In a fun change of pace, I was interviewed by the On Deck Podcaster Fellowship about the origins of Unchained pod, how my background as a journalist prepared me for podcasting, and tips for aspiring creators. Episode highlights:
- why I believe the Unchained podcast has been successful and how my penchant for asking tough questions came about (1:48)
- how my background in journalism prepared me for hosting a podcast (6:35)
- how I choose guests for the show and how they feel about being asked difficult questions (9:10)
- why I feel my background in traditional media is so important (15:46)
- whether my podcast helped me land a book deal (20:35)
- the Unchained podcast origin story (26:37)
- how I’ve brought my sense of journalistic integrity and ethics to podcasting (33:56)
- the top tips for choosing a good podcast title (41:58)
- advice for aspiring podcasters on sifting through BS answers and warming up shy guests (48:19)
- who I look up to in the podcast space (53:25)
- what future creators and podcasters from underrepresented backgrounds can learn from my experience breaking into the world of finance and technology (57:33)
Thank you to our sponsors:
Kyber Network: Dmm.exchange
Hi everyone, welcome to Unchained, your no hype resource for all things crypto. I’m your host, Laura Shin. Follow Unchained on Twitter, @Unchained_pod, where you can find all sorts of content ranging from my weekly newsletter to updates on my upcoming and a whole lot more. In today’s episode we turn the tables. This recording features me as the guest. It’s from a recent Q+A I did with the On Deck Podcaster Fellowship about how Unchained got its start, how I use my journalism background in my interviews, and what my tips are for aspiring creators. It was a great discussion and a fun change of pace to be a guest on the show instead of the host. Now, on to the episode.
Today’s episode is sponsored by EY Blockchain. Ernst and Young is committed to supporting integration of the world’s business ecosystems on the public Ethereum blockchain.
The Crypto.com App lets you buy, earn and spend crypto, all in one place! Earn up to 8.5% interest on your Bitcoin and 14% interest on your stablecoins – paid weekly! Download the Crypto.com App and get $25 with the code “LAURA” – link is in the description.
Kyber’s Dynamic Market Maker, DMM, is the first DeFi protocol designed to adapt to market conditions to optimise fees, maximise returns, and enable extremely high capital efficiency for liquidity providers.
I can tell that you’ve been both a student of journalism and podcasting. You approach podcasting from more of a journalist’s point of view than a lot of people who are starting out now, including a few of us. So welcome to ODP.
Thanks for having me. I’m super excited to be here.
Awesome. So, let’s get started. One thing we’re super curious about is if you look at podcasting in general, crypto is probably one of the most crowded spaces. And some might say… we’ve had other speakers talk about how being one of the top shows is usually just a function of being early and consistent. But I can tell that you’re, there’s are deeper kind of decisions that you’ve made that have made your show one of the top ones. So take us deeper on a broader, strategic level, how have you thought about positioning and differentiating yourself?
So I would say that in the beginning, I actually probably did benefit from being early. However, I wasn’t the first. And I think at that time, the way that I benefited was that I had this journalistic approach, which was new at that time. And I think it’s an approach that can draw in a broader audience than the existing podcast at that time could have, because many of them were making it a little bit more technical or they were just sort of like a kind of like talk radio or something. And because I had the journalistic approach, I think people felt that if they were totally new to the space, that they could kind of have a little bit more to latch onto. It wasn’t just people talking over their heads because if my guests said something and it wasn’t something that would be obvious, I would ask them what it is, or I would jump in with an explanation, and I still do that today.
I’ve had different audience members or fans come up to me and say, oh, your show is like the one that I feel like I can share with my friends, and they can still get it because you take the time to explain. And I also would say that since then, there’s just something that I do very naturally that I realized has distinguished my show. And I realized this again by people’s comments to me. I didn’t realize that this was something that I did any differently from anybody else. But, after a while, I began to realize that people would talk to me about what they were calling my “uncomfortable questions.” Or some people would just say they were just tough questions or whatever.
Essentially it’s what it sounds like: where if I’m interviewing somebody and there’s some aspect of their work, maybe that they may not want to talk about or that is a little bit challenging for them, I’m not afraid to ask about it. And, like I said, I didn’t even have an awareness that I was making people uncomfortable. I didn’t have; I wasn’t even thinking about whether or not the questions were tough. I was just thinking about what are the good questions or what would be an interesting conversation or what is it that people would really want to know? Those were the kinds of questions I was asking myself. But then I guess it led to these questions that people perceived as being uncomfortable or tough or whatever.
I don’t know if anybody in the audience is like a philosophy major or anything like that, but part of my major was kind of in that realm. And when you spend hours a week in small groups, just like discussing ideas and challenging what other people say, or questioning things, I don’t know, maybe I’m just very comfortable doing that. And I think some of my friends are too, so it’s probably just not that different from how I live. I think also because I am a journalist, I don’t have any notion that the people I’m interviewing are like my friends or that I want to be friends with them or that I can be. I kind of know that my place is to be sort of like the stand-in for my audience and to just, like I said, ask what it is that they want to know.
And so I think that’s another reason why I became known for that and I think that’s why people really appreciate my shows. I’ve had so many people come up and say things like that they learn so much more from my shows because I do that or that they feel… yeah, because I mean, yeah… think about it: in crypto, like people oftentimes, I mean, it depends on who I’m interviewing obviously, but a lot of these people can be making money from everyday people. And so it is kind of a good thing to question them and be a little bit skeptical and do that on behalf of my audience. So in that regard, I feel like that’s how I’ve distinguished myself. Once I became aware of it, then yeah, I understood that that was what I brought to the table and I began to realize, oh right, yeah, if I compare myself to the other shows, like they don’t really do that. I do feel that’s how I’ve been able to differentiate myself in the space.
