Sunday, December 11, 2016

3 Lessons I Learned from Hosting a Podcast

This guest post from my Harvard Business School student, MBA candidate Jenny Jao, describes a learning-by-doing project she completed for academic credit this semester. Jenny helped produce a podcast and hosted an episode.

I hijacked Tom’s blog to share with you a cool side project I worked on this semester.
The whole concept of podcasting fascinates me. At its core, it’s a low-touch forum to preserve and distribute content. It’s a way for amateurs or the less technically savvy of us to chronicle interesting stories and share them with friends, family and peers and contribute some small facet to our collective learnings.  
A unique opportunity surfaced this semester when I got to work on Traction, a podcast produced by the seed stage venture capital firm NextView Ventures. The show invites early-stage entrepreneurs to discuss challenges they faced in the early innings of their business and lessons they’ve learned along the way.
In short, I had a blast hosting a podcast. Listening to myself afterward made the hair on my arms stick up straight, but the whole process was a fresh learning experience that complemented and extended what I’d learned in business school classrooms.
I credit much of my learning to Jay Acunzo, with whom I worked closely. Jay is host of Traction and is not only a veteran podcaster, but also a media and content expert.
So what did I learn about podcasting?

1.     Most important thing is to keep the listener from pressing "Pause." Great podcasts keep the listener engaged – but it’s certainly easier said than done. My approach was to keep things simple and try to create something that I would want to listen to. This meant treating the interview like a story, forgetting the microphone was there, and asking a series of questions that made the guests more comfortable and eager to dive into their tales. Stories are interesting and engaging when they are replete with details. Out of these details, we tease out lessons that stay with us.

2.     How I phrase a question affects the response I get, and I have 3 shots at getting what I want. A question such as “What was it like raising your seed round?” can elicit an elevated response, meaning guests may speak in broad, sweeping generalities. You risk getting a cookie cutter answer that they’ve probably given in a past interview. What is interesting about that? Not much, so if I get a generic answer, I ask for an example to hopefully solicit more vivid details. I’m searching for the story behind a particular pitch to a VC firm or the ride back to the airport after a day of terrible meetings. If that fails, I would follow up with a hypothetical sequence of events and ask the interviewee how they might react in that particular situation. Luckily, I haven’t had to try this last tactic yet.

3.     Find your angle. There are dozens of tech podcasts, so how do I make this podcast or this episode stand out? The goal is to not necessarily be better than competitors, but to do things differently. We’ve been giving that advice to entrepreneurs for years, and it works with podcasts, too. For example, Traction focuses on early stage challenges and attempts to provide entrepreneurs with practical tactics. It’s not a heavily produced show: an episode consists mostly of an unedited interview with little voiceover, aside from the beginning and end. This approach preserves the conversational nature of an interview.
There you have it: some lessons I’ve taken away from my stint in podcasting. I can’t say that I’m now an expert, but I hope this sheds some light from a host’s perspective, debunks some misperceptions of podcasting, and encourages some of you to give it a go.

Check out my first podcast, in which I interview Jay Acunzo about how he differentiates Traction from other podcasts and how he manages guest interviews.