What’s behind the power of podcasts and how they evoke the theater of the mind? How can you use a hook to improve your communication skills? Why do stories help us remember what we learn about wine?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m being interviewed by Lawrence Francis, host of the Interpreting Wine podcast.
You can find the wines we discussed here.
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- Which bottle kickstarted my passion for wine?
- How did I find the confidence to write about wine?
- Why do stories make it easier to learn about wine?
- How has my wine career evolved since my first freelance article submission?
- Why did I shift my mindset on being a wine educator?
- What’s behind the power of podcasting for connecting people?
- How do podcasts help people learn about wine in the best way for them?
- Why is communication such a valuable skill for wine lovers?
- How can you improve your communication skills?
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With podcasts, you can evoke the theater of the mind where the listener co-creates with you. - Natalie MacLean Click to tweet
About Lawrence Francis
Lawrence Francis spent 10 years as a Psychologist and Coach before entering the wine industry. He’s been the host of the Interpreting Wine podcast since 2017; helping winemakers with underpriced, undersold or unknown wines address these challenges with compelling storytelling that engages wine consumers. Four years later, he’s now published more than 430 episodes, with more than 300,000 downloads in 150 countries.
- Connect with Lawrence Francis
- Unreserved Wine Talk
- Episode 23: Randall Grahm: A Californian Blend of Wine, Wit and Wisdom
- Episode 13: Blending Humour and Wine in South Africa with Charles Back, Fairview Wine
- Episode 17: Organic and Biodynamic Wine with Thomas Bachelder
- Episode 159: Cosmo’s Sex & the City, Champagne, Whisky Women in Mallory O’Meara’s Girly Drinks
- Stephen King’s Book | On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
- Anne Lamott’s Book | Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
- Natalie Goldberg’s Book | Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
- Diary of a Book Launch: An Insider Peek from Idea to Publication
- My Books:
- Unreserved Wine Talk | Episode 3: Why Do You Like the Wines You Do with Marnie Old and Jean-Charles Boisset
- My new class The 5 Wine & Food Pairing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Dinner And How To Fix Them Forever
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Thirsty for more?
- Sign up for my free online wine video class where I’ll walk you through The 5 Wine & Food Pairing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Dinner (and how to fix them forever!)
- You’ll find my books here, including Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines and Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass.
- The new audio edition of Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass is now available on Amazon.ca, Amazon.com and other country-specific Amazon sites; iTunes.ca, iTunes.com and other country-specific iTunes sites; Audible.ca and Audible.com.
Natalie MacLean 0:00
To find the types of guests I’m looking for, because 100% is about storytelling, you have to dig out your personal feelings in a compelling way that the listener is going to resonate. If the listener hasn’t worked a harvest but they sure as heck know what it is to slip a disc, feel that pain and still have to carry on. As we say in writing, show not tell. So don’t tell me it was a hard, difficult harvest. Show me some details that speak to that. Be a communicator first and a wine expert second.
Natalie MacLean 0:40
Do you have a thirst to learn about wine? Do you love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places, and amusingly awkward social situations? Well that’s the blend here on the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie Maclean. And each week, I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please. And let’s get started.
Welcome to Episode 219. What’s behind the power of podcasts and how they evoke the theatre of the mind? How can you use a hook to improve your communication skills? And why do stories help us remember what we learn about wine? You’ll hear all those tips and stories in my chat with Lawrence Francis, host of the Interpreting Wine podcast. Lawrence is actually interviewing me and I have lots of juicy stories and tips to share with you.
Now a quick update on my upcoming memoir Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Diivorce, Defamation and Drinking Too Much. Lately, I often get caught up in the flurry of doing too many things to prepare for the book and its launch. And my mind is often racing ahead to which journalist to contact for potential reviews, which venues to book for launch parties, and which bonuses to create for those who pre-order my memoir. By the way, you can do that right now. Slow breathing helps, but I’ve discovered another technique while listening to another podcast. It’s part of CBT, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and it’s called 54321. So you look around where you are and note five things that you can see: a snow laden pine tree, a neon restaurant sign, etc. Then, you note four things you can hear: traffic, kids voices, some sort of music. Then, it’s three things you can touch. Two things you can smell. And one thing you can taste. But that last one, it’s usually just my tongue or spit, I don’t know. But the point is that not only does it slow down my worried monkey brain, which can’t think of two things at the same time, but it also makes me supremely present in the moment and in my current environment. It literally makes me stop and smell the roses, or the cantaloupe, whichever is nearby. Let me know if this technique helps you, too.