And I think one thing that is so interesting about that is this applies across like interview shows or narrative shows, because it’s all about getting a good story. I’m curious what other experiences or principles or techniques that you brought from your journalism background into podcasting?
Probably thorough research. The way that I like to describe how to create a podcast is like writing an article in reverse. For an article maybe you would actually interview kind of the main actors in it and then kind of fill in around by interviewing like other sources. But here I kind of have to do everything up front and then perform the article at the end with the person. I genuinely go in kind of like already knowing what they’re going to say at different points for various questions. And, of course, sometimes I ask a question and then they answer three questions at once or whatever. It’s not like I’m literally predicting what they’re going to say. But I just have a general idea in my head of what I want it to look like.
And, of course, there are questions where I won’t know what they’re going to answer, but it’s like one of those ones where I’m like, oh, they haven’t answered this before or I haven’t seen anybody ask them this before or that kind of thing. So in that regard, like I think just the way that I kind of synthesize all the news. And when I say that, I don’t even mean just like what it is that they’re working on, but I will often also kind of zoom out and look at what else is going on in this space and how that interacts with their world. And so I feel that often leads to more interesting questions. So instead of just narrowly focusing on what they’re up to, I like bringing in these other events that will affect them.
And I think people find that interesting as well. And then the other thing is that I also do what I call topic shows. Generally, I’ll have kind of like two different guests and they sort of discuss this topic together. I feel like picking the right people and kind of making sure that they kind of have slightly different viewpoints. I mean, I don’t always do this, but after a while, I realized, oh yeah, it is a little bit better if they’re kind of coming at it from different angles. And I’m not trying to make it like some throw down — I mean, if they do that great — but it’s just like the more perspectives and the more that they kind of engage each other and push back at each other, I feel like the more interesting the conversation is, so that’s another way, because obviously in journalism you do try to get different perspectives in an article and that kind of that creates a bigger picture of what’s going on.
And so when you’re thinking about who to bring in, or like who the person is, how are you sort of either like testing or filtering for whether they’re going to be the right guests who are going to have different viewpoints and actually push back against each other, or just like what we see in most panels where everyone just agrees and it’s the same thing.
So a couple of different ways, it sort of depends on what is going on in my life or how well I know the person ahead of time, but if I don’t really know them at all, I will look at whatever it is that they’ve put out. Like it could be their tweets or their articles or their other interviews. I will check out their YouTube, like whatever it might be, other podcast interviews. Other times I actually want to do pre-interviews with people, especially if I haven’t heard them talk before. But for certain things, just because it’ll be six years that I’ve been covering this space in the next six weeks. So you know, that’s like long enough where I feel like I kind of generally know, not for everything, obviously, because the space is going so fast that it is like not possible to keep up with everything going on right now. But, for so many things, I do feel like I generally know, oh, like that’s the person who is really good on this topic or has that viewpoint or whatever. So in that regard, it’s like mental rolodex.
Something I’m curious about… I loved your articulation of why your audience likes you asking tough questions, but I’m curious why the guests like it or how you get around the fact that there are a lot of guests that don’t enjoy tough questions as much. I always think back to if you’re looking at all the big Clubhouse shows that exist right now, if you listen to what people are saying and the subtext of the promotion, it’s that, oh yeah, it’s Clubhouse: it’s just friendly and it’s just chill, and we’re not trying to do gotcha or anything like that. So there’s clearly a model for people expecting not to be pushed. So you have all this credibility: you’re at Forbes, you have so many podcasts downloads, it’s obviously a valuable platform. How would you advise someone who is new and doesn’t have your street cred to think about pushing tough questions when oftentimes they’re going to feel a credibility gap with their guests?
That’s an interesting question. So I really think it goes back to how I didn’t know that I was asking tough questions. When I was asking those questions, and even now when I do, I’m not trying to put the guests on the spot. I’m not trying to make it a gotcha moment. I literally just want to know. I’m just curious, I just think it’s a good question. I don’t have an attitude about it. It’s really just a genuine sense of curiosity that I have. It kind of goes back to what I was saying about maybe how in college, like I’m just so used to having these discussions where people challenge each other’s ideas and statements in a very neutral way. And there’s no hard feelings about it afterward. It’s just like you go back and forth and like you say something and the person’s like well, I disagree with you because blah, blah, blah. And then you point back, well you’re missing dah, dah, dah.
And then, I don’t know, maybe just because I’m so used to that and a lot of my friends and I talk that way to each other and frankly, I think we all think it’s fun. And so maybe when I talk, when I have these questions for my guests, I’m not doing it in a way where I am trying to catch them in anything or whatever. Obviously now I do, now that people have said to me, oh, those are… you ask these uncomfortable questions, those tough questions. Of course, now I have an awareness. But then when I do it, I just try to stay neutral because it’s how I feel. I don’t have an agenda, but I do feel like it’s a good question.
I do feel like generally there’s somebody who probably has some kind of position of power where they should be — I don’t want to say held accountable because that means like they’ve done something wrong — but more just like, when you have that position of power, it is something that you take on and that responsibility to answer questions where maybe you did something that wasn’t totally towing the line with what your job should be or whatever. And I feel that just comes with that role. And I feel like a lot of those people know that that comes with that role. And so to me, it’s just a moment where now they can have the opportunity to explain what happened then or whatever it might be. And it is true. Sometimes people get mad.
