Welcome to the second episode of Causecasts! Our guest today is Bill Monroe, the host of Strokecast, a podcast focused on raising awareness and sharing information on the symptoms, risks and recovery of stroke. Bill himself experienced a stroke at what seemed like a young age and it was this, in combination with his belief in the podcasting format and desire for positive communal work that led to the creation of Strokecast. Another reason for Bill, and a point he makes during our conversation, is the seeming increase in strokes in the younger generation. Although there is no definitive answer to why this occurring, Bill hopes to open up the conversation and build towards more awareness, prevention and care.
During the episode we look at the podcasting work Bill did before starting Strokecast and draw some links between his first podcast, Two Minute Talk Tips, a podcast focusing on public speaking and his newer work on strokes. Bill also explains his philosophy around podcasting and why he sees it as such a strong format for delivering meaningful content in the contemporary climate. Our guest is also very open and generous in telling us about his own experiences and personal recovery and what this process has meant to him. The discussion ends off with Bill offering some inspirational advice to anyone thinking about starting their own podcast with a cause, so be sure to tune in and hear it all!
• The reasons Bill decided to launch a show called Strokecast. (01:20)
• How can we account for the increase in strokes among the younger generation? (03:46)
• Some of the reasons Bill is so connected to podcasts and what they offer. (06:03)
• Looking at the ways in which a podcast is easier to create than other content. (11:21)
• Comparing the creation of a podcast with a cause with Bill prior experience. (14:05)
• An overview of where Bill is at with his own recovery. (18:10)
• Bill’s advice to anyone considering producing a podcast. (23:55)
• How to get involved with Causecasts! (26:36)
Bill Monroe, host of Strokecast
Support Strokecast: Donate to American Heart Association Puget Sound Chapter
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[0:00:02.6] MP: Hi and welcome to Causecasts. I’m your host, Mathew Passy. Here at Causecasts, we have one simple mission: to highlight the amazing folks who are using podcast as a way to raise awareness for good causes. Whether that’s a non-profit they work with, a charity they support, a social justice campaign they are championing for, a medical condition they are battling or someone who is just looking to make a positive impact on their local community, state, country or the world. These are podcasters with a positive mission.
Along with raising awareness for our guest’s favorite causes, we’re also going to see if we can raise some money to support their efforts. So make sure you check out the show notes for each episode at causecasts.org to learn more about what they’re doing and how to help them achieve their goals.
[0:00:50.6] MP: Well, today, we are bringing on an excellent guest who is – the point of his show. Strokecast, is to increase awareness of stroke symptoms, risk factors and navigating the world of recovery. We are joined by the host of that show, Bill Monroe.
Bill, thank you so much for joining us here on Causecasts today.
[0:01:06.7] BM: Thanks a lot, I am thrilled to be here.
[0:01:09.1] MP: Bill, just to start off and to setup what we are trying to do here. Why is it that you first decided to launch a show called Strokecast?
[0:01:20.2] BM: Well, I’ve been a long time consumer of podcast, going way back to my early iPod days. I actually started my first podcast in December 2016 called Two-Minute Talk Tips, tell people who come more effective public speakers. Then last summer, I had a stroke. Woke up one morning and had lost the use of the left side of my body. I spent the next month living in the hospital and in that time, I was like, “Well, now I’m just a marketing guy, it’s time for me to go ahead and learn way more about neuroplasticity and neurology and anatomy and physiology than I ever thought I would know.”
I started looking in to it and the first place I go is, “Well let’s see what podcast are out there on this topic?” While they were a few podcast out there that help stroke survivors recover and learn how to rewire their brains to go ahead with the business of living, there weren’t that many.
I mean, there’s the Enable Me show out of Australia, there is the Slow Road to Better out of Virginia, there’s the Hand in Hand Show from the Stroke Focus Network but there really wasn’t a ton of stuff out there for stroke and the other thing I found is that from other technology resources, the Facebook Groups were starting to pop up but there really wasn’t a ton of stuff out there that focused on younger stroke survivors.
And stroke incidents is increasing rapidly among Gen X and millennials. There just wasn’t a ton there and I really wanted to help change that, to help share the stories of people who go through these life changing and potentially life ending events as they do the – what seems to be an extraordinary thing of rebuilding your brain and reshaping the way it works so you can do things again like walk and talk and bathe and get on with your life.
[0:03:22.3] MP: I definitely want to dive a little bit deeper into your personal recovery and learn more about the road that you’ve gone to be in this place that you are today. I mean, it seems like you’re pretty much back to living a fully functional life and out of the woods with all this but I’m sort of curious, why is it that millennials and Generation Xers are more prone to strokes today than previous generations at the same age were?