Here’s a review from Kathy D’Acosta, a beta reader in Toronto. “This inspirational book would be interesting to read for a book club and allow for discussions about overcoming divorce or job loss. The personal details made me feel sad at many points, but then I felt satisfied at how things turned out. Nothing in this book is easy to write. The book explores the idea of self care and control in regards to personal relationships and career. I like the fast paced style with the action being driven by dialogue. The humour is sprinkled in very appropriately to balance the tension of the book. Honestly, it’s a fabulous book and a fast read so even people who aren’t women or don’t drink wine would enjoy it. I rate it a five”. Thank you, Kathy.
I posted a link to a blog post called Diary of a Book Launch in the show notes at NatalieMacLean.com/219. This is where I share more behind the scenes stories about the journey of taking this memoir from idea to publication. If you want a more intimate insider seat beside me on this journey, please let me know that you’d like to become a beta reader and get a sneak peek at the manuscript. Email me at [email protected] Okay, on with the show.
Natalie MacLean 5:04
So I do have a bottle that sort of started it all, that aha moment or aha bottle and it was a Brunello. I grew up on the East Coast, Nova Scotia where it was beer and whiskey on the table. Not that I was drinking that as a tot. But I didn’t get into wine until I finished graduate school. So I didn’t have the money. I didn’t have the interest in it. I didn’t have that family background that would have led me naturally into having wine. And so my then husband and I went out for dinner a lot because neither of us cooked. And I remember the first time we went to a small Italian bistro just around the corner from our tiny little apartment in Toronto. And he said, well do you want a Brunello and we thought sure sounds like a great pasta dish. And he brought just two plain tumblers, no fancy sniffing for sipping, and poured this wine. And I just remember, as I brought it up to drink, it didn’t even notice, swirl or sniff. But I remember the aromas. And I thought, wow what is this, and then I tasted it. And I had another wow. And I thought this is unlike anything I’ve ever had, alcohol wise or otherwise. And that really not only gave me a thirst for wine, but a thirst to find the words to describe the experience so that I could have it again, and again, and again.
And, you know for me it was only later as I started writing about wine that I kind of realized what was happening in that moment. One of my favourite writers is actually an American writer M.F.K. Fisher in the 1940s. And she said you know when I write about hunger, I’m really writing about love and the hunger for it. And I kind of think of that when I’m writing about wine. It’s our hunger or thirst for love and especially what happens over a great glass of wine, whether it’s you know the conversation, the connection, the communion, the love. I think that is what we’re all seeking to get really fundamental about it. Beyond that, it’s not just love but it’s lust as well. So I tend to write about the buzz of wine, the sensuality. And in fact, a reviewer called my first book Red White and Drunk All Over a bodice ripper kind of in the style of Jane Austen or something like that. Not writing wise, but at least the central part because sometimes I think we talk about wine as though we’re wearing business suits and sitting in a boardroom. It’s all grey. And yet wine is so alive, so sensual. There’s so many parts that it brings forward in us.
Lawrence Francis 7:43
Yeah, absolutely. And very poetic. I like the bodice ripper or yeah maybe it should be a sort of a cork ripper. Yeah, I mean sounds as though this experience sort of opened up really I guess opened your eyes kind of to that world. And then yeah maybe I’ll just invite you to pick up the journey. Then how did you sort of go deeper?
Natalie MacLean 8:04
I did in both the bottle and the writing. Of course, we went back to that little bistro every week and had the same wine, the same pasta dish for a year. But then I started to explore and just realized just how diverse and wonderful the world of wine is. But you know my dream was always to be a writer, but I didn’t have the confidence to think I could be paid to write. But as I got deeper into wine and took a sommelier diploma and continued on that journey. Wine was the hook that gave me the confidence to write.