I’ve definitely had guests who were mad. I have had somebody who threw a major tantrum that lasted over half an hour. We had to spend that time convincing the person to go on with the interview. And I kind of regret not just releasing the moment where this person was like I’m quitting. I’m not going on with the interview. But you know, we didn’t do that. We just persuaded the person to go on because I literally had a half an hour’s worth of questions to ask this person and was genuinely curious to get the answers. And so that’s what I did in order to get the answers. And I’ve had you know… I’m friendly with some of my sources, like maybe we’ll go get a coffee or a lunch or whatever it might be.
And one of them, when I asked a tough question during the interview, I think was really surprised because we are friendly. And after we wrapped said, “you ambushed me,” and you know, that wasn’t my intention. As I said, it’s just, I thought it was something that probably people in the audience would want to know and I thought it would give this person an opportunity to explain what happened at that time. And so my advice for people who are looking to do that is: let your curiosity drive you. Don’t have an attitude, try to be neutral. And frankly, I think the reason why people like my show is because I do put the audience first in that regard. I understand that sometimes when I ask those questions that may be the sources won’t come back to me or they won’t agree, but there are many ways to do journalism and, sure, the podcast requires their participation, but, in the future, if I write an article or whatever, that won’t require their participation. So it’s not like I cut myself from covering them forever. So I just feel like at that moment my duty is to do the best job I can for my audience, which is to ask the best possible questions. And so that’s just the way that I operate the show.
I love that because it’s sort of like you’re being that audience advocate whether the guest likes it or not. Sort of related to that, I think currently, like it’s really hot on Twitter to dunk on gatekeepers and editors, but as someone who’s been on both sides of the table, what can sort of this new beat of online creators learn from more traditional models?
I really consider myself coming from the traditional model, and I know that I’m independent, but I truly credit all the skills that I have from my traditional training. I have worked with some amazing editors who I really, really feel like I would not be as good as I am today, if it weren’t for them. A lot of journalists even make fun of people who go to journalism school and they say, well, it’s not necessary. And yeah, okay, maybe it’s not necessary, but for me, I had such a wonderful experience. I learned so much, I had amazing professors, amazing classmates. I just really… I came away feeling like I’m definitely a better journalist now, like this was worth it. So, I would say that, actually, for me, what is a little bit challenging is that in this kind of new era, the journalist is kind of supposed to be, or not the journalist… But see, that’s the other funny thing, now that I’m not at a traditional publication, sometimes I see people calling me a podcaster.
I mean, I have a podcast, but I consider myself a journalist who writes and does podcasts and videos now, and, you know, just kind of works in different mediums. But the work is still the same, regardless of whatever medium it is that I’m using. And I also see that people sometimes say, oh, she left journalism to do her podcast. And I’m like no, no, no, I’m still doing the journalism. For me, the kind of little struggle that I have sometimes is that I feel like because now my brand is sort of associated with me as a person… that’s just a little bit weird and it’s something that is just a little bit more challenging for me to navigate, because, normally, as a journalist it’s not about you, it’s about the story, the source or the guest on your show or whatever it might be.
And I realized, oh, people do kind of want more of me. I literally saw a comment like that on my YouTube recently, where I interviewed another journalist about the Coinbase IPO. And we made it a little bit more like a conversation because it’s like two business journalists talking about the Coinbase direct listing, I should have said. And somebody commented, oh, it was so nice hearing more of your perspective rather than just having you ask the questions. And I was like, oh, okay that’s interesting. And then also I feel like, going back to how I distinguished myself amongst this crowded space, some of the other people in this space, their show is more like about them or whatever. A part of me is just a little bit like, oh, should I go that route?
I don’t know because it’s something that I’m not used to. I really like doing the work. That for me is super fun. And I think the other thing that I find interesting about that kind of new area or new line that I have to navigate, is that it made me realize, because people are often asking me my opinion or whatever. And it made me realize oh, I actually don’t have that many opinions, which I know might be a surprise to people. But I think it’s because I am trying to keep myself open to whichever way the story might go. So if I dismiss something too early and before I know enough about it, then I might miss a big story. There were times in crypto where people were like: you have to do a story on how da, da, da is a scam and you know, for whatever reason, at least there’s one big one that I can think of, I did not have time at that time to go look into it.
People ask me about it, but I always just felt that because I had never looked closely at it, I couldn’t make a judgment on it. Like the reporter in me would want to see like the data and then come to a conclusion. But just like from all the rumors floating around, I couldn’t say either way. I would want to look at it. I would want to spend like a month researching it before I had any conclusion. It’s like for anything that I would say, I would want to back it up. And so if I haven’t done the research, then, you know, I’m probably not going to have any opinions. So I think that’s just another way in which when you asked me, how do I take from the two sides? I’m a little bit like definitely I have a lot of skills from the one side, but then the other I’m like trying to figure that out right now.
Laura, here’s something I’m super curious about. You’re writing a book right now. It comes out in November of this year. Good luck. I know this is a tough process and probably a good year to write a book and have time to get locked down and focus. Could you talk a little bit about, cause I know you obviously had a journalism career beforehand, so your book contract isn’t fully attributable to your podcast, but that being said, podcasts drive book sales. There’s actually a lot of industry interest in this. Like my podcast is mildly successful and I’ve been reached out to by a publisher. Like that being said, like, when I actually had the conversation, I know there are some people in ODP who are interested in this path for themselves, I had no idea what to say. The industry standard isn’t being set yet with the expectation. So can you just speak a little bit about the process of your book in the context of your podcast?
