Jai Ranganathan: 'Sharpen and heighten'
Editor’s note: First published in S P A C E in 2017, this short Q&A about the creative process still rings true today to those of us at DK who remain very curious about how to continuously improve on what we make.
OFFLINE CONVERSATIONS lately are turning to the process itself, and, to take it further, discoveries that happen on the way to ‘making.’ Maybe it’s in the air? Looking back on what creative people have told me about this work of making, I recalled something I learned from science podcaster Jai Ranganathan. (Find him on twitter at @jranganathan.) We had met at a science conference in NC’s Research Triangle Park. That was the kind of place where bunches of people convened to share tips on making science interesting to a general audience, more or less, and I discovered Jai was set to instruct scientists at University of California Santa Barbara on how to use social media.
DK: What do you need to think about when opening a wide-open project like a podcast? That’s a pretty big blank canvas.
JR: First, define your purpose. Then, what’s your scope? Do you want to be a local brand? Have a national audience? If you want a large audience, people really go for video.
DK: OK. So if you know your purpose, then what? Any tips?
- Think about where can you add value. Ask businesses, ‘What’s a problem you have?,’ and then share, ‘Here’s how we might solve it.’
- Give your product away so people want to know more.
- You can do latest tips. Interviews. You could have seminars.
- Just get started. Do it frequently. Keep it short—2 minutes.
DK: Wait, so you just have to be prolific?
JR: You don’t have to be flashy, or always funny, or the best-looking. But you have to be compelling in your voice. Be engaged, animated, and interesting.
DK: But what about talent?
JR: Talent is overrated. You have to be interesting/entertaining first, or else it doesn’t matter what you have to say!
DK: How do you do that?
JR: Boring podcasts are that way because people are checking boxes off a how-to list, as opposed to doing something that’s really them. Anything creative like this—podcasting, video, or writing—is about deciding what you want to say, and what’s your way of saying it. How to make that your own is key.
DK: How did you get into this?
JR: I was doing my postdoc in conservation biology. If you’re not a scientist, your job is to write papers. I was disenchanted after a while. How likely was it that what I wrote would lead to action? So as a hobby, I started interviewing scientists. I’ve always really liked radio. Someone found me and offered to pay me to do this, so now I have $2,000 broadcast-quality equipment and I make a good living. But, I had hoped more people would listen.
DK: What can others learn?
JR: It takes a while to figure out what you’re doing and why the heck you’re doing it. Don’t make it too scripted. You can have a script, but don’t read it. Imagine somebody giving a talk and reading a script–it’s death! And you know, you have to like doing it. And keep doing it, that’s key. Don’t wait to get good. No one sprouts out of the earth fully formed.
Published in S P A C E, 2016.