What happens when your podcast calls for discussion of current events, but those current events hit a little too close to home? Even if your show is generally lighthearted, there may be moments in which you have to balance the topics you ‘need’ to cover and your own well-being. Taking the time to audit your ‘shoulds’ and your ‘need’s will make this balance easier when the time comes.
Yes, this is clearly inspired by the pandemic, but it doesn't just apply to this situation. If your show ever deals with current events, it's likely you'll eventually brush up against something that feels too tender to discuss.
Let's talk about how to find your boundaries when it comes to content.
Do you need to talk about it?
When considering whether or not to talk about a current event on your podcast, think about whether or not you truly need to.
It can seem strange to leave something completely unsaid, but remember that your listeners are engaging with much more media than just your podcast. Since the pandemic began, for instance, I've received maybe ten press releases a day about pandemic-specific podcasts.
This event is being covered plenty. I promise. The same is true for most pressing national and international events. If it’s national news, it might be better to give a quick acknowledgement and move on. You don't have to focus every episode, or even an entire episode, on the event.
There are always more things happening in the world than the top headlines.
Think about the standard content and tone of your podcast. If you make a hard-hitting news show, yes, you'll likely need to cover big events to some degree. But if you're a chatcast, a comedy show, or a fancast, do you really need to make a big deal of the event? How will this impact listeners who are listening to several of your episodes back-to-back? How will this affect listeners who come to your show to get away from devastating news?
There are always more things happening in the world than the top headlines. Instead of treading through the same material as everyone else, you can acknowledge it, wish your listeners well, and move on. Consider telling undiscovered stories, or those ignored and under-the-radar. The satisfaction of building something new can be especially impactful at times like this.
Should you talk about it?
Even if you don't need to talk about it, a pressing event could potentially help your podcast gain traction. More people are likely to be searching the topic. While that means your SEO will have to fight everyone else's, it's still more likely to attract new listeners. There's a chance that your timing could help your podcast get the boost you think it needs.
But how does it feel to talk about it?
Your audience is never entitled to you making yourself more anxious for content.
If you talk about an event because you think it'll be a boon, or out of some sense of obligation, the artificiality of your sentiment will come through. Podcast listeners are sharp, and with only one sense backing you, you can't rely on body language or facial expressions to carry your acting. If you're being disingenuous, your voice will always show your hand.
If you feel like you must talk about it, you are passionate about it, and it's expected of you, you still need to check in with yourself. Your audience is never entitled to you burning yourself out for content. Your audience is never entitled to you making yourself more anxious for content. If you don't want to talk about an event, you do not have to. Even if you make a news podcast, even if the event is relevant to your usual content, you can easily say, “We are not going to discuss [x] because it stresses me out.” Listeners may complain, but that's on them, not you. Their potential lack of empathy — which you are likely perceiving or anticipating incorrectly — is not your moral failing.
So, you've decided to talk about it. How?
Say you’re asked yourself these questions and decided that yes, you must discuss the event. How much it needs to be discussed? I cannot emphasize this enough: briefly acknowledging the event before moving on is almost definitely enough. Doing so helps alleviate any awkward tension in leaving it out of your episode entirely, and it also gives you permission to pivot to your actual discussion topics.
If you need to talk about the event more, or across several episodes, consider taking a look at your tone and your format. If discussing the event will make your lighthearted podcast take on a more somber tone, make sure you carry that through your editing and your music. This probably isn't the time for quick cuts and goofy jingles.
Focus on what you need to talk about, and how it feels to talk about those things.
If you're going to discuss the event on a more serious or stoic podcast, think about how your voice might convey more vulnerability to your audience. That's okay. It's going to happen. You're allowed to be a real human being to your listeners. Maybe lean in, allow yourself a little tenderness, even for just a sentence or two.
Remember that at the end of the day, you are in charge of what you discuss on your podcast. Try not to think too much about feeling like you should talk about something; focus on what you need to talk about, and how it feels to talk about those things. You're a creator, but you're a person too. Never let big events make you feel like a mouthpiece for them. Let big events remind you that you are allowed to give time and space to yourself.