Hey Gårbage Folks,
I can’t believe we are writing this email. Has it only been 1 year since we launched WNWN? It feels like it’s been a century.
We officially launched last year on Earth Day with an episode on 4 different green-washers, plus a couple episodes in the can as buffer.
Now we have 25 episodes released, 1 live show, 1 west coast tour, a bunch of Patrons, and THOUSANDS of listeners.
Yes, that’s right, you aren’t the only person who listens to this podcast!
Or, I guess you can watch it too.
🎉 New Episode 🎉
Five Things N8 Didn’t Know But Probably Should’ve
For our first anniversary, I wanted to do something different for the newsletter, and share the top 5 things I didn’t know (but probably should have) before we started the podcast.
1: People don’t know anything. Deal with it.
I always thought science communication was easy. After giving presentations on coral economics people would say: “Wow, I never thought about coral like that, it’s so clear now!”
Well, just because some people understand coral, and just because climate change is a word everyone knows now, doesn’t mean people actually understand climate science.
This became especially clear when my awesome producers (shoutout to Allison, hope you’re not laughing at this list) would look at me like a madman when I started talking about extended producer responsibility. That’s ok, we all know different things, but for the purposes of making audio-only content, you need to set up really clearly exactly what you are talking about.
Practical Tip: Work with diverse people outside of your field. If you can’t explain something to a reasonably smart person in a concise and entertaining way, keep trying. Working with folks different from you check internal bias and help you deliver a clearer message.
2: Definition before jargon
As Dr. Jane said in our interview:
“When people hear words that they don't understand, that's actually a block.”
Which basically means people hate jargon and they shut down when they hear it.
Podcasts and public-speaking have this even worse, because we don’t get the help of visual cues. Each time we use unfamiliar language, we increase our audience’s listening fatigue. With only audio, we need to use mystery and expectation to keep people focused. Or zany sound, and cool music.
Here’s an example talking about marine protected areas. Try reading the quotes below out loud.
A scientist might explain marine protected areas as:
“Marine protected areas, or MPAs, help protect fish by limiting fishing and other activities within a specific area, this lets marine ecosystems recover and improve ocean health.”
Now, if you swap the order of information, you get:
“By limiting fishing and other activities within a specific area we let marine ecosystems recover and improve ocean health. We call these areas marine protected areas, or MPAs.”
People read words on paper faster than they can hear. Go ahead, test it out. I will wait.
In the first version, you have to sit around 22 words to understand what MPAs are.
In the second, you immediately understand what is happening—MPAs stop fishing!—and you start to build a mental image, which grows as you hear more. Unknown words are blank space, you want the listener to build a world, not a void.
Practical Tip: Read the title of this section :D
3: Avoid numbers without context
Like other lessons, this one sounds obvious, but if you do science communication, you might not realize how much you throw out numbers for no reason. Take a commonly cited pollution fact: “every year 8 million tons of plastic pollution enters the sea”.
First off, what is a ton? A car weighs about 2 tons. Now imagine 4 million cars. Can you do that? Can you even imagine 100 cars?
I have a theory that people can’t really imagine numbers beyond 100-150. When you hear a number like 8 million it just gets de-contextualized. Say a couple of huge numbers back to back and it becomes meaningless.
Stalin has a quote about this too.
A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.
Practical Tip: Use numbers to tell a story. What do the 8 million tons of plastic mean for the world, for a person? Don’t just throw me these zeros to show off.
4: Podcast marketing pays off
Podcasts as a purely auditory medium have some drawbacks.
Finding podcasts remains difficult. I know 99% Invisible has a new podcast on homelessness. Or wait, it’s not 99PI—it’s one of the producers. But where is it? What do I Google? Seriously, I still haven’t found this podcast, I’ve been thinking about this for months. How can I appreciate your obviously good podcast if I can’t find it?!
For WNWN, we found that our downloads increased when we made video trailers for our episodes. Doing a live show helped bring in new fans. Having Yu-Chen tweet the show is the only way we can socialize at a responsible distance. You need to visualize and materialize your podcasts in order to promote them.
A podcaster once told me, “podcasting is 80% marketing and 20% content.” WNWN was doing 90% content 10% marketing. We’ve since balanced the scales, but it’s still something we can work on some more.
(This, of course, applies to startups, science, environmental campaigns… Even countries! Seriously, Taiwan, you need better marketing. I know you contained COVID-19 but you gotta tell people how and with what in clear terms.)
Practical Tip: Have a visual identity for your podcast! The internet is so noisy, be creative about getting your podcasts out there.
5: Good Podcasts are Hard to Make (Shocking Reveal!)
Consider all the attention that must go into sound:
First you have to make sure the audio you record sounds good. Turn off the air conditioner in the background don’t rub your clothes nervously while you talk. Oh man is that construction outside??
Then you need to edit out breathes and belches. Then take out the um’s and ah’s. Did you know your lips click? Did you know most people scream when they start a sentence? Next time you hear a podcast, listen for breathing—it will drive you insane, I promise.
I learned all about this thankfully because Emily is my producer. (I don’t actually have to worry about this as we fixed most of it in editing.)
Obviously, there is nothing wrong with trying things out and making a bad podcast. WNWN is just one year old and I will likely look back and cringe at these tips in a years time. But, for whatever project you take on, do it with a team.
Have a second pair of eyes, a second pair of shoulders to endure the weight of content production.
My theory is that podcasts have a very high floor and a low ceiling of quality for most listeners. It takes a lot of work to go from unlistenable noise to a nice podcast that people want to subscribe to, but the ladder peaks pretty soon after that.
Practical Tip: Get started with a team! (And appreciate podcasters and give them money.) ((Or at least share their works.))
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