So for me, I would say probably they’re not super related, but I think what it did was it brought credibility that I know this space and I could deliver on what I was proposing. If I were to kind of generalize my experience into advice for people who want to use their podcast to get book deals, what I would say is… So I’ll just say one quick thing up front, which is that for fiction books, for like novels or whatever, or short story collections, you have to write that first. You gotta put the work in up front and send the completed manuscript. And unfortunately, that’s the way that goes, but that’s how it is done if you’re a first time author. And you would use that to get an agent who would then pitch.
I’m presuming people will want to do nonfiction books. And the way that that works is that you write a proposal, which is obviously a lot less work than doing the full on book. But you have to talk about, obviously, what you’re going to say, give like a sample table of contents, and maybe a sample chapter or two, and include who you plan to interview, stuff like that. But then also you need to talk about the audience that you’re in and who you’re going to market this to because the book proposal is really about like selling this as a product. And so this is where, like for instance, your agent, whoever it is that you get will be just a godsend, because they’re the ones who know how publishers think about these things: about selling books as products and what’s going to sell. And so for me, I was all like these are all the cool crypto things going on that should be in this book.
But my agent kept kind of like asking me, okay, well, how can we think about who’s going to buy this and who the audience will be. And so I would imagine for podcasters who know who their audience is or what their interest in books is, then that would also be something that would feed into the proposal and help sell the book. So the more knowledge that you have about your audience… I run surveys on my podcast very regularly actually for that reason, for multiple reasons. That’s actually a really helpful tip by the way, for people who want to do podcasts, is to run surveys. Because I have used that to like introduce new features and people love them.
It’s literally just whatever you can tell people are requesting, like you should do that. I’ve been doing that. But through that I can also see, like, oh, it tends to be people who work in tech, and people who work in finance, and a strong segment of people who already work in the industry, that that’s my audience — stuff like that. And so you can use all that data to make your book proposal stronger because you’ll just have more knowledge about who it is that might write your book probably than the average book proposal writer will..
So quick tangent. One of the things we talk about in ODP too, is like just the importance of understanding your audience and talking to them. Can you share some of your favorite questions when you do the surveys with your audience, and also, what are some of your favorite learnings that have come from that?
This is just such a silly one because it seems so obvious that I’m a little bit lik, duh, how didn’t I think about that. But one of the questions we asked the first year, and maybe we still do, is it’s just like how did you hear about the show? And I didn’t have a search on Apple podcasts as an option. And obviously that was like a huge percentage. And I was, like, oh right, I guess I just thought people would hear about it from Twitter or Reddit or whatever. But no, they just did a search in a podcast app. So that was kind of like a funny one. But I think what has led me to make some changes is stuff like, you know, I don’t remember the exact phrasing, but you know, how can the Unchained podcast serve you better, essentially?
And then it’s just like a freeform thing. So at the end of my short podcast, which comes out on Fridays, I do now what’s called the Weekly News Recap where I just pick what I think are the top crypto stories of the week and write up a little blurb for each one, kind of like a little news item. And then I just literally read it aloud on the show. And people requested that in the survey. And then the next year I asked, do you like it? Like you guys requested this, is the format that we’re using good for you? And, yes, they love it. So, that was really good. I’m trying to think of other questions. For people who want to look for sponsors we also had some demographic questions which helps us when we pitch our sponsors to say this is who our audience is and help explain why they’re appealing to the sponsor. So I think that’s also a good thing to ask about.
So a question, and we spoke about this for a second beforehand, but you had a really interesting story about how your podcast actually came about with your ownership and the way the Forbes model works. This is really relevant for people here, because once again, multiple people have had questions about forming, launching a podcast where they’re employed somewhere else and then navigating that relationship. So I’d just love to hear you recount for everyone in the story there.
So when I started the podcast, what happened was I was a freelancer at Forbes at that time. And I saw that Forbes had just come out with a bunch of podcasts. And I said to my editor, hey, I want to do one. And they had launched with a season of 12 and so I became the 13th, lucky 13, by the way, let me just say that. Because I was a freelancer at the time, I got the standard Forbes freelance contract, which is an unusual contract, actually, in the media industry. Typically when you’re a freelancer for major publications the most common contracts you’ll get is what’s called work for hire, where the contract basically says, like all the work that you do for us, we’ll own it. Like we’ll own the copyright and whatever. The Forbes model is different where, I’m sure you’re aware people can become bloggers on the platform or contributors, where you are able to just publish your own column under the Forbes brand right on the website.
And so the kind of contract that those contributors sign is not a work for hire contract. In that contract, they own all the work that they produce. So I don’t know what it is now, but at the time that I signed it, it was something like Forbes wanted exclusive rights for X number of days. And then after those days you could resell your work. And I used to resell my work actually. So when the podcast came around, the contract that they gave me was one in which it said that I owned the copyright to the podcast. And the hilarious thing is… so I have a lawyer now that vets all my contracts. I didn’t even have a lawyer look at this contract, I just signed it. I had such a good relationship with my editors, by the way, shout out to Matt and Janet.