I was actually on maternity leave. I was in the world of high tech. And I pitched an article about wine on the internet. Now you know how long ago this was because that was news. And so back in the Palaeolithic Era, I think that but that was successful. And then that that just led me to cold call and pitch other editors of newspapers and magazines. And I didn’t go back to tech. But what I wanted to do was really, kind of in parallel tracks, improve my writing as I improve my knowledge about wine. And so I really started looking to the New Journalist School of storytelling. So Truman Capote, Joan Didion, and so on, George Plimpton. So what they did is, you probably know about these folks Lawrence, but they did what they wrote about. So George Plimpton wrote a famous book about football. And he joined the team. He didn’t just write about them from the bleachers. He actually did the thing, so that he could go deeper into the feelings, into the experiences. And so that’s kind of what I tried to do with harvest, becoming a sommelier and so on. Really tried to get into the experience.
Lawrence Francis 9:43
Yeah, absolutely. And yeah you reminded me there’s an expression that I use a lot, which is wine is not a spectator sport. It’s one of those incredible pieces of storytelling, of geography, of art, but ultimately it can be drunk. So you know absolutely. Why write about it from the bleachers? Why not get down on the pitch and start kicking when it’s so accessible?
Natalie MacLean 10:09
I love that Lawrence. Wine isn’t a spectator sport. So just to expand on what I mentioned. But I went and worked the harvest with Bonny Doon Randall Graham in California, who is crazy and wise and witty and gave me lots of great stories. But actually picking the grapes, working inside the winery, instead of just sitting down and interviewing him.
And then for the sommelier chapter in the first book, I worked at a five diamond restaurant, fancy French restaurant. I had to put on a tuxedo, the whole thing. And even though I had a sommelier diploma, I was terrified of spilling wine or not knowing a question. Because I mean somms, as you know, are just encyclopaedic in our knowledge and you’re never done learning. So I thought someone’s gonna trip me up tonight. And they did. But that’s part of the story. That’s okay.
And then you know I worked in a couple of wine stores to talk about how to buy wine. So I was helping customers on the floor. So each one sort of the info or the education was buried in the story. So as I say, my mother used to hide the peas in the mashed potatoes. It’s a good way to learn about wine. So instead of telling you the 64 steps on how Champagne is made or the difference between the larger houses and grower Champagne, let’s enter the stories of the merry widows of mousse but I call them marry widows. Veuve Clicquot and Louise Pommery and so on. Let’s get into the story. And through that, let’s learn about wine. And I think I know you’ll remember more about it because our brains are wired for story. You have a hook to hang those facts on as not just a laundry list of things you need to remember.
Lawrence Francis 11:51
Yeah, exactly. It’s not like just studying for an exam, is it? I think I think that you can make that sort of deeper, deeper connection. So I’m right in thinking then that that bottle was literally incredibly life changing. And you went off on a very different path there. And just sort of zoom out a little bit. What was the sort of time period that we’re talking about? Because as I say it just does seem like yeah a really, really massive transition that you’ve gone through there.
Natalie MacLean 12:20
It was this I was in high tech marketing, I worked for a supercomputer company that was based in California although, at the time, and still today, I live in Canada. But I was commuting back and forth once a quarter. I started planning all my visits to the corporate headquarters, which is now the Google campus, on Thursdays and Fridays so I could drive up to Sonoma Napa and just spend the weekend learning. And that was a lot of fun. That was before my son was born. But then of course, I went on mat leave. And I always reassure my son, he’s not the reason I started to drink. He didn’t drive me to it. But I just had that extra time. I’d never taken vacation, a Type A personality of course. I had a year off on mat leave and just decided to dive into it. By that time, I had finished the some of the sommelier diploma and pitched the articles and then got into writing full time. And then just the journey went from there with two books with Random House you know, later mobile apps that I still have that scan barcodes in front labels, to the courses I teach online, and the podcast more recent. Well, 2018.
Lawrence Francis 13:24
Yeah, unbelievable. So yeah, I mean I would just again yeah welcome you to take us back through a little bit that evolution. So you’ve taken us up to really I guess you know writing and releasing the first book. The courses then come after that, than we sort of you know still sort of evolving and expanding really I guess your reach and yeah your ability and your infrastructure really to communicate about wine.
