Webinars and Podcasts

I have never been overly fond of listening to podcasts or tuning in to webinars; I so often find them frustrating and unsatisfactory and usually lose interest and drop out of the session. But why?

My antipathy to podcasts and webinars puzzles me because as an avid ‘talk radio’ listener (BBC Radio 4): people talking about what interests them, interviews and radio documentaries are what I listen to most. As far as TV is concerned, I watch far more factual programmes than anything else, so why do I frequently find podcasts and webinars, which are essentially an online version of what I enjoy so much on the radio and television, so singularly unsatisfactory?

Today it suddenly struck me … a lightbulb moment!

Thinking back over podcasts and webinars I have tuned in to (and tuned out of) recently, I realise that in almost every case (though there are a few notable exceptions) the problem is that ‘the host’ is more interested in themselves than in their guests and spends too much time talking about their own agenda, even sometimes spending considerable time talking about their own careers, what they have achieved, as though they’re actually in competition with their guests rather than being there to highlight their guest and their area of expertise. This leaves their poor guests – who are generally interesting people with something to say (and who are the reason that I, and assume most of the listeners have tuned in) sitting there like lemons wondering why they have been invited!

One of the cardinal rules for journalists, interviewers and presenters – it is not about you; it’s about your guests.

he good journalist disappears – they introduce their guests, ask the right questions then leave the guest to get on with it. The interviewer is (or should be) the conduit through which the audience gets to know more about the subject and the person that they’re interested in. The interviewer (in this case the podcaster or webinar host) is there to gently probe, to ask the right questions and importantly to listen to the answers, and then probe a little. If there is more than one guest, it is the interviewer’s role to give each of them an equal voice, to control the ebb and flow of conversation, to throw things into the pot that bring the interview alive.

It is most definitely not the interviewer’s role to judge, nor to give an opinion and definitely not to pop in their two penn’orth or their comments – or worse still, to chime in with the dreaded ‘Oh yes, that happened to me! I remember when I did …. blah blah blah!’ At this point, I (and probably everyone else listening or watching turns off … literally as well as emotionally! Of course this is not solely the province of webinars and podcasts, it occasionally happens in broadcast interviews as well particularly when the person doing the interviewing is in the same line of work as those they are interviewing when it becomes almost a competition. I can think of several cringe making moments where an interviewer refuses to take the back seat and feels he or she has to ‘top’ whatever the guest says at every point in the discussion.

Listening to a discussion where the interviewer is following their own agenda is like having a health related discussion with a hypochondriac – every illness, every ache and pain you’ve experienced, they’ve had – not only more often, but more seriously!

This lightbulb moment happened recently as I listened to a fascinating podcast about audiobooks. The hosts were both voice actors – and both record audiobooks – yet throughout this long round table discussion with several luminaries of the audiobook world, narrators, coaches and producers – the hosts never once mentioned themselves, what they were doing or even what their connection was the industry. They asked sensible and professional questions of those round the table, encouraged them without leading them and gave each of them a voice is what became a lively and varied discussion resulting in a thoroughly satisfactory and informative broadcast.

Only at the end of a podcast lasting for over an hour, did I find out that those doing the interview were actually in the same business as those they were interviewing. Their names are Sean Daeley and Paul Stefano and their podcast series, about all things voiceover and audio related, a series which I thoroughly recommend, is called ‘The VO Meter – Measuring your Voiceover Progress’