All Talk and Nothing to Say

Five years ago I got in serious trouble with some of my readers.

“What else is new?” you may ask.

Did I write about amateurism in voice overs, insultingly low rates, or about greedy Pay-to-Plays?

Nope.

The topic was podcasting, or rather my ambivalence toward podcasts.

To be honest with you, I’d rather read an article than listen to forty minutes of blah-blah-blah. I can scan an article or blog post in a short amount of time. I search for keywords, and skip the fluff. Done. On to the next one. I think I’m too impatient for most podcasts.

Since I wrote the story in 2015, the number of VO-related podcasts has increased considerably, and I have to admit that many of them are a joy to listen to.

I’ve been interviewed by a multitude of hosts, and my experience has always been very positive. Yet, there are only a handful of podcasts I regularly tune into, and they’re seldom about voice overs. Why?

I think It’s very important for a well-rounded VO (and I’m not talking about our waistline), to step outside of our blah blah bubble, and skip the talk about which microphone is best and how to get an agent. There’s a whole wide world out there filled with information and inspiration. Constant navel-gazing isn’t going to help us learn and grow as a human being. 

This week, a Dutch podcast forum asked me about my experiences with podcasts. Do I have any faves, pet peeves, or tips? 

This is what I wrote.

 

Let me start my story with a confession.

My roots are in radio.

That’s both a blessing and a curse. It means I can no longer listen to podcasts with an open, carefree mind. I listen the way a music critic listens to a concert. With super critical ears. Luckily I can turn the darn thing off as soon as I get bored. 

In addition you should know that I’ve been a voice over for more than thirty years. This has made me allergic to badly written scripts, stupid slips of the tongue, loud, distracting breaths, and poorly recorded audio.

I’ve also made a living as a journalist, presenter, and media trainer. I know a little bit about interviewing guests. How to do it, and how not to do it.

All of the above means that many podcasts are just not my thing, even though I love the medium dearly. My favorite podcasts offer theater between the ears allowing my imagination to run wild. When I’m listening, I’m not distracted by flashing images on television which makes it easier to focus on the content.

I love the freedom podcasts give me. I usually listen when I have boring things to do like the dishes, yard work, house cleaning, long drives, or running on the treadmill. What do I listen to? Mostly radio shows.

PODCAST FAVORITES

This year marks my 20th anniversary of living and working in the USA. To stay connected to what’s happening in Holland (where I’m from), I listen to a show called Met het oog op morgen, (Keeping an eye on tomorrow). It’s a daily roundup of news, current affairs, and background stories.

As a former newscaster I’m always on the lookout for people who can interpret what’s going on in the world today. I want to know what motivated this person to make that statement, and what the implications are. That’s why I often tune in to the Brian Leher Show on WNYC, a New York City-based public radio station. Brian is a progressive interviewer who has an uncanny ability to ask pointed questions in a friendly and respectful way.

When I want to know more about art, literature, and music, I turn to Fresh Air, a legendary talk show with Terry Gross. Terry is considered a national treasure in the US, and for good reason. She’s been on national radio since 1975, and her show can be heard all over the United States. She’s known for her empathic, intelligent way of interviewing her guests. 

For philosophy and science I listen to Radiolab with Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. Jad composes the experimental music which is like a running commentary on the theme of the show. Apart from interviews with people such as neurologist Oliver Sacks, conversations between the hosts are also part of the program. Radiolab is exquisitely immersive and never fails to make me think.

PROBLEMS WITH PODCASTS

There are very few “real” podcasts (as opposed to regular radio shows) I can listen to without cringing. Usually, that’s because of three things:

1. Amateurs “playing radio.”

Bad audio quality is the first clue. The recording space is often too noisy, everyone is miles away from the microphone, and guests are mumbling their answers. After hearing the first twenty seconds I ask myself: “What on earth am I listening to?”

Podcast producers who actually know what they’re doing realize that they have to compete with “real” radio programs. Award-winning podcasts have a team of researchers, editors, script writers, and sound engineers that take their job seriously.

In the next few years the difference between hobbyists and professionals making podcasts will increase dramatically. The consumer will have even more to choose from, and won’t have to settle for kitchen table productions.

2. Hosts that are overly self-involved.

Podcasts seem to attract people that like to hear themselves talk, but who have very little to say. I’m thinking of the unfunny folks who believe they’re God’s gift to comedy, and who have trouble getting to the point. I call them “self-arousers” because the sound of their own voice makes them horny as hell.

The best interviewers don’t make themselves the star of the show but focus on the guests. They don’t stick to a list of pre-cooked questions. They listen carefully to the answers and follow up. This is not an easy thing to do. You’ve got to get people talking, you’ve got to learn to keep your mouth shut, and you have to jump in at the right moment with the right questions. 

3. Weak content

Before you read the next line I’d like you to do a quick experiment while recording yourself. Choose a topic you’re interested in at the moment. Have a stopwatch ready, and when you press START, talk for one minute straight offering relevant information. No hesitations, no filler words, and no ums.

Ready. Set. GO!

Most people who do this experiment notice how hard it is to fill just one minute fluently, while keeping the audience engaged as they’re trying to make sense.

I often tell my students:

“If you want people to be interested, you have to be interesting. Your topics and your guests have to be interesting.”

Too many podcasts are of the category “much ado about nothing,” hosted by lazy, self-absorbed hosts that allow their guests to yammer on and on and on.

If you’re reading producing podcasts, you know it requires quite an investment to produce an outstanding show on a weekly basis. That’s why it is almost impossible to listen to your own shows with impartiality. It’s also the reason I recommend you get yourself a feedback group of people who know what they’re talking about. Do not ask family and friends who will love everything you say and do, no matter what.

You need the critical ears of those who will tell you what you don’t like to hear.

The ears of people like me.

People with roots in radio.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs."

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal

6 Responses to All Talk and Nothing to Say

  1. Dave Courvoisier

    Paul,

    I’m 1000% with you for all the reasons you stated and more.

    I just can’t listen to hosts bloviating as they are so wont to do.

    I can READ and consume printed content so much faster than having to listen to all the inane chatter.

    Because I can’t LISTEN to podcasts, I find it hypocritical to consider actually DOING one (I have the same issue with audiobooks; like you – I’m too critical of the narrator to enjoy the story).

    Thanks for being a kindred spirit!

    Dave Courvoisier

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Let’s go the bar one day, and drink some kindred spirits, Dave! The first round is on me.

    [Reply]

  2. Greg Downey

    Excellent, Paul! Well written. You captured my feelings so eloquently. My poem about some podcasters (and others who just love the sound of their voice):

    Spitting out words that should’ve been swallowed,
    Talking and squawking and spewing away,
    Then wiping the dribble that’s naturally followed,
    You realize you really had nothing to say.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I LOVE that poem, Greg. Thank you for sharing it!

    [Reply]

  3. Paul Stefano

    Great topic Paul! It’s not as easy as it looks…err sounds! I did start several years ago more or less on a whim. It helped, tremendously, however, that I had a Bachelors degree in broadcasting and already knew how to put a show together. In my opinion, the podcasts that are done right, really are like radio shows, just taken to the web. It can be very rewarding, but it is also a lot of hard work! Thanks for making us look good during your appearance.

    Paul

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    And since you’re too modest to give the name and web address of your podcast, I will gladly do it: https://www.vometer.com It’s informative as well as entertaining. Having a background in broadcasting definitely helps!

    [Reply]

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