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Reflections on the First Cohost Podcast

Feb 14, 2007 • general

I just posted a first cohost podcast with Heidi Hansen, a technical writer in Seattle and my new co-host. If you listen to the podcast, let me know what you think of the new cohost format. I think it went well; it was different from a regular interview, and the new style is something I'll have to work on.

We also tried a little recording trick to try to make the voices clearer. Heidi's voice sounded crisper and clearer than mine, so I will have to figure out if my mic is poor or my settings wrong. But I'm convinced that recording individually and then layering the tracks is the way to go.

We were talking afterwards about authenticity. This is one of the qualities we're aiming for with this podcast. By authenticity, I mean a sense of genuineness, realness. Not fake or false. Achieving a true authentic voice is one of the most difficult things, whether you're speaking or writing. When you write or talk, are you presenting your real self, or are you showing a different face and voice?

A sense of authenticity is essential for both blogs and podcasts, because these mediums are about building relationships with readers and listeners. But here is one problem with authenticity. Suppose you are discussing a topic, and you have strong thoughts about a product or company or person. Expressing your real thoughts may cause offense or anger; but suppressing your real thoughts results in "vanilla content," as Heidi put it.

These situations, however, may not be all that common. More difficult is overcoming the sense of theater. The cohost format attempts to portray a natural conversation about technical communication, like a walk with two people chatting, but knowing that you're being recorded and that hundreds of people will download and listen to the conversation makes it more difficult to be natural and real. You're being watched and heard; you're putting on a show; you're an actor. And if you're an actor, are you acting being real?

On the other hand, authenticity and realness may be overrated. Listeners want entertainment, and entertainment is driven by theatre. Sometimes being my real self may be quite boring. After the podcast, my wife told me that during the podcast I acted really animated. The assumption is that I'm usually not animated. Hence I wasn't being real.

I hope Heidi won't mind me posting an excerpt from an e-mail she sent a few months ago when she first started listening to Tech Writer Voices. It relates to the topic of realness. She wrote,

I'd like it if you would just rant once a week about everything going on in your head: which chapters are coming on board with future audio, which chapters have contacted you and are interested in helping you, what hurdles you see in the field, what observations in general you see in the field, what's going on a work…in other words, if you've never listened to the style of Zen and the Art of Triathlon, you should—he records as he's riding his bike or going for 3-mile runs; interview after interview is not nearly as interesting as getting to know the real person behind the podcast. Maybe you and I should just start doing shows were we rant about trends and different topics once a week, as though we're on a long walk together or are just two tech writers have a cup of coffee together.

I have been thinking about a "rant," especially because Heidi requested something like that in the podcast. I generally don't have a lot of frustrations to rant about, which is nice. But surely I have something to rant about. STC deadheads? Leaders who aren't bloggers? Articles in Intercom that tell you nothing? The deletion of my comment on Adobe's blog? The $300,000/year STC staff rent and our chapter's financial struggles? My increasing credit card debt? The guy who fired off 9 shots from a handgun into mid-air when I drove home yesterday? The friggin' police who are powerless against drug dealers, and my house that won't sell? (Oh yes, there is some frustration about that ...)

But these are just passing little disturbances. I am mostly a very content person. I have three beautiful girls (ages 4 months, 2 yrs, and 5 yrs), am happily married, enjoy my job, and love life. So I don't think I can't rant much, but maybe I'm misinterpreting this. Maybe it is good to rant?

What would you rant about? (For real.)


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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.