Podcast ignorance is not bliss

Posted On Nov 22, 2022 |

Why is it that so many podcasters and podcast guests are doing stuff that doesn’t work, is often boring and may even be damaging to their brand?

I recall being on my way home on a bus I’ve taken many times and passing through the city centre (of Valencia) we reached the stop by the train station and everyone else got off the bus. Everyone except me and the driver. The urge to get up and get off the bus was so strong that I almost did, thinking this must be the final stop for some reason but there had been no announcement and the driver wasn't telling me to get off. I convinced myself to stay put, the doors closed and the bus carried on. We trust the wisdom of the crowd even at times when we shouldn’t and I see it and hear it all the time in podcasting.

In continuing my series on the 7 deadly sins of podcasting, we reach number 3, ignorance or lack of awareness. It’s an especially important one for podcasters because most of us get into it without a clue what we’re doing at first and many will make the same mistakes that I myself and countless others have, of thinking that if you’re having fun and enjoying it then your audience will too. This is a wild and unfounded assumption but I’m not going to suggest you should not enjoy your podcast experiences.

The list so far then:

  1. Gluttony/Self-indulgence

  2. Selfishness

  3. Ignorance

  4. ?

  5. ?

  6. ?

  7. ?


We’re not quite halfway on the list yet but this may actually be the issue I hear the most from the podcasters I speak with on a daily basis. Whilst it’s true that you don’t know what you don’t know, ignorance may allow for some short-term bliss but in the long run, it becomes painful. We don’t want to put in the work, we hate the long process, and we just want to sit down and hit record but that’s rarely a recipe for magic, it’s more like the ingredients for a casserole of mediocrity that you’ll be eating for every meal. (I think I need to ask Simon Lancaster for some help with my metaphors!)

Is ignorance bliss?

Ignorance allows others to take advantage of us and it allows us to think we’re doing great when we might actually be failing. Choosing not to learn the ropes or receive any feedback on what you do and how to improve at it will culminate in one massive reality check that will pull the rug from under you and make you feel like the fool you hadn’t realised you were being if you don’t hit podfade first. I had some similar experiences in public speaking. It can be humiliating and most will lose their drive and quit after such an experience.

How our brains work against us

Our brains are complicated things but that doesn’t always lead to us being complicated beings. The brain uses a lot of energy each day, about 20% of our energy reserves even in a resting state. Certainly more when we start to tax it, so it should come as no surprise that our brains like to conserve energy by taking shortcuts, or what we can more technically call heuristics.

Some heuristics are constructive and save us a lot of time but many need to be corrected and lead to getting mired in fallacious thinking and sometimes to arguments and fights if left unchallenged. We can’t be expected to constantly remember that we have received programming throughout our lives that dictate our norms and values, from family, school, environment, government, peers and media. Transcending our programming is often viewed as an act of defiance by those who either prefer to accept their programming as correct or are too fearful or unaware to change it.

The effects of influence

Cialdini talks about authority as being one of the key drivers of influence and even cites some quite terrifying examples of experiments done where people were prepared to deliver fatal electric shocks (in a staged simulation) to a subject (actor) because the person in the white coat conducting the experiment told them to do it. Not everyone did but most did and it was in large part down to a mix of Cialdini’s weapons of influence which also likely included a blend of consistency as they had agreed to take part and consensus because it seemed like everyone around was OK with this and it was normal.

It is honestly amazing and a little scary just how much we will go along with consensus and orthodoxy just because everyone is OK with it and there doesn’t seem to be sufficient reason to question it. This is one reason why cults teach their adherents thought-stopping techniques because if you actually start to think rationally about what you’re being told and question the voice of authority, you will probably end up coming to your senses and leaving, potentially stirring up similar ideas in others. People are generally much quieter when they are not asking questions.

The art of the con

Most cons happen when some element of trust has been established and our reason to question what is happening or why it’s happening has been turned off for a while but we’re regularly conned in other ways too. Media and politics mostly drive the narratives of popular discourse, past behaviour and our sense of who we are cause us to act in ways that try to stay consistent with that identity. We follow the crowd because it seems like they must be right. If everyone else is doing it, we should do it too. Guess what?

This was a long-winded way to get to my key point… I apologise but feel like it was a necessary diversion. As podcasters and podcast guests, the vast majority of us follow the crowd and do what we see others doing, sometimes we seek guidance and if we are fortunate enough or thorough enough we may find help that works for us. Any podcast coach worth their salt will tell you there is a shit ton of bad podcasting advice out there and some is from seemingly successful people who we may think we can trust.

Fantasy vs. reality

We often get taken in by the idea of things. It’s a bit like getting a dog. The idea (for many of us) is a nice idea, dogs are wonderful but the reality is one of daily walking in all weather conditions, picking up poop, lots of poop, vet bills, dog food, dog-friendly hotels on holiday or dog sitters, chewed furniture, fur all over the place and a very distinct dog smell that you never used to have at home and did I mention the poop? That dog and its well-being are your responsibility and if you’re not a particularly responsible person already, you’re probably not going to suddenly transform into one when the dog arrives, more likely the dog will have a less-than-optimal existence that its ignorant owner thinks is fine.

