Helen Zaltzman & Roman Mars

Host of Podcast the Allusionist & Answer Me This, & Creator/Host of 99% Invisible & Co-founder of Radiotopia

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON November 12, 2015

Discussion

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Roman Mars
@romanmars
I’m Roman Mars. I’m the host and creator of 99% Invisible and co-founder of the podcast group Radiotopia. I’m in Cambridge, MA today, hanging out with many of the ‘Topes. Feel free to ask me questions about the show, public radio, podcasting, fund raising, design, architecture, etc. Please forgive me, I type slow. And - Hello! I'm Helen Zaltzman, from the linguistics podcast The Allusionist and the comedy podcast Answer Me This. I usually make them in my living room in Crystal Palace, London; but right now I'm in Radiotopia HQ, the PRX offices in Cambridge, MA. Please excuse my jetlag, which usually removes my ability to form sentences. Ask me anything you want about the Allusionist, AMT, podcasting, or your personal problems. Also, if you were hoping to pit me and Roman Mars against each other, he's definitely a better person than me but I can type faster than him, so I have the advantage. If you're here for advice on how to start podcasting, or want to know my technical setup, I already got you. TL;DR: distilled into five bullet points.
Nathan Bashaw
@nbashaw · Co-founder and CEO of Hardbound
What resources would you recommend to people who want to learn to tell stories as well as you do?
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Helen Zaltzman
@helenzaltzman · Podcaster: Allusionist, Answer Me This
@nbashaw Listening to lots and lots of other shows. But I always favour the approach of not trying to prepare or research too much before doing, and instead just getting on with trying to make something myself. Other resources can't really teach me how to actually do something; I just have to try to do it, then persist and try to get better. If I replicated other people's techniques, the results would probably be painful to listen to.
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Roman Mars
@romanmars
@nbashaw Transom.org started the year I started in radio (~2000) and it's an invaluable resource. They have the "Transom Story Workshop" and 8 week course in radio storytelling that's the best training there is in these type of stories.
Hrishikesh Hirway
@hrishihirway · I make music + the Song Exploder podcast
@romanmars @helenzaltzman I've heard you both like pizza. How do you feel about the abbreviation "za"? Does an abbreviation count as a piece of design? Or as a real word?
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Helen Zaltzman
@helenzaltzman · Podcaster: Allusionist, Answer Me This
@hrishihirway 'za' is an abomination and I can't believe you would even tolerate it.
GadgetGav
@gadgetgav
@helenzaltzman Uh oh @hrishihirway - better not take Helen to Za while she's in Cambridge..!! :-)
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Roman Mars
@romanmars
@hrishihirway I'm pro 'Za. I hear Justin McElroy (of MBMBaM) say it and it makes me happy. I've never been able to pull it off.
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Helen Zaltzman
@helenzaltzman · Podcaster: Allusionist, Answer Me This
@hrishihirway 'za' fails as an abbreviation because it doesn't contain the fundamental character of the word 'pizza'. But I can understand why the first syllable on its own would be prone to misinterpretation.
Hrishikesh Hirway
@hrishihirway · I make music + the Song Exploder podcast
@helenzaltzman I don't tolerate it! I hate it!
Tim Cigelske
@teecycletim · Social Media Director, Marquette Unive…
@RomanMars I get the sense that all the Radiotopia shows are tied together by a similar mission. How would you describe that ethos and what do you look for when adding to the Radiotopia family?
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Helen Zaltzman
@helenzaltzman · Podcaster: Allusionist, Answer Me This
@teecycletim Before I was allowed in, @romanmars made sure I was a bone marrow match just in case the necessity arose.
Sarah McMahon-Sperbe
@sarah_mcsperb · Audio Nerd & Content Consultant
@helenzaltzman @teecycletim I knew it! Radiotopia is actually creating genetically modified podcast superhumans. I want in.
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Roman Mars
@romanmars
@teecycletim We gravitate toward shows that evoke wonder and discovery, story-based rather than straight interview shows, sound rich, personality driven, personal. They are all independent and have an entrepreneurial spirit. Their podcast is their goal and not a stepping stone or marketing tool for something else. Plus, Radiotopia people are all good people. I can't handle unpleasant people.
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Helen Zaltzman
@helenzaltzman · Podcaster: Allusionist, Answer Me This
@teecycletim I'm actually a total arsehole, but because of my accent @romanmars hasn't noticed yet.
Emily Hodgins
@ems_hodge · Community and Marketing, Product Hunt
@romanmars and @helenzaltzman Thanks both for being here today - this question is for both of you: During your career to date, what has been your a) most challenging moment and how did you overcome it? b) proudest moment and why? c) most surprising moment?
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Roman Mars
@romanmars
@ems_hodge I did a TED Talk this year and it caused me a fair amount of stress. I kept overthinking my talk, trying to give a "TED Talk" I thought they wanted, but then I calmed down and gave the kind of talk that fit my show and personality. That's always the best policy, but the bigness of TED flummoxed me.