I don’t know if they still listen to my show, but I love my editors at Forbes. They’re amazing. And I just wanted to give a moment of appreciation for them. But the point is that, yeah, I just signed it. And, what happened was after the first season, Forbes didn’t want to continue my show. And I then said, okay, well, I love doing this. So I’m going to continue it. I’m going to find my own sponsors. I found a sponsor who took on the full-year sponsorship for the year 2017. And that was the year that crypto took off. And by the end of the year, there were way more downloads on the show than there were at the beginning. And, by that point, I was a full-time staffer at Forbes. When I had joined there in the summer of 2017, I had said, oh, if you want, you could run ads against the show, but not until after 2017, because I promised the sponsor they would have the exclusive ads on the show for the full year.
Well, someone who was working for me at that time on the show at one point was like, Laura, do you realize with the downloads that this is how much money you could make from the show? And I had no idea. And I was like, oh, wow, okay. This is more money than I make at my job. And I had always wanted to write a book and at that time had a good book idea already. And so I was like, oh, this is perfect. I can quit the job. And the podcast doesn’t take me five days of work a week. So I can just do the pod in a couple of days and then do the book the other days. And so that’s what I did. So I quit, and because I owned the copyright outright, I could just take the podcast with me.
I hired a sponsorships manager who manages all the sponsorships for the show. And then I started my book proposal and the book sold in the summer/fall of that year. That whole process takes a little while. So it wasn’t just like a one and done thing, but it sold. And then, yeah, I’ve been working on the book ever since, along with podcasts. I realized I totally lucked out because I’m not going to name who this person is, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that another journalist who started it must be one of the top 10 shows across the world or something, I don’t know. Or maybe just in its category, I’m not sure. It’s definitely a very, very popular show. I heard that he later said, oh, I will never do that again, where I start a show and the company owns it. I think eventually this person just had to walk away. For anybody who does start a show under the auspices of another company, I would definitely urge you if you have leverage to use it to retain your copyright.
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So another thing I’m curious about before we jump to questions from the audience is I saw on Twitter recently that you talked about not owning Bitcoin. And part of that is so you can write for other publications from my understanding. And I think I’m curious like… what do you feel, sort of along those lines, in terms of like integrity and ethics, what are other things creators should be thinking about that maybe they’re not? Especially people who maybe are young and just start a podcast and it blows up and they’re not really thinking through these things. Can you talk a little bit about that decision and how that should apply to creators?
Hmm. Well, maybe one of the first things that comes to mind is that… So when I said that I quit Forbes, and then I hired a sponsorships manager, there was a period of I think maybe one or two months where I didn’t have that person, or like six weeks or something, where I didn’t have that person in place. And I remember one of the first companies that reached out to put an ad on the show was, and I’m just going to say this outright cause I did mention this on the show recently — it was some kind of Bitcoin IRA. And I don’t remember which company, which probably is a good thing. But anyway, what I do remember is that I was like, okay, I’ll check this out. So I had a call with them, and then they informed me that the way that it works was that they had this special vehicle or whatever that allowed you to put actual, real Bitcoin in your IRA.
But then they charged a fee of 15% of the bitcoins that you were transferring into the account. I was like what? And I just was like… I cannot put an advertisement up like that. Just no. I don’t remember how early this was. So maybe let’s just say it was like one of the only offers I had from a sponsor who wanted to give me money to reach my audience, you know? And I just… maybe if I’d been desperate for money… but no,even then I wouldn’t have done it. I mean, it just goes back to what I was saying earlier, like do whatever’s right for your audience. Don’t be freaked out, like I’m never gonna make money. I have to take it wherever I get it.
No, don’t do that. If you put out a good show, it will work. You just have to keep going. And yeah, I had the advantage at that point of having already had a year and a half, I guess, by then, of having built up the audience for the show and whatever. So it just was a matter of time. I’m sure if you’re starting at zero and also trying to make it work financially, then there will be pressure. There was really no question for me about whether or not it was going to do it, but I could see if I had been in a different place where I was literally just starting out, then I might’ve been a little bit confused for a moment and been like what should I do? So for some of the fellows, if they find themselves in that kind of position, then yeah, as I said before, do what’s best for your audience?
I love that story because, as we kind of talked about, your recommendation is usually as good as your weakest sponsor. So thank you for sharing that. And with that, we’ll jump to questions from the audience.
Hey Laura, I just love your story. Thank you so much. I don’t have a journalism degree. So for beginners, like me, how would you say, how should they take a journalistic approach to podcasting? And what does that entail?
So for me, it goes back to what I said about how I think about if I were going to write an article, how would I do that? And for me, that’s trying to make it comprehensive. Not in such a way that it’s so comprehensive, you’re kind of almost going off-topic. So you should have a vision in your mind of what it is that you want to cover on the show. And then when you do your research… so here’s basically what I do: I read a lot. I just try to inhale a ton of content about whatever it is. And because I know what’s going on in the crypto industry quite well, I can spot, like when I see something new, like, oh, I haven’t seen that before, or, oh, you know just like you kind of recognize when you’ve just heard stuff over and over again, or and obviously there is an element of that on the show, because like I said, I don’t know how beginner some of my listeners are.
And so there will probably be a portion of this show where I’m literally walking the guests through questions that they’ve answered before elsewhere. Just to have them speak about their story or whatever, and just to give my listener the background that they need to maybe dive into the more interesting or meatier questions. But for that part, if I see something that I haven’t seen before, or that I know is in the news a lot, or that I realize makes me curious like, ooh, that could be a problem for them, how are they going to solve that then? I want to make sure to cover them on the show. So sometimes what I’ll do is create an outline where I just literally have topics, background, a problem they’re trying to solve, like how are they going to resolve this issue? Or how is regulation going to affect it?
