Tips for Would-Be Podcasters
I started podcasting four months ago when I launched the first episode of Lifehack Live as part of Lifehack.org’s podcast series. Although I’d been listening to podcasts for a couple of years already, and had some experience behind the deck in a recording studio (granted, it was 14 years ago), I really had no idea how to produce a podcast that people would want to listen to. (Some of you might say I still don’t know how to do that….)

I was lucky enough in those first few shows to have guests who were very comfortable being interviewed, and shared with me some of the tips and tricks that they’d picked up from being interviewed on radio and other podcasts. Add to their expert tutelage my own surfing around the Internet in search of podcasting tips, and now a few months of experience, and I’ve managed to acquire at least a little podcasting wisdom.

While these tips won’t turn you into an overnight Leo Laporte, they should help you get your podcast off the ground and past the early frustrations. The good news is, if you can make it to episode 6, you’ve probably got some sticking power — most new shows tend to “podfade” (disappear without a trace) within the first five episodes.

1. Have a script.

While you can probably talk pretty well most of the time, the way we naturally talk is riddled with “umms ” and “uhhhs” and sentences that just trail off while you’re…

Unfortunately, this all sounds really bad when it’s played back. Write down as much as you can, in advance, so even if you’re trying to be spontaneous and off-the-cuff, you always have at least some language to turn to when you’re stuck.

2. Share your interview questions in advance.

If your podcast is centered around interviews, go ahead and send your interview subject your questions in advance. You don’t have to stick to them slavishly, but give your interviewee a chance to be prepared with a general idea of what you’re going to ask. You’re not a journalist looking for a scoop (of course, disregard this piece of advice if you are, in fact, a journalist looking for a scoop) so you gain nothing by popping surprise questions and catching your subject off-guard.

3. That said, be natural.

Your script and interview questions should be a guideline — nothing’s more jarring than an interview where the host just goes down the questions one after the other. Follow tangents as they arise, look for ways to segue from the current topic into the next. Aim for a conversational feel, both with your guest if you’re doing an interview and with your audience.

4. Leave the DJ voice at the station.

Put a mike in front of most people, and their voice drops an octave and they start talking like Wolfman Jack or some cheesy ’70s disco DJ. Use your natural voice, no matter how much you hate the way it sounds when you play it back. People seem to like podcasts because of their authenticity; if they wanted fake joviality, they’d be listening to Top 40.

5. Ask your interviewee to suggest questions

If you do interviews, it is incumbent on you to do some background research and put together some questions that you are interested in knowing the answers to. That said, your guest is an expert on their own work (hopefully!) and it never hurts to ask them what they’d like you to ask about. Often, they have new projects in the work that you’d have no way of knowing about, or you may find you’ve missed something in your background research that’s actually important.

6. Wait just a breath too long before asking another question

This is a common interviewer’s trick: wait just a moment too long after they’ve finished answering a question before you move on. If it becomes an uncomfortable silence, you’ve waited too long (I’ve done this a few times!), but just before that point is good. The idea is, people will try to fill the silence, and they might come up with something interesting and surprising since they’ve already said the “safe” answer they had prepared in advance.

7. When interviewing, your job is to make your subject look good

Again, you’re not a journalist exposing the sleazy underbelly of the Internet (and disregard this advice if you are a journalist exposing the sleazy underbelly of the Internet). You’re someone trying to share your interests and passions with the world. Your guest has agreed to be part of that, because they want to share their interests and passions with the world. Although I try to ask challenging questions, it’s always with the idea of giving my subject the opportunity to say something interesting in response.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t have disagreements — but make sure you agree in advance that the format of the show is going to be a debate, and remember that you have a lot of power as the host — don’t go all Bill O’Reilly on your guest! Be fair, give them the benefit of the doubt where needed, and try to present your disagreements in a constructive way. Don’t go after anyone who has agreed to help you with your show.

8. Schedule “planning days”

Here’s something I didn’t know — you’ll put at least 2-3 hours into your podcast for every hour of show you release. Some of that time is recording, editing, promoting, writing show notes, etc. A lot of it, though, is planning — getting your guests, researching your questions, writing a script, etc. Some of this gets easier with practice, but it all takes time. Schedule a day or two a month for planning out what you want to do, who you need to contact, what direction you want to nudge the show in.

9. A 30 Boxes hack

I created a podcast schedule using 30 Boxes, the online calendar application. Adding events is super easy, since it uses a natural language format — I click “add” and type something like “Interview with David Allen at 10am May 22″ and it creates the event. (Note: I have not scored David Allen. Yet.)

div#thirtyBoxes { width:150px; margin:0; padding:8px; font-size: 12px; font-family:”Lucida Grande”, Verdana,sans-serif; background-color:#F7F7F7; border-right:1px solid #ADAABD;border-bottom:1px solid #ADAABD; }</p> <p>div#thirtyBoxes .avatar { float: left; margin-right: 8px; } div#thirtyBoxes .tags { font-size: 10px; font-weight: bold; margin-bottom: 6px; margin-top: 8px;} div#thirtyBoxes .eventItem {margin-left:10px; text-indent:-10px;} div#thirtyBoxes .eventDate {font-size:10px; } div#thirtyBoxes .eventSummary {color:#666; font-size:10px; } div#thirtyBoxes .header {font-weight: bold; margin-bottom: 6px; } div#thirtyBoxes .footer {margin-top: 6px; background-color: #eee; font-size: 10px; } div#thirtyBoxes .eventBlock { cursor: pointer; }

Here’s the cool thing: 30 Boxes generates all sorts of ways you can embed your calendar into your podcast’s homepage — or anywhere else. So you can put a little badge that looks like the one to the right onto any site, listing your upcoming show topics.

10. Have fun.

Podcasting can be a lot of work, but it should also be enjoyable. This is such a new medium that there really aren’t a lot of rules — so you can’t break them. Ease up on yourself, stay natural, and let the words flow. Set some goals for yourself, and focus on reaching them — don’t worry about whether you meet the standards set by someone else, since frankly, they’re making it up as they go along, too.

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