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Let’s Stop Using These Words To Describe A Podcast Host
It's time to retire some overused words we all use to describe podcast hosts, which means they don’t really describe anything…and I share a 15-year-old Christmas music mix that still delivers.
Welcome to Dispatch #34 of The Audio Insurgent.
There are more than 150 new people here since #33. Not sure why there are so many new people signing up–but I’m glad you are here. If you are looking for some reader favorites from the archives, I’d suggest reading, “What is the Value of Platforms Anyway?...Or...The False Choice Between Reach and Revenue,” “Are We Witnessing The Death of the Episodic Narrative?” “The Hollywood Messiah Is Never Coming,” “Let’s Rethink Episodes,” “Podcasting Is Social Media,” “Does Podcasting Lack A Middle Class?” and “What Joni Mitchell, Brandi Carlile, and Barack Obama Taught Me About Podcasting.”
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Regardless of how long these have been cluttering your inbox…Welcome to that favorite time of year, the “Let’s circle back to that in January” weeks preceding the assortment of late-December holidays: Kwanzaa, Chanukah, Christmas, Solstice, New Years Eve. Whatever holiday you observe–let’s get to it!
But not quite yet, I wanted to share something that has been rattling around my head for the past two weeks. That’s the main thing. I was looking for a particular Christmas song and came across a bunch of old mix CD tracks that I used to share and thought these deserved to see the light of day again. Links below.
[TODAY’S MAIN THING: PLEASE STOP USING THESE WORDS TO DESCRIBE A PODCAST HOST]
When coming up with an idea for a new podcast, what words would you use to describe the perfect person to host the show? If you are the host, what words would you want your listeners to use to describe you?
Turns out, many people use almost identical words to describe the perfect podcast host—regardless of the genre, style, or target audience—and I’d like to retire a good number of them…forever.
The list is coming, but first someone on how I got to making a list.
Back in 2003, I was reading Toby Young’s memoir How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. In it, he shares that while working at Vanity Fair, he learned that VF’s editor Graydon Carter had a list of 147 words that were not allowed to appear in Vanity Fair because they were “empty modifiers”—words so overused that they become devoid of actual specific meaning. One day, while listening to the radio after reading that book, I heard an announcer describe a Brahms concerto, the Goodyear blimp, the feeling you get when helping others, and the weather all using the same modifier: “beautiful”—and all within a few minutes. I thought to myself, “What do those things have in common?”
Nothing. They have nothing in common, outside of that dumb, easy word. I started my own word list based on Carter’s idea, with the first entry being “beautiful.”
I assembled my words into a list called Eric’s Forbidden Word List. I’ve been tweaking the list over the years since, adding a few words here and there.
If you find yourself wanting to use one of these words, I have an easy anecdote. Simply answer “why.” Why is it beautiful? Why is it fascinating? Why is it spectacular? The answer to your “why” question is your distinct descriptor. Use it instead.
I still use the list to this day. If I’m reviewing copy that contains these words—I ask the writer to replace it with something more specific, intentional to the subject, and meaningful. And boy, do my teams LOVE catching me using one of these words in my own writing.
Since the very earliest days of Magnificent Noise, before our company even had a name, we have started off new projects (either projects for clients or ourselves) by holding a three-hour design workshop to answer a handful of intentionality questions around what a project is, who it is for, what message it is trying to share, etc (“Them” “You” “What” “Why”). The photo at the top of this dispatch was from our first workshop as a company—so early on that we did it in Jesse’s living room and used her kids’ art easel as a dry erase board for the workshop. Many of the workshop exercises are also found in my book, Make Noise. One regular workshop exercise centers on describing the host of the project. This is the prompt we use as part of the pre-workshop homework:
“No one can be described with one word. Most people, especially those hosting podcasts, are multi-faceted. In your mind, who should be hosting the show? Describe this person. Is he or she serious? Funny? The person with all the answers...or the person with all the questions?”
We ask participants to come up with a list of 10 descriptive attributes.
While doing our final workshop of 2022 a few weeks ago, I came to the conclusion that almost all the workshops we’ve ever done have included many of the following words:
So I thought to myself—what if we start to “forbid” the use of these overused words?
To start, I needed to come up with a proper list of words to exclude. Problem is, that beyond the list above, I got stuck.
