Holding the audience’s attention: a memorable podcast interview

The only thing I enjoy more than teaching is giving a podcast interview, and yesterday’s was one for the books.

I set myself up in a chipmunk-free room. I mean—no, I don’t have chipmunks inside my house. But I do have some very large windows and if Fenway spotted one outside, well, anyone listening would think the apocalypse had arrived.

So I set myself up in a room with Fenway-proof windows. I plugged in my headphones. Got on Skype with the engineer, who griped about audio quality before pronouncing my setup adequate; the hosts connected and we commenced with the podcast interview.

podcast interviewNow, one of the strange things about a podcast interview is that you’re talking into a void. You’re Skyping, yes, but with the video off (improves audio quality). So you can’t see the host. But you also can’t see the person you’re really talking to—the person with their headphones plugged in, working up a sweat on the Stairmaster or negotiating their morning commute. When I give speeches or presentations, I tend to feed off the energy of the people I’m talking to. Pick up the pace if they’re looking bored, or insert a joke. Slow down if they seem lost.

You can’t do that with a podcast interview. All you can do is send your voice out into the void and hope you connect with someone. That’s one of the biggest challenges for me in this format—no feedback from the listeners.

Podcast interview with a live audience

Well, I got some feedback today. About 20 minutes into the interview, I’m happily talking away and I hear this sound…Should I stop? Keep going? The sound derailed my train of thought so I held for 10 seconds and then repeated what I’d been saying. Okay, back on track.

Then there it was again. Louder this time.

Surely it’s not…? What the…?

But it was:


I had put the engineer to sleep.

Now, audio engineers are not my target audience. I don’t think they’re a key demographic for this podcast, either. But, I mean—the guy can’t stay awake for half an hour? At noon on a Monday?

The hosts seemed unfazed; perhaps I’m not the first guest who’s cured his insomnia. But it’s quite humbling. One minute I’m an expert, holding forth on Important Topics; the next minute my audience is sound asleep, sawing logs.

I’m far more amused than offended by Sleeping Beauty, the Audio Engineer. But it is a good reminder that we need presentations compelling enough to reach the least connected member of any audience.

We woke him up when we were done with the podcast and he swore his mic hadn’t been live—even though we all heard him, clear as day. I know yawning is contagious in an audience; I wonder if sleeping is as well.

I’ll let you know.

Write better when you write more often. The Bennett Ink 90-Day Writing Challenge—it’s time to get serious.