Blackbird Associate Mason Yates has amassed more than 50,000 listens since launching Wild Hearts in 2020.
He has interviewed the likes of Fleet’s Flavia Tata Nardini, Fable’s Michael Fox and Multitude’s Lauren Peate, to name but a few — and in the process, cemented himself as one of Australia’s best startup storytellers.
Seeking advice for budding storytellers, I sat down with Mason to talk about his Wild Hearts journey to date. Here are five nuggets of wisdom he shared with me.
You should treat your podcast like a product or company you’re considering investing in, Mason tells me, especially in the ideation phase and early days.
What this means in practice is justifying your existence in a crowded landscape.
Mason, for example, asked himself the following questions.
“After I asked myself these questions, I realised there were some unique elements I could take advantage of,” Mason says.
“Firstly, I knew that my role at Blackbird gave me unique access to information, investment memos and people.
“At the time, I felt there was a huge focus on interviewing successful people about how they arrived at their success, but many of these podcasts were littered with bias. I was more interested in hearing about stories that were currently unfolding in real-time and what was happening at the frontline.
“I also felt that getting both the founder and investor perspective was something that wasn't happening. I felt there was a unique space there.”
You need to have a strong sense of your point of difference, message and vision when you launch a podcast… but you also need to be open to the unexpected.
Wild Hearts, for example, launched as a podcast about founders, for founders.
“At the beginning, I remember writing a blog post which said I would deem Wild Hearts a success if I helped just one founder,” Mason reflects.
“As our audience grew, I noticed a bunch of different types of people that I hadn't expected would be listening. LPs are one example.
“Over time, ‘operators who are looking to join startups’ became our biggest audience. These operators listen to discover new startups or to learn about a company they might want to join.
“This came as a surprise, but a good surprise. When you put content out there, you never quite know where it's going to hit.”
The key to making a podcast interesting is weaving in some relatable principles, Mason says.
“I became obsessed with Pixar when I first started podcasting. They have some incredible storytelling resources,” Mason says.
“There's always a beginning, middle and an end, and you can structure a story accordingly — but one of the things they always focus on is a human, universal idea or principle that viewers can unite around.
“No matter what film you watch, you’ll inevitably end up crying and laughing in response to one of these principles.”
The key to applying this lesson to podcasting is to craft your questions in order to tease out an overarching principle that your listeners will all be able to relate to.
“Inspiration and ambition, moving fast, taking action — all these ideas are relatable,” Mason adds.
“Cal Fussman has a wonderful method of opening up the interviewer. He says: ‘Get to people’s heart first, then you can get to their head, and then there is a way to the soul.’”
If you’re not a curious interviewer, you may as well give up now, Mason says.
“I always tell guests that ‘curiosity will lead this conversation’. I give them the questions ahead of time, but I make it clear that if they say something interesting, I'm going to hook onto it,” he explains.
When it comes to letting curiosity shine through, Mason has a few tips.
“People remember how you make them feel, not exactly what you say,” Mason says.
“You want to be leaning in and smiling. You can almost hear a smile, and tone is so important in audio format.
“I also remember watching a negotiation masterclass and learning about the mirroring technique.
“Basically, if you take the words at the end of someone's sentence, and then use them in your question, it shows just how engaged you are and how much you're listening to them.
“If you're not curious, everyone listening will hear that in your tone. Without curiosity, you might as well stop.
“Curiosity is paramount. Let it be your guiding light.”
According to Mason, good, open-ended questions lead to good, ever-illuminating answers.
The first step to creating excellent questions is doing your research, Mason explains, and this is especially true if you’re interviewing someone who’s been interviewed before.
“I've listened to a bunch of podcasts that recycle stories. It's annoying. Make sure you do the investigative work beforehand,” he says.
The second step is keeping your questions open.
“You should always ask open-ended questions. You should never really know where the answer is quite going,” Mason says.
“Use words like ‘describe’ and ‘expand upon’ to really let the interviewee take what you've asked and expand on it.
And the third step is to get out of the way.
“One of the most annoying podcast experiences is when the interviewer tries to take over or shine a light on who they are and their ‘similar’ experiences,” Mason says.
“Oftentimes, it's not that similar, and besides, no one is listening to hear their story.
“As an interviewer, the best in me is serving the best in you. Everything I do is designed to set a guest up for success.”
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