[0:03:46.1] BM: That is a very good question. A lot of folks, a lot of times we just don’t know, there’s a lot of research and studies going in to trying to figure that out. A few things that are possibilities include some better diagnosis now as awareness has increased, we think more people are getting the hospital but there’s also a ton of lifestyle changes that we’ve seen over the last 30 years, which has impacted this.
The growth of a more sedentary lifestyle definitely contributes to it. Main causes of stroke tend to be high blood pressure which of course has impacted by diet, by physical activity levels and by the stress that we deal with online and in our corporate life.
We’ve also seen increases in diabetes diagnoses among younger folks and that is also a main cause of stroke. At the same time, one of the big positive stories that we’ve seen is the decrease in smoking on younger folks because smoking and tobacco use is another huge thing that leads to stroke.
But I think a lot of it is lifestyle and dietary changes that have happened but there very may will be something else going on out there and there are PHDs working on all sorts of things, trying to figure out just what the heck is going on.
[0:05:15.3] MP: You know, I would not be surprised that the sedentary lifestyle plays a huge part and not just that you're sitting but all the other things that – all these consequences of not being more active and sitting for longer periods of time, I’m sure is playing a large role and I’m sure that’s going to turn out to be a big part of their findings when all is said and done. I don’t know about you but as I sit here for a long period of time editing podcasts and talking to people through a microphone.
I’m also curious, you said you enjoyed consuming podcast and you were someone who was producing one at the time. Why was it that when you were looking for information, you thought, the first place I want to turn to is a podcast. What is it about this medium that is so gravitating, that’s so engaging, that made you want to find the information there first?
[0:06:03.1] BM: Podcast work on a few levels, especially in my case. First of all, from a very practical level, one of the things I found out is that it is difficult for me to physically read a book. Because I don’t really have use of my left hand back yet. To read a book, you have to hold it, you have to hold it open and you have to figure out how to turn pages. With two hands, that’s easy. With one hand, it’s more challenging.
The other thing I found is that I like to do a lot of other things and I need to do a lot of other things. One of the things that’s part of my recovery is having to go out and do things like ride the exercise bike or when I travel to various places and I like being able to consume podcast while I do those things. If I am working out on the exercise bike or going through my other physical therapy exercises, I can do that with my headphones on or connect it to my Amazon Echo and listen to the podcast as I do that.
On those rare occasions when I clean the apartment or do the dishes, I can listen and consume podcasts while I do other productive things. When I’m driving some place and I have been lucky enough that the impact of my stroke were purely physical so I didn’t lose the cognitive skills is that I can be listening to podcasts in the car while I drive and do other things. It really helps maximize that time.
The other thing that’s really great about podcasts and that I really like it as a producer, especially for more sensitive and important topics is there is an intimacy to the podcast medium that you don’t get with other things online. It is very rare that you could actually go up to a stranger and start whispering directly in their ear without getting arrested in the process. But with podcast, all the people are just taking the earbuds and putting them in and there is no other medium that really offers you the opportunity to talk directly into somebody’s head in that same way. I think that becomes really powerful.
The other thing is just that natural connection where when you start sharing stories among other people about - whether that is very factual stuff or whether that is a personal experience of what they’ve encountered. It really sort of leverages that oral story telling tradition that has been a part of human culture for thousands and thousands of years. The oral tradition is how history, was shared forever, it’s how all of the world’s major religions got their start. There’s this tremendous power to storytelling that podcasting is really a natural fit for.
And then the other aspect of it is that the barrier to entry is so much lower than what we’ve seen from traditional media over the last 30 or 40 or 50 years. There’s no one to stop you from making a podcast, there’s no one to stop you from sharing your story, there’s no one to stop you from being heard and that is in an awesome and amazing thing, the technology has helped to enable these days.
[0:09:32.1] MP: Well, it’s amazing because you transitioned from talking about your decision to consume and it’s your decision to produce it and that barrier to entry is just as true on the consumer side. It costs nothing to access podcasts. Even if you don’t have an expensive iPhone or Android device, as long as you have access to the internet, some sort of internet connection, you can get access to this content, it’s 100% free in 99% of the cases in the podcast that are out there.
