Some tips for new podcasters

A few weeks ago, I made the trip to London to do a podcasting course at the Guardian offices – this meant driving from South Wales at 5am on a Sunday morning (no public transport to get me there on time) – it was worth it.

Podcasting seemed to be seen as quite a nerdy format in its early days.

However, as the popularity of Serial shows, it’s a medium that people are not only listening to in increasing numbers but, importantly, it’s a place where people are giving lots of their attention – podcasts are often 45- 90 minutes long. A juicy prospect, perhaps, for communicators trying to get people to spend five seconds reading their tweets or a minute watching their Facebook videos.

podcast-share-of-ear-1030x579Image credit: Edison Research

Here are some of the insights I took away from the day as well as some quick tips.

Big credit to my favourite speaker of the event – Ollie Mann, who co-hosts the Answer Me This Podcast and does loads of other good stuff. His part of the day was so useful as he was very frank and forthcoming with the details of his inspiring story of going from amateur podcaster to radio broadcaster and all round brilliant media dude.

Don’t promote it!

Ollie said that he and his co-host Helen Zaltzman didn’t tell journalists about their podcast, or make any big efforts to promote it until they were happy with it. He recommends we publish but wait until episode 15-20 to tell the world, when things are running more smoothly and you have something to show people.

I love this advice as it just felt right to me.  Some of my best projects started with no permission, veered wildly off plan and when I knew I had something to show – that’s when I got my buy-in.  I hope I get so good at podcasting that, in the future, the ones I do this year are thoroughly embarrassing.

*I’d better not mention that I’ve been podcasting with the awesome Ben Proctor for the past few months. When I’ve found my feet and feel my nattering is as entertaining and useful as co-host Ben’s, I’ll come back here and tell you more.*

I’d add that, in my experience, it’d be hard for a perfectionist to do this. Luckily, I’m happy to play, get things wrong, sound like a plonker. As long as I’m learning, it’s worth fighting the voice in my head saying “people will think I’m thick/hate my voice/hate my personality”. Screw that.

Intimacy 

Unlike with radio, people often listen to podcasts through earphones or alone in the car. They choose to listen at a time right for them, and they might binge on episodes.  This creates quite a different connection between the listener and host than with live radio.

What I take from this is that we don’t have to be like slick news readers – for the length of each podcast we can just aim to invite people to join in our world.

Aleks Krotoski on the Guardian Tech Weekly podcast is like the cool geek mate I wish I had. 

I love Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo almost like friends – I’m in on the the in-jokes and laughs on Wittertainment and I hear them more often than I see many of my mates.

Evan Davies has been like my friendly business mentor with his podcast, The Bottom Line. He asks respectfully cheeky and enquiring questions of his very cool guests. I listened to hours at a time from the archives when I set up my company and I’d buy that guy a drink any day.

A great example of intimacy, suggested during the Guardian event, is the WTF episode where Marc Maron interviews Obama. It’s a good one, give it a go if you’ve not heard it.

Quick tips

General

  • No talking over the guest/co-host.  It sounds obvious but it’s surprising how often we might be tempted to do this and quite tricky not to encourage the speaker with ‘mm hmm’, and ‘yes’ and other verbal affirmations we use in normal conversation.
  • If you have two hosts, know your individual strengths and stick to them. Don’t try to be someone you’re not.

Recording and editing

  • Back-up. Always check it’s recorded before your guest leaves and if disaster strikes beg them to do it again!
  • Use a pop shield. I was delighted to know the real name for the little foam covering that I have for years called a spoffle. It cuts out wind noise and stops your ‘P’s and ’T’s sounding harsh.
  • Record in the most soft furnished room in your house. It will make the sound less echo-y. So not a boardroom or place with hard furniture. If you hear air conditioning, switch it off. Draw curtains, shut windows, turn off tellies, stick the dog outside.
  • Keep your microphone nice and close to your mouth.
  • In the edit, aim for consistency of volume. Ensure all levels are similar so people listening don’t have to turn it up and down.

I’ll finish by saying – this is just a fraction of what was discussed at the event and I do recommend the course if you’re interested in learning more about podcasts.

I’m just a beginner – please tell me more tips and your experiences of podcasting in the comments.

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3 thoughts on “Some tips for new podcasters

  1. Pingback: It’s all about the podcast | Ben Proctor

  2. It sounds like an interesting session Helen, The Guardian know a thing or two about digital communication although I’m never sure they were ever aware they had a radio division.

    I subscribe to an avalanche of podcasts, more than I ever have time to keep up to date with, so even though I download them all I have a pecking order with the must-listens (Kermode/Mayo, Danny Baker, Bob Harris, Mark Schaefer) guaranteed a play and the rest fighting for my listening time.

    As a broadcaster my views on podcasting are different from those of some podcasters. I know a few of them feel a podcast should always be original content rather than edited radio programmes (see preferred list above). I couldn’t disagree more, it’s all broadcasting and as always it’s the content that will decide on how many downloads result. There’s an anomaly of course in that downloads don’t mean “listens”. I can download 10 editions of a podcast and depending on available time I may only listen to 1.

    I take Olly Mann’s comment that “everyone expects your podcasts to be rubbish at first” with a large P of S. Seems a bit glib to me, still when you have a Sony Award or two you can make these generalisations I suppose. If you start a podcast as I will be soon hopefully, use the initial ones as “dry-runs”, learn what works and what doesn’t, gauge an optimum length for your content but DON’T PUBLISH. why would you? Don’t give your listener the chance to form an opinion about your content until YOU are happy with it. You should always be your sternest critic, if you’re not happy with what you’ve created, don’t expect anyone else to be.

    I often search for podcasts using keywords to see if there’s anything new around that I might like to add to my creaking library. I see one I fancy, download it, have a listen and……it’s not very good.Maybe the audio quality is poor, the content might be weak or the presenters under-prepared. I decide to unsubscribe. How do they get me back if and when they get good?

    A podcast can never give you that magic relationship that a live radio broadcast has with its listener because of the in-the-moment experience. What they can do however is fit into our lives in the way we want them to. Almost all of my “radio” listening is now to podcasts or on-demand services (the BBC radio player as it’s otherwise known). We become our own programmers, we decide which of our podcasts suit our mood, time of day, the weather etc. and that’s the wonderful thing about them. If I want 3 shows from the world of “Wittertainment” in a row. I can have it.

    The world of podcasting has given anyone the chance to broadcast about their interests and passions and ultimately as with all forms of entertainment, the listener will decide with their ears and downloads.

  3. I agree with the logic behind Olly Mann’s comment about not publishing one’s first podcast efforts. However, I started @PodcastPeldroed (http://www.podcastpeldroed.co.uk/) a year ago about the Wales football team, and right from the off via a message board community tried to be open and humble enough to invite criticism and suggestions for improvements. In this way it has evolved and, hopefully, improved in a very public way. I and my co-podcasters have made mistakes – lots of them: recorded in the wrong venues, lost bits of recording, been verbose, talked over each other… The biggest error in hindsight was trying to involve someone via skype in the very first episode we ever recorded. The very definition in podcast terms of jumping in feet first! Taking time to edit your podcast before publishing it is always helpful (personally I’d say vital, but it’s horses for courses and is based on time available)

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