For the Listener: A Rant in 7 Parts
I'm a positive person.

Annoyingly positive, in fact.

Like, I sometimes need to remind myself to shut up when my friends just need a moment to be sad. Or to vent. Or to feel frustrated.

I have to physically hold myself back from telling them to look on the bright side.

'Cause for me...there's always a bright side.

So very bright.

Pretty sunrise photo from Ivana Cajina on Unsplash.
Are you subscribed to Narrative Beat yet?
Subscribe now!
And so, it should come as no surprise to learn that I generally try to approach this newsletter from a place of encouragement. I try to focus on the positive – sharing the things that I love and the techniques I've learned along the way.

This is not one of those newsletters.

Because there are two things in this world that fill me with rage.

The first is being tapped on the shoulder. (Or the arm. Or the back. Or wherever.)

And yeah, I know this has nothing to do with audio or storytelling. But if you value your life, you should find some other way to get my attention!

The second is when I hear a podcast host say, "Could you explain that again, you know, for the listener?"

Or…"Could you tell the listener what you mean by that?"

Or…"Could you describe – for the listener – what you're seeing right now?"

Now, you might think this is a silly thing to get annoyed by. It's only three little words. But here's the thing…

It's ALL for the listener.

Every single thing that you do on your podcast SHOULD BE for the listener. They're the only one who matters.

And therefore, they're the only one who exists.

And by calling them "the listener" you're putting distance between them and you. You're reminding them that you don't know their name. That you're not actually their friend.

And look, I get it. As a host who has trained a lot of hosts, I know where this inclination comes from.

We often need to ask questions when we already know the answers. And we don't want to look dumb. Or feel uninformed. So we feel the need to remind everyone that we're smart and we did our research.

But the goal of our podcast isn't to stroke our own ego – or at least it shouldn't be.

The podcast exists … for the listener.

Sometimes, if I'm actually worried about my guest thinking that I'm uniformed, I'll give a little warning before the interview. Something along the lines of, "I'm gonna ask you a lot of questions, and I think I already know the answers to many of these. But I want the listener to hear the answers in your words, not mine."

Problem solved. Moving on to…

Rant #2: Long intros.

Oh, how I hate long intros…

I recently listened to a podcast that started with the host describing in depth all the reasons why she wanted to interview a certain guest.

Then she summed up the entire conversation that she was about to share, mentioning everything of note that was going to be discussed.

Then she read the guest's lengthy bio – verbatim – even though she had already described the guest when telling us why she was invited onto the show in the first place.

And THEN, just when I thought the host might be ready to ask a real question, she welcomed her guest and asked the woman she had just introduced – twice – to introduce herself.


(By the way, the overuse of bios could be a rant in and of itself. 99% of the time, a person's bio is deadly dull…and could be summed up in a word or two. Mine included.)

My solution is simple: start with story…even if you're not making a storytelling podcast.

Instead of reading a long, boring bio, tell me the story of something cool your guest has done. Or the story of something that made them famous. Or something they once said to you.

Find a way to integrate all the important biographical information into that story. And if the info doesn't fit – it's probably not important.

Show the listener why you wanted to bring this guest on the show, instead of telling them all the places the guest has worked and all the awards they have won.

Show, don't tell, my friends. It's basically the entire premise of our industry.

Rant #3: Long questions. Almost as bad as long intros.

This one is simple. Talk less. Let your guests/sources talk more.

Ask short questions. Short, short, short questions. Not only do they sound more conversational and real, they also just make more sense.

Why did you invite this person on your show if you're going to ask questions that give away their entire answer?

If you want to make a comment, or make your own story part of the story, great. I've got no problem with that. But it should not take you 30-seconds to spit out a question that could have been asked in :10.

(And no judgment here. Really. I get it. Sometimes it takes me a while to figure out what I want to say, too. That's fine! I'm not worried about what happens during the recording itself. But just like you edit your guest to make them sound clear and concise, you should do the same for your questions.)

Rant #4: Unnecessary crosstalk.

