There's something priceless about being real. And it's a quality that most branded podcasts want to replicate, but in truth - is almost impossible.
Passion, honesty and authenticity isn't something you can buy.
But putting yourself out there and being the one 'behind the mic' is terrifying.
So what happens when you do 'put your head above the parapet'?
This is my story of how and why I've begun to do it, what happened when I did and about some of the people who inspired me along the way.
Today I posted on of my rawest podcast episodes yet.
I felt naked.
I wasn't sure whether to publish it.
I worried about what my mum and dad would think.
I worried about what my clients (current and potential) would think.
I worried about whether I would come to regret being so honest in the future.
It's unedited, with no theme music, no soundscape, no perfected scripting.
It's just me recording into a handheld microphone in my bed speaking my mind about something that mattered to me.
It's been out in the world for less than 24 hours but already I've had hundreds of messages of support. More than any other podcast I've ever been a part of.
We're living in a world of consumerism, living life in the fast lane, chasing perfection, told 'just keep going', 'buy this pill and it'll cure you'... It's refreshing to hear someone who's been in your shoes tell you that it's ok to take a while to find an answer or path that's right for you. And to hear that being perfect doesn't really matter. That is really is better to be real, and be yourself.
I've worked in broadcasting for almost 15 years. I painted on my smile most days. I learnt how to quash my personal opinions and inner struggles so no one knew what was happening behind the scenes.
Because in the modern world, no one wants to hear about anyone else's problems, right? We're too busy dealing with our own shit?
There's something quite cathartic is knowing you're 'not the only one'. And by the very nature of how most of us consume podcasts (with headphones on and listening solo), it really does feel like the host has the ability to speak directly to our hearts, right inside our own heads.
I recognise now how bloody powerful it is when you hear someone else utter words you've been thinking privately for some time. It really is a case of "THANK GOD I'M NORMAL."
But stepping out as a podcast host is no mean feat.
I've been used to sitting on the sidelines as a producer for many years, carefully 'studying' the style of many different presenters - both trained professionals and amateurs.
And the one skill that I think the best have - is empathy.
Anyone can read a series of questions from a piece of paper and do an interview.
Anyone can read a script I put in front of them to form a great intro or outro.
Anyone can be an expert in their field and know a little about everything on their subject.
But not everyone can listen, feel and share.
Only a few presenters can really nail this. And for quite some time, I've been looking into why that is.
Is authenticity something that can be learnt?
Is vulnerability a skill that needs to be perfected?
When does honesty sound real and when does it sound forced?
There's no simple answer to any of these questions to be honest. There really isn't a book or any post you can read on 'how to be authentic'. I think you just know when you are.
There are some tell tale signs though - your listeners will shout quickly and loudly when you do get it right. They'll tell their friends, their social media following, they'll write reviews and rate you, they'll subscribe to you, and they'll write to you privately sharing some of their own story.
So today I share with you a few of my own learnings about being authentic, and also examples of other fantastic podcasts hosts who aren't afraid to be real - and in turn, have inspired me.
Naturally, being raw means they're quite heavy subject matters - fertility, death, alcohol and depression. So take a pause when listening if you need to and follow any of the show notes for support if needed.
I hit a personal milestone this weekend. I completed 365 days without drinking a drop of alcohol. It was part of a challenge with the group One Year No Beer.
There's a more detailed post about why and what impact this had on me personally and professionally right here should you want a bit more context.
Weekly, I co-host a series about weight loss. It's a personal journal with a friend of mine, Anna Mangan, on our ups, downs and lessons learnt as we follow our choice of diet plan - Slimming World.
We record in children's play areas, in pubs, in parks, in cars and once even sat on a concrete floor outside a town hall. We snort, we chuckle, we have a lot of laughs - with each other and reading our listeners' comments.
But we made a pact to be honest and real too. And sometimes that means turning up to publish an episode when we're really not in the mood to.
Our promise is that every Monday morning our subscribers will wake up to a new episode - so no matter how their weekend has been - they've a dose of mojo to help spur them on to continue with their own weight loss journey.
This week was a challenge for various reasons. Anna was poorly and in hospital. And I was a bit all over the shop emotionally. But I recorded something anyway - and spoke openly about what difference a year without any booze had had on my mental health, my physical health and just about my learning of life in general.
Right from the biog, Alice Lyons' podcast screams authenticity...
"Starting brave and bullshit-free conversations around mental health and wellbeing."
And it really does.
