I've never been comfortable when people apply the terms “expert” or “guru” to me. Though yes, I suppose I do tick all the boxes of an “expert at podcasting,” but I still bristle at the term. I always have, even for things unrelated to podcasting.
Perhaps you feel the same way about the role you adopt for your podcast. Or perhaps you feel quite the opposite and proudly proclaim yourself an expert.
Regardless of your position, today, I’m offering you a new way to think about your role on your podcast. And oddly enough, the offering comes in the form of a question:
Are you an expert, or are you a guide?
A better way to ask that question might be; does your audience want you to be an expert, or do they want you to be a guide?
Here are two not-related-to-podcasting examples to help illustrate the difference between those two monikers.
I Love To Float On Monkey River
When we go to Belize, we like to take a tour up Monkey River to see troops of howler monkeys in their natural environment. Hence the name. We did this recently, and also saw a bunch of bats, iguanas, birds, even a cute little baby crocodile. As cute as a baby crocodile can be, that is.
We didn’t do this excursion on our own. We hired a guide for the day. And our guide was just that: a guide. Percy (aka Rambo) grew up on the river and lived his entire life in the jungle. Guiding people through this territory is what he does.
Rambo is not an expert biologist. He's not a biologist at all. He didn’t study zoology or botany at university. He has no advanced degree in any of the natural sciences. But Rambo has expert-level knowledge about much of the flora and fauna within a set five square kilometer area. His expertise is sought out by actual experts—research scientists and other PhDs who hire Rambo to guide them to various places in the jungle and on the river with high concentrations of the particular species or ecosystems those experts wish to study.
Rambo was a great guide who used his expertise to give us an excellent experience. And while I’m certain that a zoologist specializing in Alouatta pigra would have been a fascinating companion on our trip, I’m equally as certain they’d not have been nearly as entertaining of a guide as Rambo.
I Love My Pain In The Neck Expert
Next week, I’m going to see someone to find out if this sharp, hot pain I’m experiencing on the top of my right shoulder near my neck is just a badly pulled muscle or, as I’m fearing, if it’s a bulging disc.
I don’t want a guide for this experience. I want an expert. A medical doctor trained in orthopedics.
I don’t want them to say “so are you feeling more like an MRI or just some stretching exercises?” Screw that. I want the problem fixed. Stat. While I understand that healthcare is a journey and I have ultimate control of my own medical decisions, I’m very likely to follow the course of action the expert recommends. It’s why I’m paying them!
Let’s get back to podcasting and what your audience wants from you, the podcaster they are listening to.
Using Your Expertise to Be An Excellent Podcast Guide
One of the equally beautiful and maddening things about podcasting is that podcast content can be just about anything. So yes, there are plenty of examples of podcasts where the audience does in fact want to hear expertise from an expert. If listeners are tuning in to better understand tax implications, get educated on how black holes form, or maybe learn about the history of military coups in Thailand, then a more or less straight recitation of the facts from an expert may be warranted.
Or is it? Podcasts that just lay out facts from an expert are... well, boring. About as boring as reading a scientific research paper. Or a business white paper. I suppose that if the bulk of a podcast’s audience is made up of other experts who tune in to hone their skills or get the latest updates, then perhaps a straight recitation of the facts is exactly what they need.
But how often is that? Even for a tightly-niched-down podcast, it’s very likely that the audience is made up of listeners of various skill levels or mastery of the topic. In many cases (most cases?), the audience wants something more. They want someone—you, the podcast host–to use expertise to guide them through the episode.
Here’s a quick litmus test: If you start to answer a question on your podcast and you either say or think the words “Well… it depends” before you give your answer; then it’s a near-certainty that the next words you say will be in the voice of a guide, not an expert. Sure, you’ll use your expertise to offer up those “it depends” pathways, but you’ll be doing it as a guide.
When you’re a guide, you recognize there's no one right way to present your ideas on your podcast. Though there certainly may be plenty of wrong ways. Things to avoid that you have strong, expert opinions about. Opinions that you should vociferously voice!
When you’re a guide, you recognize you don't have all the answers and therefore can’t share all the answers on your podcast. Though your expertise probably points in the general direction more answers are likely to come from.
When you’re a guide, you recognize the role that serendipity and circumstance play in the lives of your podcast listeners. Lives that might look quite different from your own.
So reflect back on the last few episodes of your show. Think about you and your overall approach to your podcast. Are you coming off as the know-it-all expert? Or are you helping to guide your audience? More importantly, is your audience relying on you to tell them what to do? Or are they relying on you and your expertise to guide them?
I try very hard to do the latter. But as with all things in life, YMMV.
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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.