David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at Stanford University and a bestselling author, says based on his brain research the best advice for podcasters is strikingly simple. “It’s just about making sure you are being a friend, you’re being honest with trust and integrity, and you are being close to them,” he said during a Q&A session with iHeartMedia CEO Bob Pittman at Podcast Movement in Denver.
The brain is made up of 86 billion neurons with 500 trillion connections in the brain, which Eagleman says is more than the stars in the Milky Way. But for all that brain power, consumers are mostly unaware of their decision-making and actions since much happens unconsciously. How that translates to brands is through something called implicit egotism. “We like things that remind us of ourselves,” Eagleman said. “It’s the reason that we're tracking certain brands over others.”
Eagleman said the challenge for content creators, just as it is for marketers, is to find “the sweet spot” in the audience’s appetite for something new with a healthy dose of familiarity.
“We get bored if things are just the same, if things are too novel, we get confused. We don't like that,” he said. “We all love going to Burning Man for five days, but you wouldn't want to stay there for six months, because you don't want that much novelty all the time. What all advertisers hope to do is find some middle ground.” Eagleman said during the pandemic the pendulum swung too far toward familiarity as people were locked down. “It was awful, but if we go out and try to do new things, it's exhausting,” he said.
Yet even as the brain craves new things, Eagleman does not believe that is why podcasting is growing so quickly. “I think it's about the intimacy,” he says, pointing out that a show and its host go along on the morning commute, and spend time with the listener while they do household chores or a variety of other day-to-day activities. “They're just sitting in your ear, and you can feel like you know them in a way that's different than television.” Eagleman thinks that is especially powerful considering the “epidemic of loneliness” in modern culture.
While Eagleman thinks kids should not be given screens at too young an age, he calls himself a “techno-optimist” in the sense that young people today will get answers and move on to the next thing faster than was ever possible in human history.
“We've got the entirety of humankind's knowledge on a rectangular device in our pockets. That's extraordinary. We generally take it for granted, but that's so good for kid’s brains,” he said. “I think the next generation is going to be smarter than we are because their diet is richer. They just get tons of information. And yes, there's all kinds of silly stuff to do, but even on something like TikTok they learn how to do things, they get curious about something.”
Eagleman, a veteran of public television as well as an author, earlier this year launched the Inner Cosmos podcast with iHeart. Each week he discusses how our brain interprets the world and what that means.
“When I write my books, it takes years to put it out there. But now, every week, I'm putting out a podcast and I'm getting feedback immediately. It's kind of an extraordinary thing for me,” he said. “The output is fast, and the feedback is fast, and that is an honorable way to feel like I'm really with an audience.”