I love also the idea that – I know this of myself. My health, my ailments, they’re very personal and it’s tough to admit that you’re having a health problem, it’s tough to admit that you need help with a health problem and so I love the idea that podcasting is such an intimate form of entertainment media, information resource that you can consume it on your own, feel a very personal connection to it and maintain your – I don’t want to say your pride, but just sort of feels like the best word that comes about it.
You have this relationship with the content creator and you can get that kind of help without having to feel super vulnerable to, possibly other people.
[0:10:49.9] BM: Yeah, it really lends itself to - one of the words I’ve been thinking a lot more about is the idea off discretion.
[0:10:55.6] MP: That’s a great word.
[0:10:56.5] BM: Very discreet.
[0:10:57.7] MP: Yes. That’s exactly the word that I think I was trying to find that I couldn’t quite come up with. I imagine too, in talking about some of the ailments that you are still dealing with as a result of the stroke that also producing podcasts are easier than say, writing a ton of blog content, producing video, things of that nature, would that also be the case for you?
[0:11:21.3] BM: To an extent. I have – I do still do a lot of typing, I’m actually – taught myself, thanks in part to sticky keys which is one of those features of Windows that most people find annoying when they accidentally turn it on. But suddenly, when you have only one hand to type, it becomes really useful but I’m up to 30 words a minute typing on a traditional keyboard but I just don’t have the patience for doing a ton of proof reading.
As far as video goes, video is a great medium and I am looking at it to integrating some more video and screen casting to what I do in a limited context but video does require so much more work to get it right. And video consumption requires so much more direct attention from the consumer. I don’t watch a ton of videos online because it’s just not how I choose to consume my content.
I can’t really watch the videos and give them the attention they need when I’m riding the bike or obviously when I’m driving.
[0:12:30.1] MP: Right.
[0:12:31.2] BM: It limits some of the opportunities for consumption. Nothing against any of the folks who are making their way on YouTube and doing some absolutely amazing things with video and again, we’re seeing that elimination of the gatekeepers again. Video itself though, it has a different role and it promotes a different type of connection. That will resonate with some folks and audio only content will resonate with other folks and that’s the beauty of where we are. You can consume the content that is going to connect most with you in the way that it’s going to connect most with you. That’s where it comes from, there is no way, I don’t think I could produce 45 minutes of video content a week to the quality level that I would want to do. In a way that I can do with audio in that same amount of time.
Plus, I’d have to wear pants more often, so there’s that.
[0:13:34.2] MP: If you’re not, it’s okay. I was going to say, hope you're wearing for this but if you're not, that’s fine, it doesn’t bother me.
What have you learned in your experience in terms of, you said you were creating a podcast previously and you were helping folks with their public presentation skills. Is there something different when you’re creating a podcast for a cause, when you’re doing awareness, when you’re doing something in this realm in terms of the marketing or the creation of it that people should be keeping in mind that’s different from just traditional podcast creation?
[0:14:05.4] BM: From a content production standpoint, I don’t approach it very differently. What I would say is that especially when you start looking at causes and things like this, whatever you’re going to talk about, be passionate about it, believe in it and you’ve got to have that behind you.
When it comes to public speaking, I didn’t get into that podcast specifically because I thought, this is going to be a great niche where I can provide really tactical training and build an empire on it. If that ultimately happens, that is fantastic. But I wanted to do it because I wanted to make the world a little bit better, because there’s so much bad public speaking out there. So much ineffective stuff, so much infective PowerPoint and it doesn’t have to be that way. If we can make – help people become more effective presenters, that is going to have a huge impact on their confidence level, on their personal success and the people around them just because they’ll have a better experience in that.
Whether that is going to be in everything from his basic as sales presentations to doing great keynotes and to using those skills to tell their own stories for their own causes because public speaking is a tool that enables things like advocacy for the American Heart Association or advocacy for whatever other charitable organization you are a part of and you want to support.
It’s about developing those skills and the confidence to get out there, make your point and share your story. When it comes to the Strokecast, what I find is that it’s the same thing. Only here, I am using the tool rather than teaching the tool in the same way. But ultimately, it is about what do you believe in, how can you be authentic and tell that story in a way that will connect with people, in a way that would help them live their life better and to make the world a little bit better place.
When it gets with tactical perspective, the core elements of it are the same and the way I produce the content is the same. I start with the idea of what I want to talk about, what I want to accomplish in this episode, what points do I need to make to get there, what other sources do I need to refer to, to get there. I build out that outline and then I can go ahead and start recording and start producing. I am probably about 80% scripted, essentially on my public speaking podcast, on the Two Minute Talk Tips. On Strokecast, I am probably closer to 60% scripted. And that’s just the nature of the content and the stories that I choose to tell. But the core elements are the same. Decide what you want to do, decide how you’re going to get there and then go do it.