Natalie MacLean 13:52
Yeah. So the book one came out in 2006 Red, White, and Drunk All Over. Unquenchable was 2011. And I have a new book coming out in 2023 that we could talk about later. So I’ve always been interested in long form narrative. And in fact, I would say I was quite a little writing snob. Because in my columns, I convinced my editors I should just do long form storytelling, no wine reviews. Like I would talk about wine of course in the columns but I didn’t want sidebars of wine reviews because I thought oh, those are the recipes of the wine world. Who cares? I mean, they’re just not challenging to write. But I quite got over myself and it’s a subject of this new wine memoir. But it took me a while to realize that more people read wine reviews and recipes than they do memoirs and long form books and so on.
So to be of service, which is an important part of being a wine educator, commentator and so on, you have to value not only your work but the work of other people. They’re wine reviews as well and not just dismiss them as oh well that’s like, you know, in a newspaper reporting on house fires. The real action is if your byline is on the editorial page. So as I said, I wasn’t a wine snob; I was a writing snob. But it took an evolution over time to get over that and realize just how many people find wine reviews useful. As consumers, as wineries, they really depend on those wine reviews to help them promote and sell their wines. And that I needed to take my own work seriously. Because of that, you know that aspect of it, I couldn’t just be unidimensional on the books. So from there, it expanded into the courses and so on that I can also talk more about.
Lawrence Francis 15:37
Yeah, brilliant, brilliant. And I think there’s different directions that we could take this in. But you mentioned the P word there, the podcast, which I think was how we first connected with one another. And I’ve learned something new about you just now, you know, which is your love for long form. I mean, I think we both share that. And I’ve explored that. And I see the medium of podcasting as a fantastic way to kind of bring that forward. So I wonder if yeah is that a sort of a relevant connection to make? And then would you just sort of yet again take us through a little bit into that seam of the podcast? And what’s that been like for you?
Natalie MacLean 16:14
Absolutely. So podcasts are the long form version of books. And of course, we have audio books. But it used to bother me as a writer that I didn’t read physical books. My eyes get tired, they get dried out, but I read or listened to – I call it reading – but listen to hundreds of audible books. So I’m an audible learner. And I think more and more people are realizing just what’s available to them via audio. And that’s why podcasts are exploding because people know that. There’s all those audible learners out there who would prefer to get their information that way.
But we’re all overtaxed and busy. And as you know you can multitask while you’re listening to a podcast, whether you’re walking the dog, or folding laundry, or whatever you’re doing in the car. Everywhere, podcasts are more easily consumed than I think any other media. I certainly can’t drive and read a physical book. And you know even videos, I love videos as a communication tool, but even they are not as powerful as podcasts because you have to sit down commit to watch a video. Whereas podcasts can be anywhere, anytime, anyplace. And that is very, very powerful. And then of course beyond that I just find that the human voice is so intimate. And so telling. I mean, I know you know this Lawrence, but you know there’s the pauses, there’s the breath taken, there’s the emotion, that you cannot get on text. And that sure you can get on video, but you have to be sitting there and watching it.
You can have all of this intimacy and evoke that theatre of the mind, where the listener enters into even though spaces between what you’re saying and co-creates with you. What you’re saying, they’re envisioning the winery you’re talking about. They’re thinking about how that wine tastes through your voice. And I think that is so powerful.
Lawrence Francis 18:16
Yeah, 100%. I think it’s something that I got to that place I would say over time. And I still remember a time where I was scared to do an episode more than 20 minutes because maybe overthinking it. And I thought oh they’re only listening when they’re commuting or they’re only listening when they’re on the treadmill. And no one stays on the treadmill for more than 20 minutes. So I thought you know I’ve got to keep it kind of short for those people.
Do you remember kind of coming in with that awareness of audio? Because you know I think maybe it’s something that’s developed over time. But you know if you sort of had that already, I think that’s really fascinating. Having that confidence really to go deep right from the start.
