If you can get that, do you need to subscribe to a podcast where someone only reads headlines to you, where they choose what is and what isn’t worthy? Or do you, as a listener, want to have more control over that experience?
As a podcaster, do you need to expend the energy to narrate your show after you script it out? Or should you leave that to software so you can get back to digging up new content for your audience and scale, scale, scale?
As a human, will technology like this change how you interact with text-based content? Instead of doomscrolling through social feeds when we have nothing to do (or are procrastinating things we should be doing), will we instead “doom listen” while we’re doing the dishes?
This new “aural web” (which cannot be what we call it, please?) where the information we want is comfortably consumed via audio is going to see loads of innovation and disruption in the coming months. And it’s going to make things very difficult for podcasters who have sucked all the humanity out of their shows.
The Time To Re-Humanize Your Podcast Is Now
I’m bullish on tech’s ability to make a passable human voice, making it quite nice to listen to just about anything. But I’m bearish on that tech’s ability to out-humanize human creativity, passion, and sincerity.
Human podcasters should embrace their humanity. Yes, even the messy parts. We need not be afraid of being vulnerable on our shows. We need to be willing to express our opinion. And we need to be willing to see our opinion proven wrong.
Your audience wants you to be human. Your audience listens to your show because of you. Get in there and put more “you” in your podcast. Because in the battle of which side can convey more neutral point of view facts, humanity will lose every time. And that’s a good thing.
One fact I can’t get away from is how much a genuine, one-to-one recommendation from you to another podcaster helps my little show grow. Maybe you know someone struggling being too human on their show? Or not human enough? Send them a link to this episode, would you?
And if you'd like to support me and the humanity I bring with this program every day, please go to BuyMeACoffee.com/EvoTerra.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.
Podcast Pontifications is written and narrated by Evo Terra. He’s on a mission to make podcasting better. Allie Press proofed the copy, corrected the transcript, and edited the video. Podcast Pontifications is a production of Simpler Media.