[0:16:59.7] MP: Excellent. Well it is interesting it sounds like your podcasting goals have always been somewhat altruistic. That Strokecast itself isn’t unique to being a cause podcast per se.
[0:17:11.1] BM: Right, exactly. You know if you are going to spend your time and your effort doing something, you should do it because you believe in it and because that is what’s going to get you going and that is what is going to keep you going if things don’t go as well as you might like. Maybe if your traffic isn’t as high or if - even in your career, you want to try and find things that you could be passionate about and that you can believe in because if you are spending that - giving that much energy and that much of yourself to something, you better have a very good reason for that.
[0:17:45.8] MP: Yeah, absolutely. So I don’t want to take too much away from having people listen to the show itself but I did promise that I’d just dive just a little bit deeper into your recovery.
So where do you stand with your recovery from the stroke? You mentioned your left hand is still having some issues and that makes certain tasks a little bit more difficult but just sort of a 5,000 foot look where things are for you personally with this.
[0:18:10.7] BM: My recovery has actually gone fairly well. It’s better than most people expected but not as good as I would like it to be. Which I think is probably that healthy way to approach it. But I walk with a cane now and an ankle brace. So basically I can still walk some distance but in about one third the speed that I used to and it does take more energy. So I do end up getting a little bit more tired. I actually need to get my seven to eight hours of sleep at night.
Which again is probably one of those things I should have been doing all along instead of trying to force myself to get just four hours because there was something on the internet to still read. So that has been an element. It took me about 10 weeks after stroke until I was approved to drive again. I have movement in my left arm and I can make a fist but my grip strength on my left hand isn’t great and I can’t actually voluntarily open my fingers yet.
So in the medical parlance I have, flection in my fingers but no extension yet. Fortunately for the type of work that I have historically done and the types of projects that I personally prefer to engage in, it hasn’t had too much of a negative impact on that. If I go to work for a company, I am just as effective on their softball team now as I as before the stroke. So there is that, I was never like a guitar player. I was trying to teach myself to play mandolin for a while. Just so my friends could say they saw Bill Monroe played the mandolin live. But eventually, I will get back to that.
But a lot of it is just trying to figure out how can I force my left hand and left arm to do things in everyday life and that means trying to open doorknobs with the left hand or flip light switches and yeah, it takes a lot longer and it is clumsy and it’s ugly but the more I do that stuff, the more functionality will come back because the thing about stroke and these impacts is that there is literarally nothing wrong with my left hand or my left arm or my left leg. It is literarally all in my head.
There is a chunk of scar tissue of dead tissue in my brain now that got starved for blood over the course of a few hours and my brain is now trying to build new neurons and rewire things and relearn how to do things and rebuild those connections and that’s what happens and that’s why recovery is still possible months and years down the road.
Thirty years ago they used to think that the brain cells you’ve got when you were born that’s it. You don’t get anymore. What they’ve learned since the research that we continue to grow new brain cells even into our 80s and the fact that stroke victims and survivors and survivors of other TBIs, traumatic brain injuries, can recover functionality and will recover skills is that we are relearning this things.
So the brain is actually going ahead and rewiring those billions of neurons to regain that functionality. And yeah, it is sometimes difficult to get it all the way back to the way it used to be but if you do the work, if you focus on it you can get that functionality back and you can continue to grow and to recover and to get better.
It is one of my favorite word is now the word yet and I talk about things that I can’t do. It’s that I can’t do them yet. I can’t use my left hand easily, yet. I can’t type with two hands yet because I want to acknowledge the reality of today to make those plans and efforts to make things different tomorrow.
[0:21:54.0] MP: That is so incredible and one of the reasons I love doing this is I get to learn so much new stuff. I didn’t realized that, as you were sort of eluding to that there is nothing wrong with the actual appendages or the parts of your body that have been impacted by this. That it is literarally just retraining your brain to be able to communicate the signals to get them to do what it is that you want them to do. And so I am fascinated in learning that and I am also just in awe of your determination and your spirit to say, “Go to hell. I am going to get this done. I am going to be back to full recovery.”
So I think it’s amazing what you are doing. I think you are quite an inspiration. I think the listeners of Strokecast and future listeners of Strokecast are very lucky that you are hosting the show.
[0:22:38.9] BM: Well thank you. It is a lot of fun to do it and anytime I can help others who are going through the same thing and whether that’s a practical tip or whether that is simply helping them think about things in a different way, that’s what makes me happy.