Natalie MacLean 19:01
So Lawrence yeah picking up on what you’ve just said there. And you probably have more up to date stats than I do. But I know that people finish long podcasts. They’ve done industry studies were I don’t know what it is 60%, 70%, 80% or more finish an hour long podcast. Whereas the average play time, attention time to a Facebook video, you’re lucky if you get three to five seconds. That’s considered a view. So think about how committed to the long form podcast listeners are just as book readers are. They’re in it. And to me, going deep inside either of those two media means you know loyalty. It means understanding, connection, conviction, and that’s what we want. I mean we’re all hit with hundreds thousands of social media messages and texts and emails and billboards and everything else that consumes our attention. But you’ve got someone even if they’re multitasking when they’re listening to a podcast. And so for me personally, I’ve always found the most gratification in writing long form narrative. So I thought there’s got to be a corollary there with long form audio, podcasting. You know even before I could listen to audio books, I had a satellite radio by my bed as a child. And I would listen to the BBC blow in and out over the Atlantic because I just wanted to listen. It was just magical, right.
And even when people today read my books, if they listen to my podcast, it’s almost like a ghost effect in a good way. They’re hearing my voice read that book to them. There’s a lingering impact and effect of being a podcast listener. And, you know, I think proof is that when you publish a video, people can stand it f the seeing part is a little fuzzy. They cannot stand it if the audio is off of what people are saying. Like it’s like watching Netflix and bad dubbing. It drives people crazy. And to me that says audio is more important. It’s more fundamental to who we are. And the worst audible book reviews are those that have narrators whose voice does not match the original author’s content or you know message.
Lawrence Francis 21:16
Yeah that’s super powerful really. That thing, yeah, to have that awareness and to kind of come in with that worldview. And that appreciation of, as you say, just how powerful podcasts can be. You know, it was actually one of the main reasons why I really started and tried to grow my Instagram account at the same time as starting the podcast, because again I knew that it would be a non visual format through which I’d be making connection with people.
And sort of, you know, back in 2019 there were lots of wine tastings and lots of events and ways to connect in real life. And I didn’t want people to not know what I looked like. Because I think people they hear your voice and I think you can’t help but make a visual picture of somebody you know. Even if somebody has never seen me or seen you, if you give them a tape of one of our podcasts, they’ll fill in the blanks. I often align listening to audio to exactly the point you made earlier around it’s like watching the book versus watching the movie. It’s like the director and the actors and everybody, they have to lay it out there for you with video, and the film, with the book. Everybody has their own unique experience. And I’m convinced that there’s something very similar happening with podcasts and other audio as well.
Natalie MacLean 22:35
Yeah, there is. And with podcast you get this extra bonus. I mean, there’s so many bonuses but it’s the digital asset that has a legacy. Like, I get emails all the time that say I just listened to your back catalogue of 150 episodes. Yeah, people will do that they will binge listen. I’ve never had someone say I’ve just watched all your Facebook videos. So it’s portable. And even though things get updated and facts change and so on, it’s evergreen content because people will do that once they find you. They’re already committed to long form. There’s a good chance they’re gonna go back and just use it as a way to learn about wine or whatever your topic is and listen to everything you’ve published.
Lawrence Francis 23:17
Do you have a view on why that might be? It’s something that I have come across myself as well. And people when we first connect, they’ll often say yeah I’m starting back at number one. Yeah, like good luck catching up. I’m on number 450 now. But I’m just curious, do you have a view on why there is a seeming disparity?
Natalie MacLean 23:37
Well, once people discover any podcast, they’re into it. I think they’re pretty committed. It’s so easy to listen to the back catalogue. So you know it’s so easy on any podcast app or catcher to just start with this one and then go to that one and then. But it’s not on Facebook to find okay where’s her last video, or his last video? Or where are all of these things? The way the content is presented in apps, it’s so easy. Once they get over the hump of actually signing up for any podcast and they find yours and they love it. Boom. It’s so easy to go through the entire catalogue.
Lawrence Francis 24:16
Yeah, I can definitely see that that multitasking just opens up the space really, opens up the possibilities you know when you’re driving. Or another saying I have is that podcast reaches the places that other content can’t. So it can just get to you in all those other places. And I think you know where people who maybe have naturally the desire to multitask or are just massively into wine and passionate about wine and want to keep the conversation going, the audio gives them the opportunity to do that which no other medium can so.
