Why Podcast Hosts Shouldn’t Think About Elephants


Again this week, and for what must be the umpteenth time, I came across a blog post advising that podcast hosts be themselves. It’s great advice and, at the same time, dismally useless. First of all, there’s this dumb philosophical issue: no matter what you’re doing, who else are you? The second, and more practical, point to ponder is how do you “be yourself?” How do you act like who you are?

Which Self is Which

The “be you” advice is misleading because it presumes there’s this one self called you. There’s not. You’re made up of multiple selfs.

This doesn’t make you schizophrenic, just normal.

You’re one self when you’re alone with your significant other, another self when you’re out with your friends and yet another self when you’re making small talk with your boss’s spouse. The more appropriate question to ask is which self are you behind the microphone? And that comes down to how you view your audience. Are they your friends? Are they your students? Are they all your boss’s spouse?

Get Out of the Studio

If you equate your audience to your friends, where are you when you’re with your friends? (My preference is that I’m in my living room because it’s a space I know and where I feel comfortable. However, your mileage may vary.) Wherever that is, imagine yourself in that place while doing your show. That will select your I’m-with-my-friends self, along with your I’m-with-my-friends behavior.

Imagining yourself in another place is often tricky because, intellectually, you know you’re not “there,” especially when you’re sitting behind a microphone. That microphone becomes a cue to be your “podcast self.” That’s the self that sounds like a bad Gary Owens imitation. Try using a desk microphone instead of one that hangs down in front of your face. The latter may look cool in Facebook cover shots, but if you’re staring at a mic it’s hard to imagine that living room moment.

Close Your Eyes

Yep. Sounds dumb. And, I wouldn’t advise it during interviews (guests frequently get the wrong idea). But if you blot out where you actually are, it’s easier to replace it with where you want to be. This trick is especially handy if you’re working from notes or a script. Read a line or two ahead and close your eyes while delivering those lines. It takes some practice, but it will change your delivery from “I’m reading this” to “I’m talking to you,” mostly because you are talking instead of reading.

Speaking of Elephants…

You cannot behave the way you want to behave, what others call being yourself, by thinking about it. Trust me on this, it will not work. It’s like the old alchemist’s stricture that to make gold you melt some lead and stir it while not thinking about elephants. Try it and you’ll see why so many people still have day jobs. You behave in a way that experience has taught you is appropriate to your immediate situation. Change that situation and your behavior will change to match it.

So the next time some well-meaning podcast pundit advises you to be you, remember what the pundit means is imagine you’re in the situation you want to be in. Close your eyes. See yourself in that situation.

And, good grief, don’t think of elephants.


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Illustration: nicubunu acquired from OCAL website (Rights: Public Domain)

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