It’s not just about us

Ignorance may be bliss for us but it’s painful to others. Like my friend, let’s call him Fred (everyone else calls him Dan) who publishes his unedited podcast conversations with no intros, a poor-quality mic, an untreated room and untreated audio. He’s an interesting and intelligent guy. I want to listen to his conversations but sometimes it takes so long to get to the point in his episodes that I give up or the sound is so bad that I find something better to listen to.

I can’t really say he’s ignorant of this, he knows and he just doesn’t care enough to fix it. For me, that’s like having the best information and delivering it in the most boring lecture. Only the most committed will wade through it. What Dan is ignorant of is that podcasts also need to be entertaining and not just like you’ve accidentally landed in someone’s Zoom room.

I’ve said many times before but your enjoyment of a conversation does not equal good content and your use of controversial opinions or strong language does not make you edgy or compelling to listen to. Do you have any idea how many people call their podcast ‘real talk’? It’s not the hook point you think it is.

Ignorance as a guest is no excuse

Ignorance will hurt you as a podcast guest too if you don’t keep a check on certain things, like whose show you are going on, what’s their style of interview and whether the conversation will be edifying. Will the show get cut or promoted? Will you sink or shine? Do you give longer answers than needed? Are you really listening to the questions and staying aware of the interviewer? Have you curated your message in the right way for the audience? Do you know what the win is for you appearing on the show? There is much to consider.

One time I agreed to do a show where it seemed the primary product the show was built around was marijuana edibles and there were other guests I did not know about, the one just before me being a Trump-loving, gun-toting, woke-hating redneck. Let’s just say I was in the virtual waiting room wondering what the fuck I had gotten myself involved with. The interview ended up being great and a lot of fun but when I look back, fun didn’t translate into professionally useful and I’m not in podcasting only to have fun.

Agreeing to the interview was a mistake, although thankfully not a very painful one. The most significant cost was the time I could have spent doing something to advance myself professionally. I needed to be more careful about what I was giving my time to and how it may affect my professional image. I had fallen into the trap of thinking that going on any slightly relevant podcast at all would give me a boost. If I look at my stats from such things, there have only been 2 shows I ever guested on that gave me a boost to my email list (my CTA) and I realised that if I did more of those shows and less random stuff, I would probably see much greater results.

Just start or start right?

This is a hard question to answer. There’s a lot to be said for just diving in and getting started. I would have to go with my diplomatic answer which is that it depends. It depends on what you are looking to achieve by going on podcasts. If you’re all about having fun, carry on as you are, this doesn’t really apply.

If you’re seeking to generate more business and build professional authority then you would do well to get more strategic and prepare yourself well. I’m not a big advocate of the expression that how you do anything is how you do everything but it can be a useful adage since we do have heuristics running and general tendencies and if you tend to half-arse things you will probably do that with this too.

The resistance

It always surprises me how often people resist the idea that you need to work at podcasting and learn how to make a good show that has a specific objective for the audience. Just as much as being a podcast guest, people often think they are more interesting than they are or that they know enough to be the expert or they have the personality to be the next big thing but there are things that work and things that don’t.

I would hope that unless you are a very experienced speaker, you would get some help and coaching before doing a TED talk. It would be sheer arrogance to think you don’t need it and would likely lead to regret when your less-than-great talk is splashed around the internet and top of the search results when someone Googles you.

Your professional image needs to be curated. I know some people don’t like this idea but it’s the truth. If you want to be seen a certain way by your audience, you need to do as much as you can to curate that image and act accordingly, speak accordingly and even dress accordingly.

People are desperate to put you into a little box and identify you as one thing, even though you are many things. Your curated image should be authentic to who you are but not to the point where you are presenting a confusing image of who you are and what you are about. Not looking, sounding or feeling right will hurt you professionally and may already be doing so. You’re going to get boxed and labelled whether you like it or not, whether it’s right or not and you should do your best to make sure you end up getting filed correctly in the mind of your listener.

This article has been a challenge to write, first to keep it on track which I only just about managed, secondly the time commitment to write and then covid which I am still trying to recover from but I believe more than ever that professional and expert podcast guesting requires a professional approach and that perhaps a version of something like Toastmasters or a public speaking program is needed to help with this. I’m still noodling on what that might look like.

In the meantime, please keep learning from the podcast pros who are my guests on the Podfluence podcast. People like the amazing Bob Gentle who is a successful podcaster himself and an expert in leadership branding. We discussed a lot of these issues around charisma, authenticity and personal branding and I’m sure you’ll find it valuable too.

Covid has indeed messed up my relaunch schedule even more than it already was but…the next episode will be about the art and value of confidence with your Podfluence, which will just be little old me by myself and then I’ll be following that will my discussion with the amazing Lee Carter who wrote an amazing book on persuading people in a world where facts don’t seem to matter. The book was fascinating and so is Lee.

I appeared as a guest on The Podcast On Podcasting with Adam Adams a little while back. The theme of our discussion ended up being whether podcasting does or should take effort. Those who know me can guess what side I come down on but you can hear what was a fun and relevant conversation to anyone who is using podcasts for business.

I’m not buying or selling anything these days, since most of my time is spent working with the amazing team at Grow The Show, so if you like this and find some value, my only ask is to share it, follow the Podfluence podcast and maybe share that too. Thanks for reading.

Categories: Newsletter, Podfluence