Natalie MacLean 24:47
That’s true and you know you reach new listeners as well. I mean you think about people who are blind or have some sort of vision issue, you’re definitely suited to them. And I find like I stream so I’ll publish my podcast first but then I’ll stream the video of it, video conversation of it, a week or two later. They’re two different audiences. I always think oh they’re gonna get bored. They’ve already listened to the podcast. Now they’re here for the video. It’s actually two different audiences for the most part. Of course there’s keeners who watch and listen. But you know people consume media in different ways. And so you have to come to where they are. But I think by far, podcast still wins over the video. My podcast audience is far larger than the viewers on any particular video.
Lawrence Francis 25:36
Amazing. And it may not be possible kind of for that exact reason, but do you have a sort of paint an image really or you know an avatar of what your podcast listener looks like versus what your video viewer looks like?
Natalie MacLean 25:50
Yeah, that’s a tough one. I haven’t done readership surveys recently or at least since I started the podcast. So I’m not sure if in general my podcast audience reflects podcast listeners in general. But I do think you can reach a far broader demographic via podcasting then you can via say Tik Tok which I’m assuming is a younger audience. But you know if you’re trying to reach, you have to be a little bit, a little tiny bit, tech savvy. So I do think lots of younger Miillennials and younger listen to podcasts. But I think it’s not such a difficult medium to get the hang of. You’re getting the older demographics as well and everything in between. So I do think it then becomes interest driven. And you’re going to catch the demographics across the board if they’ve got that passion for wine.
Lawrence Francis 26:40
Yeah, 100%. I mean I’m thinking back that was one of the most fascinating things was actually going into Spotify and pulling off the data around who listens to Interpreting Wine. And the two largest age groups were the younger and the older. It was that sort of 18 to I think 25 was the band. And I think 55 to 65. And they were far and away the ones that were sort of leading the path. And you know this is again another thing around when you do something digitally, you get all of this sort of fine grained detail that you may miss you know if you say write things. Something into a magazine and you put it out there, you don’t know as somebody seen your advert or read your article on page 63. How much have they read you know or were their particular parts that they reread? All of that data is absolutely accessible from podcast providers and get some really quite juicy, interesting insight into how people are consuming.
Natalie MacLean 27:42
Yeah, it’s far more measurable. You can tell what were your best episodes, therefore, the most interesting topics. As you say, you can tell where people drop off, stop listening. And then you can adjust and iterate based on that data.
Lawrence Francis 27:53
100%. And I’m very, very keen really to you know essentially we’ve been talking at a fairly high level around podcasts and the trends and how people engage, which is you know is absolutely fascinating to me. But given that you’re here and you’ve got this fantastic body of work behind you, I wonder if you sort of yet lower the drone a little bit and get us down into the weeds a little bit? Yeah maybe talk to us about some of the episodes and the experiences that really stand out from. I think you’re now three plus years of producing your podcast.
Natalie MacLean 28:27
Sure. So I think over time, I’ve refined the types of guests I’m looking for, which is why I reached out to you, Lawrence, because you know how to tell stories. So I’ve been interviewing a lot of writers and or podcasters, because 100% is about storytelling.
And so at first, I thought it would be mostly winemakers because they have a story to tell, but they have to know how to tell a story. It’s not good enough just to say this harvest was I don’t know the rains came in September, etc, etc. You have to get in there, dig out your personal feelings and put that together in a compelling way that the listener is going to resonate. And even if the listener hasn’t worked a harvest, but they sure as heck know what it is to slip a disc, feel that pain and still have to carry on or something.
You’ve got to, as we say in writing, show not tell. So don’t tell me it was a hard, difficult harvest. Show me some details that speak to that. So over time, the best episodes have been storytellers. Among winemakers, Randall Graham of course, Charles Back at Fairview wines in South Africa, Thomas Bachelder in Niagara, Ontario. Thomas was a former journalist, so it’s almost like for any wine communicator, be a writer or a communicator first and a wine expert second is my best advice and those have been the best episodes. Those who focused on that.
