This September marks a year since “Downtown Depot” first premiered on 103.3 KWBU-FM. I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Lake Brazos Rotary Club (audio below) and was introduced by local developer Chris McGowan. For the talk, I decided to distill a few musings on hosting the show and running WacoBusinessNews.com for the past twelve months. Here are six things I’ve learned:
1. Conversation is king. I’ve always been a voracious book reader and, like many of my contemporaries, still prefer that medium over video. Podcasts, of course, area another terrific resource. But by far my favorite way to consume information is through conversation. There is nothing as useful as having a deeply knowledgeable expert explain her field. The opportunity for back and forth (i.e. me asking dumb questions and getting them answered graciously) exists in conversation in ways that text, video, and audio simply don't allow. On "Downtown Depot," I try very intentionally to keep the spotlight on the guest and interject my own thoughts only when necessary. The reasoning is simple, and selfish: every time I talk, I miss the opportunity to learn from something my guest has to say. Constant reminders that I am not the smartest person in the room have helped ground my ego and turned me into a more self-aware entrepreneur, husband, and friend.
2. No one likes retreads. Staff at the Waco Tribune-Herald like J.B. Smith, Mike Copeland, and Cassie Smith do a fabulous job of telling the news in our town. The whole purpose of "Downtown Depot" is to bring my unique perspective as a downtown business owner onto the airwaves, and to tell the stories that either aren't fit for print or are too niche for their staff to cover. Simply regurgitating a Trib story adds nothing to the conversation; I have to take these topics and sprinkle them with insights and personal stories that infuse a new perspective into the narrative.
3. Call for help. Listeners often ask how I have time to balance running WacoBusinessNews.com, Pokey O's, my small-scale real estate development operation, and host "Downtown Depot" all at once. Truthfully, it doesn't take that much time because I have terrific partners. People at KWBU like Joe Riley, Brodie Bashaw, Carlos Morales, and Will Burney keep me sounding polished and clean on air, and the 24 guests I've welcomed in the studio bless me with their time and expertise. I just show up for a few hours every couple weeks and stay out of the way of the professionals doing their thing.
4. Be conversationally nimble. I could talk to my guest about cookies and ice cream until they’re comatose, but a key to the success of "Downtown Depot" is that I can fake it well enough in my guest's field to conduct an above-surface level conversation. I spend a few hours before every show reading as much as I can about the guest and their line of work so they don't spend half the show explaining the basics. But try as I might, I'll never know as much about architecture, commercial lending, or community development as the person across from me. That's why learning a little about a lot of things - science, history, food sports, religion - can be so useful in conversation. My guest may be uncomfortable going deep on how they run their catering business or accounting firm, but I know they're a big Dallas Cowboys fan, or just returned from a trip to Barcelona, and we can connect on those levels. Testing different "conversational keys" can unlock dimensions of a relationship previously impenetrable.
5. Amplify what works. This idea comes from Andy Rachleff of Weathfront via Patrick O'Shaughnessy of The Investor's Field Guide: simply, that you learn far more from success than from failure, and that you should use success as a compass. When I first started "Downtown Depot," I had a segment called "What's Happening Here?” where listeners could submit an address and I'd interview the property owner about her plans for future development. While I thought it was a great segment, there was very little audience participation; I'd usually have to drum up an address on my own when the whole point was to get suggestions from the community. I scrapped it after a few episodes. On the other hand, I had a number of listeners comment that they wanted more "hard news" from the program, so I now start every show with "The Word on the Street," where I distill the news of the past two weeks into a few prime highlights. This has been very well received, and gathering the interviews is one of my favorite pre-production tasks. Bottom line: if something is working, then more of that thing (or a better version of it) is likely to work too. A better version of a failure will still probably fail.
6. Don't expect anything in return. I've heard from listeners who ask about my plan for "Downtown Depot,” or wonder when I'm going to monetize WacoBusinessNews.com. I can honestly say that I haven't planned that far ahead. My only goal right now is to learn as much as possible from the change-makers in our city and to authentically share their stories. I don't expect to gain anything from my guests other than knowledge and the chance for a deeper relationship. My hope is that I'll be able to continue telling tales of our town for years to come.