Review: The High Performance Podcast Live

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to see the High Performance Podcast live show in Oxford’s New Theatre. I went in completely blind, armed with only 2 minutes of internet research for the show. I must confess that I came in sceptical.

Podcasts have the unique appeal of being audio-only and cheap or free. Both of these attributes are missing from a live show so the idea seemed a little strange to me. I knew that this was originally a podcast about high-performing athletes led by a sports commentator and psychology professor. I was also certain of the fact that I cannot name more than 7 athletes.  

Nevertheless, I got comfortable in the large seats of the New Theatre and the audience was immediately plunged into a cinematic experience.  

Lights out, speaker bass up, and the large floating screens all combined to introduce the essential concept: high performance comes from within, and there are a range of paths to get there.  

Jake Humphrey and Damian Hughes were more than eager to introduce us to the concept and they entered to an eager applause. From the very beginning the format was clear to me: this is a show about stories.

We began with the story of its host Jake Humphrey and the bizarre world of fame and sports commentating. Jake has a clear skill for narrative. He transformed the unfamiliar experience of receiving widespread Twitter hate for your day job into a moment everyone could relate to. Sure, not all of us are famous, but many of us had to reassure a worried parent that things are going to be alright. Jake wasn’t scared to show his vulnerability, telling the audience that at the end of the day, he secretly appreciated the worried calls from his mum and he frequently joked about the quality of his early work.

Damian Hughes threaded the individual and narrative aspects of the podcast together nicely. Initially, he explained, the podcast was about athletes, but the show took a risk by bringing other voices in. With this range of people came a range of ideas, such as Dame Stephanie Shirley’s messages of how to excel in spaces you may not be initially welcomed in, or Ryan Holiday, who introduced the ideas of stoicism to the audience. A range of sources of wisdom, self-help concepts, and famous names were zipping through the show screens: Ikegai, Bear Grylls, Amelia Earhart, the Bible. Most had a story around them too.

Although the stories, concepts and jokes were honest and amusing, the strength of the show came with the introduction of the special guests. Singer Kye Sones, self-development coach Roxie Nafousi, and High Performance Podcast fan Craig really brought the concept to life. Kye movingly stated that the best period of his music career came only when he was able to address his mental health issues and anxiety. He stole the show when he performed two of his songs, supported by great stage management and lighting. The most heartfelt moment came humbly; Craig, a 40-something recently established business owner, sat opposite Damien. Craig had the space to discuss internalised homophobia and realising who you are only in the middle of adulthood.

Roxie Nafousi gave a talk of pure enthusiasm and self-assurance. She repeatedly mentioned her book about the concept of manifesting. She also talked about how the podcast introduced her to manifesting. This ultimately helped her move from a dark past of drug addiction. What made her talk powerful was its authenticity. 

Throughout the show neither Jake or Damian ever claimed to have the answers, but throughout the show they were eager to explore and present what worked best for people of different backgrounds.

This element of collective knowledge was important in the ending Q&A. Large basketball sized and shaped speakers were thrown around to weave in audience participation. The audience presented topics such as gender equality and the challenge of sudden disability to the floor and Jake and Damien would ask for the opinions of the audience themselves for answers.

The final element of the live-show to discuss is this audience. I managed to ask a few questions to audience members during the show interval. Richard, a listener for 8 months, found out about the show from his adult son and they would use these podcasts as a frequent topic for conversation. I also talked with Jonathan, a schoolboy who loved spending his Tuesday lunchtimes discussing the concept of high performance with his teacher and friends. He told me he did not miss a single episode.

The self-help industry has a range of areas for improvement. There are a range of commonly discussed issues with the industry that I tend to agree with and that also affected the messaging of the show. Most notable of which is the lack of a communal and social based approach to improving our own lives. This is an area that I would have liked the show to explore more. Nevertheless, Jake Humphrey and Damian Hughes successfully connected the most attractive and universal elements of self-help into the High Performance Podcast and the live show.

Image credit: Tymoteusz Syrytczyk

Image description: The High Performance Podcast Live show at the New Theatre, Oxford.