We are continuing our Behind the Scenes peek at the operations here at Wheelhouse Factory. In this article we will dive into how you can find and fine-tune your podcast voice.
In podcasting, your voice is your competitive advantage. It is more than the way you interact with people. It’s how you convey your opinions, questions and guiding principles. The style and approach you bring will provide something unique to you and your show. Something refreshing from other podcast options. That is what your listeners are searching for.
You could have amazing guests lined up, catchy music or top of the line editing capabilities. At the end of the day, it comes down to you and how you can connect with people authentically. For me, it is something that I have had to shape over time. I have made many mistakes and with that experience comes a lot of lessons learned. Below are four ideas to help you craft your voice and save you time along the way.
List out who you listen to and why you are drawn to their style.
One of the first steps on the journey of how to find your podcast voice, is to list out who already has the chops you’re hoping to develop for yourself. My list is short. I listen to Michael Barbaro, a journalist for the New York Times and host of The Daily podcast. I love his calm, cool demeanor and thoughtful approach to asking difficult questions. Over the years, I’ve heard him interview several challenging guests. They appear curt or agitated. Uninterested in participating in the interview. Somehow, Michael is able to disarm his guests within just a few minutes through the power of great questions. The right question asked at the right time is like truth serum. It’s impossible to defend.
I also find inspiration listening to the story and guidance of Jenna Kutcher. The investigative tenacity of Sarah Koenig on Serial is also high on my list. My personal top spot, however, goes to Bill Simmons. I am a huge supporter and fan of all the great work he and his team have done at The Ringer (as well as Grantland, the Book of Basketball, etc.). I love the atmosphere Bill can create with his guests. He brings witty banter and obscure references from sports or pop culture and combines them with current events. The topics are easy and fun to consume. He takes it a step further by creating original segments such as the infamous Gym Corner or Parent Corner with Cousin Sal. It is creative, addicting and an amazing way to connect with the audience in a way that is completely unique.
Find your sweet spot.
For the Wheelhouse Factory podcast, I try to ask thought-provoking questions while keeping the vibe casual. Relating to people not just on the topic at hand but connecting on what’s going on in their life. Asking harmless questions such as “how’s the house?” or “what is the next big trip you have planned?” is a great way to build trust and rapport with folks. This approach helps me break down communication barriers and have a better conversation. As a best practice, talk about what you enjoy. I find that if you are enjoying the conversation, then it’s more likely that your audience will too.
Practice asking great questions.
One of the most critically important ways to find your podcast voice to get better at giving others a chance to speak up. Next time you’re with friends or family make it your mission to uncover something interesting about them by asking great questions. People love telling stories and will open to things that are relevant to their world.
Great questions are open-ended and leave the opportunity to dive in further. For example, you could ask “did you enjoy watching the game last night?” and the answer is simple – yes or no. Pretty plain and uninspiring; not much to digest there. On the other hand, you could ask something like “what were your takeaways from the game last night?”. Now you’ve potentially unlocked Pandora’s box. The worst-case scenario is they didn’t watch the game and you’re ready for a quick subject change. Best case scenario they did watch the game and are ready to unload something that you can build from. You can also practice asking open-ended questions in your normal day-to-day. With practice, you can build your curiosity muscle, which will allow you to come off more authentic when you’re recording.
Talk about things that you have a real interest in and opinion on.
We hit on this a little bit in Idea 1, but it’s worth diving into more. Your podcast voice needs to come through as authentic and purposeful. Depending on your show topic, that may not always be the case. However, there is still a balance to strive for. I tend to resonate with hosts who know enough about a topic to be interesting and informative, but still eager to learn more from their guests. In the past, I’ve listened to shows where the host is the expert on the topic at hand. It’s a dangerous game to play. The last thing you want as a host is to come off as arrogant or unapproachable.
Give yourself superpowers.
When I was a little kid, I would play basketball every weekend as part of a youth league at the local YMCA. Our team was the Turquoise Tarantulas – and we were Gods. Not really. We were pretty terrible actually. But that is exactly the type of amazing name a collection of 8-year-old kids comes up with. The truth is we could barely dribble, shoot or pass. Regardless, it was always a great time. We’d have our parents there cheering us on the sidelines. Bless them for giving up their weekend mornings to watch horrendous basketball. Cheering their hearts out for a rousing 11-8 final score.
I grew up during the glory days of the Phoenix Suns. It was the early 90s and they were playoff bound almost every year. Charles Barkley, Dan Majerle and the rest of the squad were can’t miss TV for me. Obsessed? Absolutely. Overly invested? There’s no question. Many a temper tantrum began from a tough Suns loss.
Create your persona.
The one silver lining was that I could use that obsession to my advantage on the court. Each weekend before the game, I would wake up, throw on my uniform and shoot around on a little toy hoop in my room. I would think to myself “who am I going to play like today?”. Most of the time the answer to that question was my favorite player, Kevin Johnson. The 6’1” point guard was fearless going to the basket. He used court vision, acrobatic shooting and spontaneous creativity to dominate the court. To this day he is still the proud owner of my favorite all-time Phoenix Suns moment with his jaw-dropping dunk over Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon. When I forced myself to be in the mindset of play like KJ, I felt like I was bringing a secret weapon to the game.
I use the same trick for podcasting. Before a show, I think about who I want to embody for various segments. Of course, it depends on the guest, show topics, etc., but the principle remains the same. I can power-up with my Michael Barbaro journalist superpowers to ask great questions. If I want the show to feel more fun, then I am taking a page out of the Bill Simmons and The Rewatchables playbook. It’s up to you. It’s like having a buffet of gourmet options to yourself. You have pretty much any superpower you want at your disposal. You just need to channel it. What tools will you explore to find your podcast voice?
– Trevor Lightfoot