Or, you know, like I’m making these up. But, like from reading, you kind of see these are all the things that could affect this issue that I should cover. Then you just try to think what are the questions that will be the most interesting. And sometimes you want multiple questions to cover that topic and sometimes you really just need the one, and then you can move on. So yeah, that’s what I would say. And, oh, and also sometimes what I’ll do beforehand, is I will reach out to different sources and I’ll be like, hey, I’m doing a show and dah, dah, dah what do you think I should cover? Or what do you think I should ask this person? Sometimes I even ask on Twitter, like if it’s somebody who I feel like could get the audience excited about the show.
Then I’ll be like, hey, I’m interviewing Vitalik Buterin in a couple of days. What should I ask him? Because then you get the people who spend more time on that person than you can, because, or that I can, because I’m trying to cover the whole crypto ecosystem. But then there were some people that they’re like big ETH heads and they spent all their time thinking about Ethereum. And so they’re just going to have maybe a better question than I would. And so yeah, so I solicit questions. Sometimes I’ll go into different chat groups and I’ll ask people “what do you think I should ask so-and-so?” Or I’ll just read chat groups, and I’ll do searches for that word. Like what are people saying about this ICO’s issue with the regulator, or what are people saying about that stablecoin or whatever. And I just kind of Google around what are people saying in the chat rooms? You know what I mean? Cause that’s a little bit more how do I put it? Like when people don’t know that they’re being observed and this is what they are thinking about.
I love it. No, this is perfect. It’s almost like you’re producing a movie. That’s awesome. Quick question. Follow-up question. How do you conduct the surveys on your podcast and the surveys you mentioned?
We use Survey Monkey, which I’m just going to flat out tell you it’s really expensive. I forgot the exact number, but It’s close to $400, like every year. And when I have to renew the thing, I’m like, am I really paying this to do a survey? But they have very good functionality and analytics. I’m just like, alright.
If I’m listening, how would I get that link to that?
Oh, so yeah, I promote it on the show, and then they let you create a URL that’s easy to remember. So it’ll be like surveymonkey.com/unchained2021 or something. I can make up a URL that’s catchy. And then I just put it in the show notes.
Yeah. Thank you.
Awesome. Thanks JD. Alejandra, You’re up next.
Hi, Laura. How are you? How do you choose a good podcast title? A good podcast episode title.
This is actually a really, really, really important step. So here’s the deal about podcast titles and this is something that comes from journalism too. So if your headline or title or the subject line of your email or whatever it is, isn’t very good, then all the work that you put into that show, like not as many people are going to enjoy it. So, it’s just kind of like… I remember one time I was working at this publication and I really, really, really wanted this one subject line for the email newsletter, which was how the vast majority of the audience got our content. But for some reason, one of the less popular headlines was the one that was put on the subject line. And I was so, so upset because it was like a really, really good article in there.
And I was like nobody’s going to open this email. And we like put so much effort into this article. And it just was like it’s a good article. It just was this feeling of, wow, we put all this effort into this thing. And a lot of it was wasted, you know? So yes, it’s very important. So what I do is I actually use this online tool, and you can use it for free. They now suddenly in the last week or two have a paid version of it. But I haven’t done the upgrade because it’s kind of expensive. But it’s called something like https://coschedule.com/headline-analyzer. And it will literally give you a score for a headline, which I know sounds silly. But through that, yeah, you can kind of see these headlines are just like maybe a little bit easier to grasp.
And even actually just from running your headlines through the test, I feel like it just makes you, it just helps you learn better like what works. I do see that some other people… cause the other thing that you could do, which I sometimes have done, is I have a big guest and it’s just like I know my audience is going to want to hear that guest. And I know that they’re going to be excited if they see we discussed these different topics. And so sometimes people just put like big headline, name, colon, like topic everybody’s talking about – that kind of thing. I tend to do a little bit less of that now. But, those are kind of some of the strategies I’ve seen.
If you do have a big name, it’s very, very good to put that obviously in the headline and definitely upfront is even better. So big name, colon, blah, blah, blah. If I do that, sometimes I’ll put a little quote of something kind of juicy that they said, if it’s short enough, cause you don’t want to make the headline too long, either. If you make it too long, then it gets cut off in Google SEO and you know, whatever. So it needs to be short, but that’s like another way. And then numbers can also do well. Like I recently did a show about personal finance and crypto, which I thought was super interesting. And I actually was excited because I used to cover personal finance. I was like this is so in my wheelhouse.
And I kind of was excited cause I just felt like, oh, like I can ask all these questions about these things that I used to interview people about in the past and crypto, which it was just fun. But you know, I’m well aware that the average person is like, oh, financial advisor, I’m not going to click on that. So I threw in the headline that financial advisors control $5 trillion of investor wealth because it’s just like, hey, heads up, listen, pay attention. This is a big topic. If we get this crowd on board into crypto, then they could get a lot of money into crypto. And so things like that, like just think of things in that way. You know, those guests, their names wouldn’t be recognizable to my audience.
So I didn’t put their names. You know, I had just kind of like a catchy headline that had that big number to make people be like, hey, this sounds important and interesting. Sometimes if you have the space, like I noticed that the New York Times is doing this a lot where they have a headline that’s like a two-part headline where it starts with something and there is like a punchline. So if you just go right on their homepage right now, I bet you will see multiple examples of this. I can’t really think of one off the top of my head, but, you know, maybe it poses a question and then the answer that they have is like something that you wouldn’t expect. Or, you know, I don’t know if I’ve been able to do that on my show, but I just noticed that for me, it’s effective. That as a reader of the New York Times, I’m like, oh yeah, I want to click on that.
