Asher and Joey Bykov are the co-hosts and producers behind The Debate Without Debate Podcast based in Roslyn, New York. Their podcast is dedicated to ending polarization through conversation.
Why did you choose to create a podcast instead of a blog or a website?
We both have a background in public speaking as debaters in high school. Podcasting was an easy way for us to continue our passion for public speaking and pluralistic dialogue. It also allowed us to reap the benefits of blogging and video production since there is a lot more researching, writing, and editing for our episodes than it may seem from an external perspective.
What inspired you to start your podcast?
As young, politically engaged teens, we were troubled by the overwhelming polarization we noticed in our own community. Travelling the country as nationally ranked debaters, we realized that we were not the only ones who felt that something was wrong. Instead of merely complaining about the problem, we decided to start The Debate Without Debate Podcast in January of 2019 as our first step in breaking through Gen-Z’s echo chambers by inviting thought-provoking guests to create a forum for depolarization through conversation.
We have interviewed the likes of Gary Vaynerchuk (CEO of VaynerX), Cal Newport (NY Times bestselling author of Digital Minimalism), and Nadya Okamoto (founder of PERIOD), as well as influential teens like Regeneron Science Talent Search Finalists and TikTok stars.
Most notably, we have been heard on the GaryVee Audio Experience (a top 50 podcast on the Apple Podcast Charts).
What does depolarization mean to you and why is it significant?
We view depolarization as a project to bring all people to the “table” to talk about their perspectives, regardless of those beliefs. Depolarization requires humility.
It requires the outlook that there is a chance (even if only a slim chance) that we are wrong.
In our experience, depolarization is most effective when talking to people from across the aisle. Whether it is on topics like the 2nd amendment, climate change, or income inequality, we encourage others to go out and just talk to someone you disagree with. Depolarization is about understanding why others have the opinions they have. It can be frustrating, especially today, when people disagree with us, but if there is anything we can take away from the debates we watch on the news it is that inflammatory attacks typically derail productive dialogues. “Depolarization through conversation” is about taking the mic back from all the smoke and mirrors you see on the news. We, the people, control the narrative and can bring healthy pluralism back to our seemingly broken world. And, it begins with a simple conversation!
Do you believe that social media connects our generation or prevents us from connecting meaningfully?
Social media is a tool, much like a pencil is a tool for writing purposes or glasses are tools to improve one’s vision. All too often, however, we are sucked into a matrix of mindlessly scrolling on social media, and it isn’t just a coincidence. These platforms were psychologically engineered by their developers to be as addictive as possible (a lottery machine if you will) because it drives dollars to stakeholders.
The result is something we call the modern connection paradox: the idea that we are even more connected than generations of the past, yet we feel lonelier than ever before. A secondary repercussion of social media is it has reinforced echo chambers instead of breaking them down.
Apps like Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and likes all function on an algorithmic base, which pushes content to you based on your preferences. On one hand, this tactic is beneficial for the end user because we find new content and creators. On the other hand, though, these platforms are reinforcing our ideas instead of radically testing them, which is a problem because it creates unconscious confirmation bias among users.
That being said, we can always take back control. Recently, we have seen the power of connection and information dissemination on full display with the increased attention on our public health systems, Black Lives Matter, and income inequality. It is undeniable that social media has played an important role in keeping us informed.
We would also add that digital detoxes have been incredibly powerful in reorienting our personal relationship with technology, and we would recommend it to anyone who feels lost or overwhelmed in these times. Professor Cal Newport, author of Digital Minimalism, spoke beautifully about this topic on our podcast recently. That episode should be live sometime in the next few weeks!
How can we cultivate meaningful conversations and relationships in the day and age of social media where we feel connected digitally, yet we are less likely to build meaningful connections through it?
Our #1 rule of thumb to cultivate meaningful relationships online is to take connections offline as quickly as possible. Obviously, during this pandemic, seeing others in person hasn’t been feasible. However, the beauty of this moment in time is that we do have software like Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, etc. to connect with people from all across the globe. Personally, we have been conducting all of our interviews over Zoom, and it has proved to be a really productive way of meeting people where they are most comfortable, instead of trying to coordinate a mutual location to meet.
How were you able to grow your audience?
One person, one day at a time.
We heavily subscribe to a piece written by Kevin Kelly called “1000 True Fans.” For anyone who is not familiar with it, Kelly’s theory is that most people only need 1000 “true fans” to create a sustainable business, living, or creative venture. True fans are those supports that are the first to buy tickets to your concert, first to read your articles, first to watch your videos, or whatever else you are working on.
With that in mind, we try to target the right audience more than having a generalist approach. We are looking to create a community of compassionate and empathetic GenZers who are willing to dive deep into difficult conversations, as opposed to shy away from them.