[0:22:53.1] MP: Amazing and as you were saying before and I think it’s true of all podcast ventures, choosing to use this medium for good. Whether it is a social, medical, political, any kind of positive change on our community, on the world around us and the people around us to do it with passion. You are just going to have so much more success if you are genuinely interested, in your case generally invested in the information.
In my case, I just have genuine curiosity about folks who are doing this who want to learn why they’ve launched it and what they’re hoping to accomplish but yeah, I mean being authentic, being genuine and just being passionate about what it is you are going to do is always going to make you a success and that’s especially true with podcasts that are being produced for a cause.
[0:23:41.8] BM: Absolutely.
[0:23:43.0] MP: Well Bill, I guess the only other question I have is any other advice that you would want to provide for someone hearing this and thinking to themselves, I want to launch a podcast that benefits the cause that I am passionate about?
[0:23:55.7] BM: Sure, do it. Just do it. There is a ton of stuff that you can learn about podcasting. The best way to craft your website, the best way to market it, the best way to wire your audio. Which type of microphone to get, there’s all of these stuff, just get started. You don’t have to be perfect, just get started and do it. If you haven’t done any of it yet, maybe you’ve got your big cause that you want to talk about. Maybe you are afraid of doing it a disservice, that’s fine. Then just start something else. But just do it because you are going to learn so much and figure out what actually works for you by just getting the stuff done.
Start and iterate and figure out how you can grow and how you can do it better and if you are not sure you are up to it and you’ve got your favorite podcasts, listening to episode 500 or whatever of your favorite podcast and you’re like, “I don’t know how I could ever do that,” you know what? Go back to their first or second or third episode. Go back to all of your favorites and see what they were doing five, six, seven years ago and see how it was. See how much it sucked relative to what they are doing today.
It is okay, you start with that and you could build something great but you are never going to complete building something great unless you just start putting those two bricks together.
[0:25:21.7] MP: It’s funny you mentioned that. I always tell people about podcasts like, “Don’t worry about being terrible in the beginning, think about your favorite television show that has been on the air for six, seven, ten years and go back and watch the pilot and see just how awful it was.” How awful the wardrobe was, the set, the production value, like everything about it is terrible but it made it to this point because you just have to get it going and you said it beautifully. You know just do it, if you have the passion for it, go out and get it started.
Well, we have been delighted to chat with Bill Monroe. He is the host and creator of Strokecast. You can find out more information at strokecast.com and I thoroughly encourage everybody to check this out, learn a little bit about potential symptoms and risk factors and obviously, if you have suffered from a stroke please check it out so you can get inspiration and help in the world of recovery on this topic.
And what we are going to do is we’re going to set up some fund raising. We are going to try to do a GoFundMe to benefit the American Heart Association, the Puget Sound Chapter and we encourage you all to give and contribute and to support a cause that is a very, very important one to Bill. So Bill, thank you so much for joining us here on Causecasts today.
[0:26:33.7] BM: Thanks a lot, it’s been great.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:26:36.0] MP: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Causecasts. Again, if you’ve been inspired by the work of our guest, please check out the show notes in your podcast app or head to causecasts.org. There you will find links to the work of our guest and a special donation link set up to support their favorite cause.
All the proceeds are going directly to that cause minus any administration fee on the platform that they set up. None of the money is coming here to the Causecasts production. Also while you’re at causecasts.org, make sure you follow and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or wherever you enjoy your podcast show and follow us on social media as we’ll try to provide updates on what is going on with our guests and some other folks who we’ll be featuring on the show and any other efforts that we have to support the community of Causecasters that are out there.
Now there is also going to be a special Facebook Group dedicated to Causecasters. So if you already have a podcast for a cause or you’re thinking about launching one, join the group. It will be dedicated to providing resources and answering questions specifically for Causecasters. Hopefully we can do things like arrange some special non-profit pricing of various podcast services to help you with your venture and keep you under budget because we know a lot of people doing Causecasts are not going to be reaping in the money. So we want to see what we can do to help you produce a high quality product, get your story out there, get people inspired and not break the bank.
Lastly, if you are a Causecaster and you want to join me here on the show for an interview, please head to Causecasts.org and fill out the interview request form. We’ll take a quick look at it and if approved, we’ll schedule you for chat and show the amazing work that you are doing with Causecasts, raise some awareness for what you’re doing and ideally, raise some money as well.
Thank you so much again for staying with me and we will see you next time on Causecasts.