I’ve been so busy podcasting and teaching that I haven’t been able to sit down and blog about the first ever HotDocs Podcast Festival, held in Toronto November 18 to 20 at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on Bloor Street.

Fortunately, I snagged a weekend pass before they quickly sold out, and blocked off time on my calendar to attend as many of the events as possible.

I’ve been listening to podcasts since early 2005, and I’d never “watched” a live performance on a stage, although I’ve been present when panels have been recorded at conferences. This was different. These were performances. As well as live podcasts, the festival featured a few panel discussions by podcast producers.

Highlights of the weekend for me:

Other than at Podcamp Toronto, I’ve never met so many podcast enthusiasts in one place. Most of the people I chatted with were podcast fans, not podcasters. But a few had ideas about podcasts they’d like to produce some day.

The first day kicked off with a panel discussion on “Making, Supporting and Marketing Your Show,” with moderator Avery Swartz of Camp Tech (a sponsor of the weekend, along with Casper); JP Davidson (Risk Takers), Dan Misener (Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids), Katie Jensen (CANADALAND, The Imposter), and Hannah Sung (Colour Code). As a longtime podcaster, I was familiar with many of the tools and techniques they discussed, but I did pick up a few tips, particularly about promotion, always a hot topic.

Terry O'Reilly
Terry O’Reilly, Under the Influence

What a treat it was to watch Terry O’Reilly do his first-ever live performance of Under the Influence, one of my favourite podcasts, about the secrets of advertising. He kept the audience enthralled for the entire time, and afterwards he and his production team answered questions from the audience. Fun facts: A typical episode of Under the Influence requires 30 hours of research, and 15 hours of studio time to record. That’s for a 27-minute show. Of course it’s highly produced, immensely informative and always wildly entertaining.

It’s easy to see (and hear) why the Criminal show has won so many awards. It’s now on my must-listen list. Host Phoebe Judge took advantage of being on a stage with a big screen, and showed forensic photographs and court documents while she spoke and producer Lauren Spohrer did her mixing magic. Still, I could have closed my eyes and enjoyed listening just the same.

I’d met Dan Misener at a workshop years ago. This brilliant young guy has been producing a live event called Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids since 2007. It has since evolved into one of Canada’s most popular podcasts. As you can imagine, hilarity ensued when people trotted up to the stage to read the diaries, camp letters home, and other missives they scribbled as children and young teens. Note to self: Go to one of the live events, held in bars in Toronto.

A panel on the “Secrets of Storytelling” provided food for thought for us podcasters, as well as cool behind-the-scenes glimpses for fans of Lindsay Michael (Podcast Playlist), Phoebe Judge (Criminal), Kaitlyn Sawrey (Science Vs.) and Mira Burt-Wintonick (Love Me). Best advice I heard, from Judge: “Get the host out of the way and let the person tell their story.” Also, “Overdoing emotion is a cheap trick. Don’t tell people how to feel. Let them feel.” All of the panelists emphasized the importance of a good editor; a great show does not happen with a strong host alone.

More wisdom from Judge: “The host is an advocate for the listener. Ask the questions they would want answered. The show is not about me.” Burt-Wintonick advised: “With audio only, the listener has to paint her own picture and put herself in the story. Don’t be heavy-handed.” An understated approach is better.

Thanks to the presenters, I discovered a whole slew of shows (mentioned above) to add to my already bursting-at-the-seams playlist. Conversing with other attendees, I learned of even more shows I need to check out, soon: Guilty Feminist, Politically Reactive, Code Switch, Two Dope Queens, The Imposter and Planet Money.

I heard there were 700 people there that weekend, and based on the success of this outing, I wouldn’t be surprised if the festival grows bigger and better next year.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here