This post first appeared on Dr. James Kelley’s website on May 21st, 2017

Podcast hosting is similar to the quadratic formula: ax2+bx+c=0.  Now for many of you the last time you saw this formula was in high school algebra, so let me quickly unpack how this formula will change your perspective on hosting your podcast.

First let’s define the variables:

a = Host authenticity

b = Guest engagement

c = Listener engagement

x = Podcast downloads

I am sure you thinking one of two things. First, James, how are you going to utilize these variables to solve for x using the required steps in the quadratic formula, resulting in the final equation below? Or more likely that this is ludicrous. What does it have to do with authenticity? Either thought would be wholly acceptable.

However, to put your mind at ease, I am not solving this equation. Not even going to try. That WOULD actually be ridiculous. My wife kindly points out that this whole thing hurts her math brain as it makes no logical sense. To that I say, duly noted my love! As I kindly pointed out to Mary and now you, this is just a metaphor, so you kind of need to stretch your sphere of belief and just follow my imaginary logic. Since I am asking you to stretch a little here, let’s solve for x.

a = Authenticity: What is authenticity? Generally speaking, authenticity is comprised of four macro-traits; self-awareness, relatableness, honesty, and compassion. For many of us it is hard to create instant authentic connections with strangers in a live environment. As a podcast host, connections are essential. Listeners are keenly aware of the connection you create with your guest, and will easily jump on board the preverbal podcast bus, or abandon your show faster than having a guest who gives one-word answers. Authentic conversations get you and your guest into a place of engagement and, more importantly, puts your audience right at the center of the conversation.

b = Guest Engagement: In my experience, a host has about 3-5 minutes to connect with their guest, make them feel comfortable, move the conversation in the desired direction, and, most importantly, build rapport. This is not easy, but I find the quickest way is to find shared experiences. Whether it is family, business, hobbies, or dragons, finding shared experiences almost immediately makes a big difference in the flow and feel of the overall conversation. It is important for the guest to see the relatability between you and them, and by doing so builds trust. With trust comes authentic conversations and with authentic conversations comes higher levels of guest engagement.

c = Listener engagement: For many of us, looking at our downloads on Iisbyn is an obsession. When I first started my podcast “Executives After Hours” (duly noted, shameless plug) I would hit the refresh button about every 10 minutes. If the numbers didn’t go up, I would act like the world was conspiring against me. Think Seinfeld when he yells “Newman!” It was painful and self-defeating. Over the last two and one-half years, I learned to focus less on the numbers after a published podcast, and move to listening with intent during the interview. The result was better questions, which led to better guest engagement, resulting in a better listener experience.  After taking this approach, the audience feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with many saying they feel like they are sitting in the room listening to the conversation. This level of listener engagement only occurs when both the host and the guest share meaningful stories, either professional or personal, and that only happens with listening with intent.

X = Podcast downloads: It is time to tie this formula together, and solve for x. When you are more authentic (a), your podcast downloads will multiply (ax2). Add your authenticity with a more engaged guest (b), your downloads will increase (ax2 + bx). Finally, when you and the guest are more authentic, your audience is on the edge of their seats, being more engaged (ax2 + bx + c). Consequently, focusing on authenticity as a podcast host will equal more downloads for you, better experiences for your guests and, most importantly, a more engaging experience for your audience.