I shared this list with my Magnificent Noise colleagues, who also sit in on a number of these workshops and hear these same words over and over again too. While they thought my brief draft list was spot on, they didn’t have any new suggestions to add. Still bothered at the brevity of my list, I decided to reach out for some help.
I’ve been playing around with both Lex and ChatGPT lately (and while they are super intriguing and clever, I haven’t found very many practical uses for them yet …with one amazing exception: take a transcript of anything, paste it into ChatGPT, and ask it to come up with a bullet point summary in complete sentences—I put the transcript of a recent three-hour workshop into it and the bot spit out an amazing summary of the workshop, with all major points, in about three seconds).
Anyhow, I took my tiny list and pasted it into ChatGPT, along with the sentence, “What other words should be added to that list to describe podcast hosts?”
A few seconds later, it spit out
(And did so in alphabetical order, to boot!)
Then I asked if it had any other suggestions. It came right back with:
“Some other potential words to describe podcast hosts could include:
Okay, I admit that we are starting to get into synonym territory here, but still…
So then I asked the ChatGPT bot, “Are any of the words above almost meaningless because they are so overused?”
“It's possible that some of the words listed above could be considered overused or cliche in the context of describing podcast hosts. For example, words like ‘credible,’ ‘relatable,’ and ‘engaging’ are often used to describe a wide range of people and things, so they may not provide a very specific or unique description of a podcast host. Additionally, some of the words on the list, such as ‘fun’ and ‘interesting,’ are quite subjective and could mean different things to different people,” it replied.
The bot is correct! (Thought from Eric, not the bot.)
When I pasted this post so far into ChatGPT and asked if it had any thoughts on all this, it commented, “One thing to keep in mind is that the words used to describe podcast hosts will depend on the individual host and the type of podcast they are hosting. For example, a host who is known for their humorous anecdotes and quick wit might be described using words like ‘hilarious’ and ‘witty,’ while a host who covers serious and thought-provoking topics might be described using words like ‘insightful’ and ‘informative.’ Ultimately, the best words to describe a podcast host will depend on the specific qualities and characteristics that make that person unique.” (Reminder again, the last two paragraphs are verbatim quotes from an AI bot.
Ironically…weirdly ironically, that last point is exactly the point I wanted to make today. (And, again, just for clarity, this is Eric writing, not the bot).
We can argue about the general misuse in our culture of the word “unique,” but the point of this list, and this dispatch, is to stop using words that describe…any host. Focus on what is different about them. Focus on what is different about your new show. Words like "entertaining" and "informative" and "engaging" don't capture the spirit of what all the different and amazing hosts in podcasting bring, so let's try to be more specific. Because through that specificity, we find distinction. And as I often tell people, successful podcasts are the podcasts with the clearest idea of what they are and who they are for.
[TODAY’S OTHER THING: HO HO HO]
Before there were 100 million tracks instantly available on streaming services, I used to collect Christmas music. Surprise…I focused on obscure, unnoticed, unremembered, and odd Christmas music.
Back when mixtapes were a thing…and then when mix CDs were a thing…and when giving a mix that you put some time into was considered a semi-respectable holiday gesture…I used to put together a mix of favorite holiday tracks every year for my friends.
I almost didn’t share it because the Evil Overlords at Apple Music won’t let me include the opening track for some reason. It is the so-bad-it-becomes-good “Christmas in the Stars” from the long-forgotten Star Wars Christmas Album (yes, it is C-3PO singing to R2D2 explaining the meaning of Christmas). Quite the confusion-causing banger. Yet, even missing that curtain-raiser and a few other obscure selections that Apple wouldn’t let me upload, it’s a pretty-great collection.
It’s an hour. There isn’t anything offensive in it (you can play it in front of your kids and/or parents). It is mostly stuff you’ve probably never heard. It’s fun. Enjoy it.
Ho Ho Ho.
Okay, that’s it for now. I plan to jump in with another dispatch before the year is out, but whatever holiday you celebrate at the end of this month, I hope it’s fun. I also hope you take some time to rest and recharge. God knows what 2023 has in store for us, seriously.
If this was forwarded to you or you read this online, would you mind subscribing?
Make great things. I’ll be listening.
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