So yeah, those are some of my tips. And actually one last thing I’ll say is in terms of numbers. And I know this from other work that I’ve done. People love things like if you were doing a show about tips for people, people love the kind of thing where it’s like the number one reason why, blah, blah, blah, or the number one tip to do dah dah dah, or it can be the top 10 ways to blah, blah, blah, whatever it is. But like smaller numbers like that can do well. So yeah, or the number like seven, like people love the number seven.
Thank you so much.
Thank you so much. That was super helpful. Bea you’re up next.
Ana Beatrice Trinidad:
I love what you said about number seven. That’s very interesting. I have a question on how, I mean, I’m sure you’ve interviewed a lot of people, and how can you tell if someone is lying or not being genuine with their responses? Are there things that if people are not journalists here, how can you tell if someone’s lying, basically, or not giving the most authentic answer that you want for your show?
That’s interesting. So I think it depends on… can I ask, what kind of show do you have?
Ana Beatrice Trinidad:
Oh, sorry. My shows about relationships. So, I’m just wondering, if someone is like giving you a BS answer, and you can’t call them out that way and be rude, but you want to push.
Yeah. Well, so, okay. So you’re literally just asking me for my show.
Ana Beatrice Trinidad:
In general, I think people tend to say things and then it’s not the right answer right away. It’s like a PR answer or a polite answer, and you want to get the good answer, the meaty answer.
Okay. So that guest that didn’t want to continue on with the show that one time. There was like a technical aspect to what they were building and I asked them about it and they were describing it with this term that is kind of like a buzzword now in the tech world. Like it’s kind of like where the future of tech is going. But then when I asked them to describe the mechanics of it, it didn’t fit that description of what that technology is. And so I was saying, well, how is that a blah, blah, blah, hot buzzword thing, because what you’re describing, that’s not it. And so I was just kind of pointing out factually that the description and the term that he was using to describe it, were not the same.
And so I think you can do that. You can kind of like stick to facts and just point out when something that they’re saying is like a marketing buzzword that they’ve used, but that the facts don’t match that. For other things, I don’t know if I’ve had people who’ve lied necessarily. I have had instances where sometimes people are in a dispute, and I asked them about it, and then they say something about the other side. I typically try to reach out to the other side and just get a response and like insert that into the show. There is one time that I forgot to do that. And then we had to do that later. So obviously that was not my favorite moment of the podcast. But I would just say like during the show, listen intently.
And if you, in that moment, when you feel what it is that they’re doing, if you are listening closely enough, then a question will naturally come to you that you can use to either call them out on it and ask them to be real with you. Or, like if it’s, as I was saying, a situation where the facts didn’t support what he was saying, then just point out, hey, the facts are X and what you’re saying is Y and, you know, they don’t match. I think it really depends on what type of show you’re doing.
Ana Beatrice Trinidad:
That’s very helpful. I was talking to another journalist, and she was saying that sometimes people on Twitter are in the digital world. They’re really good online, but when you get them as a guest, it’s like you’re trying to squeeze like a dry, like I don’t know, a tea towel or something out of it. And do you have anything that you do to warm them up? Because I know I hear people say, say more, tell more — if they’re good on Twitter, but not good on the show.
So, like I said, I’ll Google their name on YouTube and other podcasts if I haven’t heard them speak before. But even if I find that in the other interviews I listened to that they’re kind of like reticent, then, or if I’ve done a pre-interview with them and I noticed that they’re that way, I literally just write way more questions. So let’s say that for a normal show, I might have one question for this one topic, and that’s enough to like launch somebody into the whole topic. What I’ll do is I’ll write like five questions that are grouped together where it’s like okay, if they stop, then I have a second one on that that just approaches that from a different angle, you know? So it’s like you know, not only how did you do dah, dah, dah, but also why and when, and who was involved and like just, or whatever I’m kind of making up — it up: how big was it? How many da, da, da? Who did this or that?
I’ll literally just try to kind of like fill in what they might say and then make a question around it. But yeah, and the truth is it’s actually better if you can just find guests who are good talkers. Here’s the deal and I’m sure everybody will already know this, but the people who work at the most important companies and have the most important positions, they’re going to be the most reticent, but they’re also going to be the big fish names that you want to catch. So just have way more questions for them because you kind of know going in that they’re going to be as tight-lipped as they can be. Well, not all of them, but it depends on what company they have and what their position is, but many of them will be. And that just requires in a way even more research sometimes because sometimes then you’ll want to be very specific about what you’re asking them about. You might want to have numbers, you might want to have incidents of, hey, when this happened, can you tell me, blah, blah, blah. If you want to have the big names, then sometimes that’s the best way to go.
Ana Beatrice Trinidad:
I think it’s really good and enlightening. But the last question I have, is that you list a lot of questions and that’s part of the curiosity that you’re mentioning in the beginning of this session. Are there other people that you find have that same curiosity that you have? Are there people that you look up to in terms of their curiosity that you’ve kind of emulated?
Oh, that I’ve emulated for my show?
Ana Beatrice Trinidad:
Like other journalists or, for example, like I like looking at Anna Faris because she does a documentary on relationships. So her questions are fantastic. For yourself, do you look at other journalists or writers or…?