So I think there’s lots we can all learn. Even if we don’t want to be professional writers and podcasters, as winemakers, as sommeliers, as even just fans of consumers of wine, you can improve, you can up your communication game by learning from the best. So there’s so many great books like Stephen King “On Writing”. He wrote a book that’s kind of a memoir biography about writing tips. Anne Lamott “Bird by Bird”, “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg. I can send you these for your show notes if you like. They’re amazing for anyone you know. You don’t have to want to have a be professional at it, but I think we all need to become better storytellers.
So back to your question, the best episodes have very much been storytelling winemakers. And then just I really do focus on writers and podcasters, especially those with new books coming out or who have podcasts that are engaging. So you’re in that category, Lawrence.
Lawrence Francis 31:01
Thank you. Thank you. And I think yeah you can look back and see the stats coming through. And certainly, something I did over the summer was to try to just get my arms around some of the data that was out there on my podcast. And I did I think a similar thing to you. I said okay who were the people? I’d interviewed 170 or so winemakers. I’d interviewed more than 20 Masters of Wine. And I’d interviewed sort of in the teens of educators and you know people who teach about wine. And I saw that gap, I saw that gap in my audience. And actually it was the educators who number one and there was quite a bit of a gap there. And I inferred something very similar. That if you’re an educator, you are communicating. And you also are usually doing it in a long form. You need to hold people’s attention. You need to have those hooks out there as you quite rightly say. You need to take them on this journey. And it’s not sort of you know wham, bam, thank you, ma’am, and here’s just an audio version of the tech sheet. It’s actually more around a story and making sure that that person is going to be I guess as engaged at the start of your lesson with them as they are at the end.
Unknown Speaker 32:18
Exactly. The hook is everything. You have to dive in feet first. Think about your favourite mystery novels. They start with a line that’s right in the middle of the action usually. My mother wasn’t the first one I thought I would kill in my professional career as an assassin. But it turns out that was it. So there’s no backstory. You don’t lead up to I was born in Kansas or Concord, Maine or wherever and then eventually you know didn’t like my mother. You’ve got to dive in feet first. And then you get the permission, once you have their attention, to back out and give some backstory and whatever other points you want to make. You’ve got to hook them right up front.
Lawrence Francis 32:57
Do you think that can be done in an audio format? Is there an equivalent of that?
Natalie MacLean 33:02
Yes, well, there’s a couple of techniques. In every audio podcast, I put a little snippet at the beginning of my podcast that is the juiciest bit of what someone said. Even before you hear the intro to my podcast, nothing else. I do this to my newsletter, too. I don’t have a graphic at the top I have the juiciest bit, sometimes it’s a personal bit, à la Laura Bell are amazing. Our favourite copywriter, right? Get right in there.
So you’ll have the juicy quote, just a couple of sentences or whatever of them speaking, intro, then the three questions because you want to open a loop, right. We’re not only are we wired for stories, we’re wired to know what the answers are. So you know my most recent one, I interviewed Mallory O’Meara, who just published the book Girly Drinks on the history of women and alcohol. Fascinating. My questions were, did you know that Queen Cleopatra and Egypt had her own private drinking club with Mark Antony. And that’s how her Empire fell. Did you know that the first wine bars were actually designed for women, not men? Did you know about ale wives and how the church shut them down? They were the first beer makers. So you want to find okay what are the answers here? So you open the loops, see a tease with something at the beginning. Open the loops. For me and podcasting. that’s jumping in feet first and then I introduce the guest and we go into it.
Lawrence Francis 34:25
Fantastic. And you I think yeah I’ve been one of the leading wind podcasters out there now since I think you said 2018 ?
2018. And yeah again from a slightly different angle, I’m curious as to what your output has been like really over that time. Have you grown consistently by putting out sort of regular content that I guess the audience kind of comes to rely on and look forward to? And has that changed at any point at all over that last sort of three plus years?
Natalie MacLean 34:58
Sure. What’s changed is I’ve gotten fussier about my guests, because I get pitched probably like you, Lawrence, with lots of winemakers. And it’s like I know you’re the third generation and you pick between the raindrops, but give me a story. So I’ve gotten fussier about the guests. I tend to pursue my guests rather than them come to me. But there’s always an occasional exception when someone knows how to pitch a story – or if I think they can tell a story – they might not have pitched it right. But if I think there’s a story there and I can draw it out of them. So that’s changed.