For the love of all that is good…set your Zoom to record on separate tracks. Or use Squadcast or Zencastr or Riverside or any number of recording platforms that record on separate tracks by default. And then edit – in multitrack – to remove random, unnecessary crosstalk.

And if you and your guest are not BOTH wearing headphones, SHUT THE F UP while they're talking. No hmmms. No ahhhhs. No typing notes with your computer. Avoid unnecessary laughter.

Because if your guest is not wearing headphones, every time you make noise, Zoom (or Squadcast or Zencastr or Riverside) is going to squash your guest's voice in favor of whatever random noise you're making.

So, what's more important? That thing your guest is trying to say? Or you responding with a random syllable to indicate that you're still listening?

And speaking of random noises...

Rant #5: Random field sound.

Okay, I know that after the horrors of the pandemic, we are all itching to get out in the field and record some actual wild sound.

But truly, unless your story is somehow set in a coffee shop, don't record your interview sitting next to the espresso machine at Starbucks.

(Actually, even if your story IS set in a coffee shop, stay away from that damn machine. It's too loud!)

Don't use random car sounds to show that you actually got in a car. Don't ring a doorbell to show me that you actually went to someone's house.

Use field sound INTENTIONALLY.

If your story is about flooding caused by climate change, record the rain falling on your umbrella.

If your story is about someone who is struggling to pay their bills, record them sifting through the bills at their kitchen table. Or unpacking the groceries they bought with their last $50.

Don't just give me sound. Give me sound with MEANING.

Rant #6: Interviews that sound like advertisements.

I know this might come as a shock to you, but you don't have to ask that author why they wrote their book. Or what it's about. Or why they hope people will buy it.

Just because someone is promoting something does NOT mean that your episode needs to sound like an infomercial.

At Only A Game, we'd tell authors that we were going to ask them to tell a story from their book. Almost never the story of the WHOLE book. Nobody had time for that on a weekly, one hour radio show.

No, we'd ask them to focus on one chapter. Or one character. Or one storyline.

We'd go in depth. Get to the real juicy center.

And then at the end of the whole thing, we'd say the name of the book. We'd send people to our website for more info.

And you know what? That turned out to be a much better promotion for the book than a more traditional author interview. Because listeners were intrigued by what they heard…and they wanted to learn more.

So go ahead. Shake things up. Find creative ways to talk to authors and musicians and actors about their work.

We'll all be better for it.

Rant #7: Adjectives.

Yep. I want you to stop with the adjectives. Just…stop.

You know why?

Because I don't believe you. Especially when you tell me how absolutely brilliant, incredibly insightful, heartbreakingly beautiful, and earth-shatteringly important this interview is going to be.


Adjectives need to be earned. I want you to break my heart, not tell me that my heart will be broken if I press play on this episode.

Let's get rid of all of the words that TELL us how we should feel, instead of SHOWING us why we should feel that way.

Words like:











Get rid of them all. These words are not serving us.

We can aspire to achieve them. We can want our listeners to tell thier friends that our show is "amazing" or "powerful" or "transformative."

But we shouldn't use those words to describe our guests – or ourselves.

Instead, let's tell stories that leave our listeners amazed. Let's inspire. Transform. And make people feel enlightened.

And once we've done those things, we don't actually need to use those words anymore.

Show, don't tell, my friends.

Show, don't tell.

There are now even MORE ways to support the Narrative Beat community!

OPTION 1: As always, you can share this newsletter with those who might enjoy it. You can forward this email, or send them to my full archive and subscribe link!

OPTION 2: Join the Patreon! Yep...Narrative Beat now has a Patreon. You can join for free, but you'll get extra benefits for being a paid member. My first "members only" post has already been published. It's open to anyone who joins the Patreon -- free or paid -- and I think you'll really enjoy it. So don't miss out!

OPTION 3: Drop a few bucks in the Narrative Beat tip jar. I set this up for folks who aren't interested in committing to a monthly membership, but they still want to help me cover my email fees and help sponsor even more scholarships to my Narrative Beat workshops.