Our first boost really came when Asher started getting accepted to college. Many schools created Facebook Groups where prospective students would make introductory posts about who they were, where they were from, and what they were interested in. Asher recognized the immense opportunity here to pitch the podcast to thousands of likeminded young adults. More generally, we posted everywhere and anywhere we could – our personal social media, talking to our peers about it, asking others to share it, posting in forums, and much more.
What made you decide to create a tik tok for the podcast? Are there any advantages for businesses, organizations, podcasts, and creative projects that use tik tok?
TikTok is the most underrated social media platform at the moment. The viral potential on the app is unbelievable. It seems like someone new goes viral every second. As a matter of fact, we have observed firsthand as some of our own friends have amassed pretty substantial followings. The beauty of the app is that they have really removed the barrier to entry for video production with its in app editing software. Although we haven’t given much effort to our content strategy on TikTok yet, we are looking to make a massive push on the platform in the coming month.
Do you think that Generation-Z has any particular advantages when it comes to starting organizations, businesses, podcasts and other types of initiatives
110%. We are the first generation to practically grow up with a computer in our hands at all times. While this fact likely has had consequences for our development as a generation, it has also afforded us with the most valuable resource in human history: information.
When we resolved to create a podcast, we knew nothing about the industry, content strategy, creating a business, marketing, or the likes. Even just twenty years ago, we probably wouldn’t have been able to get to where we are today. We have learned almost everything related to this venture online, with minimal one-on-one guidance.
What is the most effective way to cold email someone you want to collaborate with for a podcast? Are there any strategies that have worked/not have worked?
Our most successful tactic is always frontloading with the value we can provide our guests. As an experiment, put yourself in the shoes of the person on the other side of the email exchange. Ask yourself, “Why should they come on our podcast?” For us, that means lending our 40+ country fanbase and passionate listeners to provide greater exposure for the interviewee.
Additionally, cutting out the “fluff” is more important than you can imagine. Get to the point as fast as possible and end the email with a clear question, such as “would you be willing to spare 15 minutes for an interview?” One of our previous guests, Keisha Brewer, calls this strategic communication. If you want to hear more on this topic, go check out episode 043 of our podcast titled, “Use This Communication Strategy To Get WHATEVER You Want with Keisha Brewer.”
There are so many podcasts out there. What do podcasters need to do in order to stand out? What has your experience with this looked like?
The differentiation factor really comes down to talent.
Now, talent can mean a variety of different things. You might be a talented editor; in which case, documentary style podcasting might be great for you. You might be a fantastic interviewer; in which case, you could excel in interview formats. Or, maybe you are a great storyteller and could create a narrative based podcast. Self-awareness and analyzing your skill set is a great springboard. We have dabbled in all three of these podcasting styles, but we have gravitated to an interview format much more lately.
Ultimately, we are living in a world based on an attention economy, which means you need to constantly show up for your followers. For us, that has meant diversifying the delivery of our content.
Instead of just uploading an audio file to Apple Podcast or Spotify, creating an Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, LinkedIn, Facebook, blog or any other platform can enrich the conversation off the podcast and keep your audience consistently engaged. Most importantly, go to the platforms that cater to your ideal audience and try to cater your delivery to that unique platform. In our case, we have seen streaming platforms, YouTube, Instagram, and potentially TikTok as crucial platforms for our growth.
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to start a podcast?
Start now with whatever equipment you have!
You are going to experience problems along your journey, but you will never succeed if you don’t just start.
When we began, we recorded with the Voice Memos app on our phone. After realizing that the audio quality was subpar, we did a bit of research and ordered our first mics. However, don’t let equipment get in your way of creating what you want to see in this world. Plenty of amazing podcasts exist without an immaculate studio or the highest quality microphones.
When you are ready, we recommend checking out these two FREE resources: Anchor.fm and the Google Podcast Creator Program!
What does The DWD podcast’s future look like?
We are incredibly excited about the future of DWD. The Debate Without Debate Podcast is just the beginning of our multi-media strategy to elevate the importance of depolarization through conversation. As our audience grows, we are able to attract new, high profile guests, as well as diversifying our content stream by testing out new segments. Most importantly, we look forward to treating DWD as a media startup, as opposed to a one-off podcast. Authentic monetization and building a team are two projects that are definitely in the works.
What hobbies, interests, career goals, and educational goals do both of you have outside of running and growing this podcast?
Joey: I look forward to applying our depolarization efforts in a different context. While I love podcasting, I want to depolarize the healthcare space. I am also passionate about health and fitness, as well as dabbling in personal training. Academically, I plan on attending university after my senior year of high school to study public health and global policy.
Asher: Aside from The Debate Without Debate Podcast, I hope to explore the podcasting industry further via internships and coaching from experts. I will be returning to Georgetown in the fall to begin my sophomore year to study psychology and business.
What is your favorite food?
Our favorite food comes from a restaurant only located in NYC and New Haven. It’s called Junzi, and it is basically Sweet Green meets homestyle Chinese kitchen.