I met Alice at a business networking event in Altrincham (hey SUBS friends!). We were there to talk about our own companies, and connect for potential work. But we ended up meeting for coffee (yes on the basis of her podcast name, cliche we know) and discussing everything but business. Instead, our journey as podcasters.
Before we met up I asked Alice to send me just one episode to listen to from her series, Dark Coffee Podcast. It was this one... Episode 13 Depression in real time.
I listened driving to a coaching session. I nodded, I laughed, I shed a tear, but mostly I felt HEARD AND UNDERSTOOD. I had no idea that other people experienced moods in these similar waves.
Her honesty, her vulnerability, even her worry about what her mum must be thinking was like nothing I've ever heard before. I sent Alice a voice message as soon as I parked up to say how much I loved every moment of that episode.
Because that's what you do when you really connect with a podcast - you react immediately. You send it to a friend. You send a message to the host. Hell, I even send this episode out now as an example to my coaching clients in a lesson of authenticity! THIS realness is exactly what you don't get from a big brand or BBC podcast.
Voice over artist and former Heart breakfast radio presenter Nat Silverman has been presenting The Fertility Podcast for several years. She's built up quite the back catalogue of interviews with guests on every angle about fertility issues. Hundreds of episodes in fact. But her why is because she wants to ensure other couples who struggle with fertility don't feel the same shame and fear that she and her husband did when they realised all wasn't quite right in their own baby-making journey. IVF worked for them. But the decision to donate her remaining frozen embryos to science was a decision they struggled over for some time.
In this episode, her final one of 2018, Nat stepped out of her studio booth and comfort zone - went naked (well without a guest!) and spoke frankly about the impact of that decision.
I know how hard this was for her - working in the voiceover industry and on commercial radio means we're used to the idea of being perfect in our scripting, every word is carefully crafted in its tone and content. I was a proud friend listening to this episode. And it really showed that she's not just become a go-to expert in all things fertility, but that she really feels and cares about her listeners and the subject as a whole. And that's why her listeners remain loyal and stick by her through thick and thin after all this time.
(You might have to click on the embedded player to play this one in an external link by the way)
I've never met Sam Meikle in person. But we've worked together through my group coaching sessions and as a one-to-one coaching client too.
Yet I feel like I've known Sam for years.
She came to me as someone who had recorded a bunch of interviews, but wasn't sure about how to add an intro/outro and overcome the fear of putting her work out into the world. Her inner fears were screaming what if no one listens? Or people hated it?
As soon as I heard her first few audio clips I knew she had nothing to worry about.
I've never heard someone with no professional broadcast training speak so openly and with such clarity. Proof right there that years of journalism training is not always necessary.
The inspiration behind her series, About Death, is dedicated to her late friend Malar whom Sam never got to have 'that' final conversation with before her passing.
It was one of many situations that inspired her to look deeper into why more of us are afraid of facing and talking about death.
Her opening episode is a moving monologue where Sam lays out her reasons why she's starting the podcast, what she's learnt to so far from her own reflections and research, and where she hopes it will go. I dare you to not be moved and inspired listening.
And as someone with many years of broadcast experience, I know the ability to talk into a microphone on your own for 19 minutes is one of the most difficult things you can ever do. I have utmost respect for Sam putting herself out there. For facing the fears and doing it anyway. She deserves - and I'm sure is receiving - great feedback for documenting such a personal journey.By the way, I talked about Sam's podcast on BBC Radio 5Live recently as a podcast reviewer. Her episode with was featured in our picks under the theme 'curious conversations'.
Lessons I've learnt on being authentic on a podcast:
Record in a 'real' environment. Perfect polished studios take you so far. But think content over perfect quality every time. Invest in a decent handheld mic and free yourself to record on the move.
Allow room for the silly imperfections - sneezes, accidentally burping, erm's, so's, stumbles, housemate coming back home drunk half way through your recording - don't erase these in the edit. People love and remember these real moments as you being human.
If you are talking openly, be careful to mention names of people and situations before checking with that person it's ok first. Once it's 'out there' there's no taking it back.
Be brave. No one 'loves' and 'feels' vanilla. Being beige is not best. Because when people start reaching out to you, then you truly know that you're on the path to creating something more real and authentic than you've ever made before.
Clare Freeman works as a podcast coach and consultant. If your current podcast series needs a vavavoom and shake up, or if you're stuck at the first hurdle of getting started - reach out to Clare from some one-to-one coaching. Prices start from just £99 for 90 minutes. More information here.