How Podcasting Pros Achieve Authenticity


As I listen to my ever-growing list of favorite podcasts, it strikes me that the people who are really great at podcasting have the uncanny ability to project an authentic sense of self.

Take Malcolm Gladwell, for example. I love his Revisionist History podcast. One of my favorite episodes is about his discovery of McDonalds French fries in late adolescence. His passion for and devotion to this perfected form of potato is tangible; crunchy on the outside, hot and fluffy on the inside. And then McDonald’s broke his heart. That’s the pivot for the great story that follows. Listen to it when you have a chance.

Gladwell embodies authenticity. But we’re hearing a carefully edited version of Gladwell. It’s him only clearer and more compelling. Why? Because he has done the work of defining his podcast, of giving it a consistent format. All of that work pays off because we, the listeners, know what to expect and we love him for it. We’re not only getting what we subscribed to, we’re getting the best possible authentic version of Gladwell.

Authentic Podcasting is a Lot Like Acting

In an earlier version of the podcast I’m developing now, I had a conversation with Guy Saville, actor and Artistic Director of the Purple Rose Theatre, about how actors create an authentic character. Here’s what he said. “We (the actors) may not know exactly what we’re doing, but our passion and our purpose guides us.” The purpose is found in the dog-eared and well-thumbed pages of the script. The script does two things. It lays out the circumstances in which the characters react, and it’s the structure that the actors use to shape their characters’ authentic selves.

Acting Just Like You

Back to actor/director Guy Sanville. When I asked him to define acting he had obviously grappled with the question before.  “Acting is living truthfully in imaginary circumstances. You really are playing yourself in a lot of different situations. I tell young actors it really is about you. Your sense of truth, your sense of justice, your sense of humor.  You are playing yourself in a lot of different situations.”

Know Why You're Podcasting

In podcasting, as in acting, it takes work to arrive at your authentic self, starting with the answer to the question why you want to podcast. Whether you’re a brand in search of an additional marketing channel or an indie podcaster who has a passion and wants to share it, what’s your purpose? What do you want to achieve?  How will you know you’ve succeeded?

My purpose in podcasting is to host a public conversation on the nature and practical use of creativity. I want to know how accomplished people from cosmologists to comic book artists do what they do. How do they define creativity? Do they even use that word when thinking about the way they think? Most of all, I want to know about their daily habits and routines, the little things that they do to achieve rewarding work and build a meaningful life.

Becoming Real as a Podcaster

I am reminded of one of my favorite childhood books, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. It’s the story of a stuffed toy rabbit who bravely dares to hope that he might become real someday if he is loved enough by the boy who owns him. After great hardship that to this day makes me tear up the velveteen rabbit does indeed become a real live bunny.

My point is this. To become real is a journey not without difficulties. Authenticity in life or in podcasting may be edited, augmented, and refined. But it is always real. Because that’s what life is.