I’ve always had the podcast once a week, and I’ve just followed my own personal interests of what I’d like to learn about. My podcast, probably like you, has been a form of my continuing wine education. It’s how I learn and push further into my own knowledge of wine. I love your idea, though, and I’m going to talk to you about this on my podcast Lawrence. But I love your Netflix series kind of approach. So we’re gonna dig into that, because I think that’s fascinating the way you’ll do five or six episodes on a particular topic, or region, or whatever. I haven’t ever done that. And I think that’s kind of interesting. But really I mean the evolution has just been drilling down on interesting guests and stories and following my own passions and interests. I’m always watching who’s got a new wine book or drinks book – it’s mostly wine – published because usually (a) they’re motivated to promote it and (b) they know how to tell the story.
Lawrence Francis 36:24
Yeah, absolutely. And what about where people are listening? Has that also changed over time? Or is it stayed fairly consistent?
Natalie MacLean 36:31
I do get lots of emails and anyone listening to this is welcome to email me at [email protected] if you’ve got a comment. But I also love to know where people are listening, and I start my videos with that, too. And so it’s often you know this multitasking, doing something else commutes – while they used to be bigger than they were pre COVID – but people came back to podcasting even during COVID and now that it continues. They find other ways whether it’s lying down for an afternoon nap or you know doing other errands, physical errands. The podcast audience has continued to climb. You think, oh it’s going to diminish with commuting gone, but it hasn’t. It’s grown. People found new ways. And new people found podcasting as they searched for ways to entertain themselves now that they had maybe an hour or two freed up from not commuting. But I get bizarre answers to like, in a submarine you know, at the zoo with my kids you know. So they’ll download all the. That’s another thing that people can pre download. Even when you don’t have internet access, you can still be listening. So it’s everywhere.
Lawrence Francis 37:38
There’s no escape.
Natalie MacLean 37:41
There isn’t. And once we find you, you must listen.
Lawrence Francis 37:45
That’s it. I love it. I love it. Yeah, I think my favourite ever one was being tagged on Instagram. I think it was in New York State. I think it was a Fingerlakes farmer who had four hours of leaf blowing to do on the tractor. And I was you know honoured to be in their ears during that because it was in a fairly repetitive task. Just keep the tractor straight. You know you had the attachment to do the leaf blowing so that they didn’t have to get down. But just keep it straight, then go off path. And that was audio.
Natalie MacLean 38:17
Now wasn’t because you’re a blowhard yourself. No, no, no,
That’s great. I love hearing those stories. It makes me visualize my listeners. I want that picture, too.
Lawrence Francis 38:30
Absolutely and yeah.
Natalie MacLean 38:37
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Francis. In the show notes, you’ll find my email contact, the full transcript of my conversation with Lawrence, links to his website and podcast, and where you can find the live stream video version of these conversations on Facebook and YouTube Live every Wednesday at 7pm. You’ll also find a link to my free Ultimate Guide to Wine and Food Pairing. That’s all in the show notes at NatalieMaclean.com/219. Email me if you have a sip, tip, question or would like to be a beta reader of my new memoir at [email protected]
If you missed episode three, go back and take a listen. I chat about why you liked the wines you do with Marnie Old and Jean-Charles Boisset. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.
Unknown Speaker 39:31
And for many people, one of the reasons it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what it is that you like or dislike about a wine is because it’s so difficult to learn to recognize and describe the tactile elements of wine. The things that you feel on impact. The prickle of carbonation, that the kind of bracing knifelike edge of acidity, the mouth-filling richness that we get with higher alcohol content in the wine, and so on. These are not simply aspects of wine that are important to its taste. Starts with smell but also to the way that it impacts on the palate. And that, I have to tell you, is often the make or break factor for many people about whether they like a wine and want to try it again or whether they would rather try something new next time.
Natalie MacLean 40:17
If you liked this episode, please email or tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you know who’d be interested in the wines, tips, and stories we shared. You won’t want to miss next week when I continue my chat with Lawrence Francis. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week, perhaps a wine that you remember for backstory.
Natalie MacLean 40:48
You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full body bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at NatalieMaclean.com/subscribe. Meet me here next week. Cheers.