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Helen Zaltzman
@helenzaltzman · Podcaster: Allusionist, Answer Me This
@ems_hodge a) Not so much a moment, just the persistance for years spending most of my time making podcasts when there wasn't a particularly obvious benefit to doing so, and I wasn't earning enough money to live because of it. You know how successful actors say, "I didn't have a job for sixteen years but I just kept waiting and hoping for my big break, and then it happened?" I spent the whole period of my career-mess wondering, "At what point does optimism tip over into life-ruining delusion?" b) Proudest moments: 1. being part of Radiotopia; 2. whenever I get a message from a listener telling me that the podcasts have made a difference to them. My main ambition with the shows is to take people's minds off their horrible commutes or difficult days or insomnia, and give them a few facts to throw into small talk; I don't have particularly lofty aims. But sometimes the listener elevates everything. Yesterday one sent me an email that was so moving, it took me an hour to stop wanting to cry. Granted, I was emotionally shaky with jetlag, but still. c) Most surprising moment, again, is a series of moments: the fact that I have learned so much already when making The Allusionist this year, and it has turned out quite different to how I might have predicted before I started making it. In a good way, I think. But it feels like the show has its own plan for what it'll be, and I just have to obey it.
The Timbre
@timbretweet · The Timbre
@helenzaltzman On your show, you seem to be balancing three interests: being entertaining, telling a narrative, and educating listeners. Is one of these interests more of a priority to you? In other words, what is your main objective for The Allusionist? And how do you balance these interests?
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Helen Zaltzman
@helenzaltzman · Podcaster: Allusionist, Answer Me This
@timbretweet I think these three priorities have assumed equal importance because I'm not good enough at any of those things individually (or strongly inclined to just one) to go all-in on that tone. I want the entertainment to have facts in it, but I want the learning to be fun and engaging and a little irreverant. The narrative is something I'm still learning about building, and I expect to be learning about that forever. My main objective for the Allusionist for myself is to find out as much new stuff as I can, and hopefully bring the listener with me as I do it. My objective for the listener, as I put somewhere else in that thread, is to give them a slightly more enjoyable commute.
Jessi Lauren
@searchtofindyou · Bid Coordinator, Nexstep Commercial Prod
@helenzaltzman & @RomanMars - as a fan who's consuming audio with more adoration than film or TV and more readily than the written word, what do you think makes the biggest difference in quality and likeability for an audio-driven medium like podcasting? Do you think the two are necessarily linked?
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Helen Zaltzman
@helenzaltzman · Podcaster: Allusionist, Answer Me This
@searchtofindyou I find it quite difficult to form a listening habit for a show I don't find likeable; like radio, the listener really has to enjoy your company when you're speaking into their ears, in a way that I don't think is so critical for TV etc.
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Roman Mars
@romanmars
@searchtofindyou I think the likability and personal connection of audience to host is one of the critical components to the success of any podcast. It's certainly why I like them, as a listener.
Jacqueline von Tesmar
@jacqvon · Community, Product Hunt ✌️😻
Love your podcast Roman!! Hi Helen, I haven't tried the Illusionist yet, but will now ;) What's something you used to fervently believe that you now see as misguided?
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Helen Zaltzman
@helenzaltzman · Podcaster: Allusionist, Answer Me This
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Helen Zaltzman
@helenzaltzman · Podcaster: Allusionist, Answer Me This
@jacqvon I keep my beliefs unfervent, so that I feel less of a fool later.
Harry Stebbings
@harrystebbings · Podcast Host @ The Twenty Minute VC
Hi @RomanMars and @helenzaltzman huge fan of 99% and fellow podcaster @twentyminutevc and therefore would love to hear what tactics you used to grow the 99% audience in the early days? What content marketing strategies do you find to be most useful? What is your fave questions to ask interviews guests? SO MANY MORE QUESTIONS, LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU ARE NEXT IN LONDON, MOJITOS ON ME!
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Helen Zaltzman
@helenzaltzman · Podcaster: Allusionist, Answer Me This
@harrystebbings I live in London, Harry; how many mojitos are you going to buy me?
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Andrew Ettinger
@andrewett · Product Marketing, Twitter (ex-PH)
What's something an industry outsider doesn't realize about the podcast industry?
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Helen Zaltzman
@helenzaltzman · Podcaster: Allusionist, Answer Me This
@andrewmettinger That it's all just a bunch of disparate entities and individuals floating around separately, trying to figure out what's going on.