So for writers, for sure, like literally for my book, I took my favorite book and I analyzed it, like I wrote in the margins, how did this person do this? And then I tried to use some of that for my book. For the podcast, it’s been a little bit different. I would say that a journalist I really admire and whose show is similar to mine, though I wouldn’t say that I emulate her is Kara Swisher’s show. I don’t know if any of you listened to Recode Decode. Even though I wouldn’t say that I’m kind of modeling myself against her, I learn a lot from listening to her. It’s just funny that I’m bringing this up because she’s so different from me in her style. Like she states her opinions.
She has opinions. That’s like one big difference. She has opinions and she states them. And then another thing is she interrupts her guests. She will interrupt them a lot more than I do. That’s another thing. For whatever reason, I try to do that a little bit less. But I do see that it’s actually quite good the way she does it, because she’s like me. In that I think she also goes into the interview knowing what topics she wants to cover and she has a vision of how this is going to go in her head. So I can tell that sometimes what she’ll do is she’ll ask a question and then the person basically answers it and she can see that there’s just kind of like wax on about it, but it’s just like going to be more of the same.
So she’ll just cut them off and move on to the next topic. And a part of me is like, oh, I kind of wish I could do a little bit more of that. And I do in a way, but I feel like she’s just like much faster. Oh, another person who’s very good at that is Peter Kafka, who actually works for the same company. He does like a media business show. But he does the same exact thing. He cuts them off, moves onto the next topic. So here’s the funny thing. And I don’t know how much sexism plays into this, but if you look at the reviews on her show, people constantly complain that Kara interrupts her guests. Okay. Peter Kafka literally does the same exact thing, probably to the same amount.
And I checked on his reviews one time and the only mention of interruption was somebody being like, oh, Kara Swisher should take a lesson from Peter Kafka because she interrupts her guests way too much and Peter doesn’t. I was like okay, wait, have you listened to their shows? Like they both do it, but somehow the way Peter does it just seems smoother maybe, but also I think that Kara is a woman. The other person that I would say I’m probably modeled myself after a little bit, even though, again, I don’t… Terry Gross, even though I actually don’t listen to her regularly, but I’ve heard her talk about her method. And when I heard her talk about it, I was like, oh, it’s so similar to mine. Like she just kind of reads voraciously and is like inhaling all this information and then just tries to be like okay, how should this look?
And so when I heard her talking about how she prepares, I was like, oh, that’s so similar to what I do. But yeah, there are other interviewers that I really like but we just have different kinds of shows. So like for instance Tim Ferris, he’s doing like tips and he wants your personal stories and he’s friendly with them and it’s just a different kind of thing. Unfortunately my show isn’t like that. I love his show, but you know, I’m not going to have that kind of relationship with the people that I interview. That’s what I would say.
So since you mentioned the sort of difference in reviews for Kara and Peter, I think we’d be remiss if we don’t ask about this. If you look at both, like crypto and podcasting, they are so heavily like male-dominated spaces. As someone who’s operated in both areas and really has risen to the top levels, what can nascent podcasters from sort of like underrepresented backgrounds learn from your experience?
Oh gosh. Hmm. That’s a good question. So here’s why I’m a little bit stumped from the outset, but let me just get started talking. I feel like the fact that I started having that platform at Forbes already kind of meant that I already had like a little bit of a following. Like I already had people who were into my articles. And so in that regard it was a little bit like they already were interested in me for that reason. And so maybe the fact that I was a woman in a field that’s male dominated, like mattered less because I’d already proven myself as a writer. Like I knew even back then that there were some people who already felt like I was the best journalist in the space.
Actually, I won an award. I remember that nine months after I started covering this, there was some kind of like blockchain journalists award or whatever. And I remember, I couldn’t believe that I was even nominated. Cause I was like, I haven’t even been covering this for a year. And there are all these journalists who have been covering it for years, and then I actually won. And then I was oh my god, whoa, like people like my work. And so, again, later, when I started the podcast, it felt like they already knew that I did good stuff. And so the fact that maybe some of them might’ve been surprised that I was a woman like that wasn’t a factor anymore because I already kind of proven myself. So for people maybe who don’t start that way… I actually feel like it really just comes down to doing good work. Cause let me put it this way with the way that I’ve proven myself was articles. Forbes at that time had pictures of all the writers on the pages, so even back then, they knew that I was a woman and that I was writing about it. But despite maybe being a minority in that regard, like it didn’t matter. They still, because the work was good, they ended up following me.
And so I would just say just focus on, just honestly, I would say have fun with what you’re doing, like follow your curiosity and then that will make your product good. And that’s really, really so important. Even that question before about who I admire. Remember I said, well, I actually like admire them, but I don’t model my show after them. So it’s really just about like maybe having your own vision and having your own voice and just believing in yourself. And I feel yeah, that’s a huge part of making your show good.
Yeah. It’s a combo of being so good that they can’t ignore you and just also being yourself.
Exactly. Yeah. Cause people can tell if you’re not being yourself.
Awesome. Oh, I think this would be, this is the perfect place to end. Thank you so much for just sort of like bringing such a different viewpoint to everything we’ve had so far. And then since we’re publishing on both sides, any last closing words from, from your side?
Oh no, I guess I just hope that it’s been helpful for all the podcast fellows and I’m really honored that you asked me to share my thoughts.
Awesome. Yeah, no it hasn’t. And thank you again so much for coming to ODP. And with that thank you all.
Thanks so much for joining us today. To learn more about ODP, check out the show notes for this podcast. This episode of Unchained was produced by me, Laura Shin, with help from Anthony Yoon, Daniel Nuss, Mark Murdock, and the On Deck Podcaster Fellowship.