Making a podcast can be stressful at times. Here are some tips to reduce that stress and app some polish to your show without putting hours into it afterwards:

Before the “Day Of”

  • Contact any guests and explain how the show will progress. Talk to them about the things you want to discuss, but don’t send them a specific list of questions unless it is absolutely necessary. You don’t want them to script their answers or go on autopilot and start giving a lecture instead of being interviewed.
  • Plan your show. Write up a basic “schedule” for the time you’ll be recoridng. You can adjust it a bit on the fly, but you should have some idea of what you’ll be doing throughout your taping. It may help to make it in the shape of a clock, with wedges for the segments you plan to do. If you want to be really organized, color code your radio “clock,” and write any relevant notes on matching-colored notecards. That way, if you get confused, you’ll always be able to just grab the right color card and get back on track.

Day of the show: Before you start

  • Make sure you have all recorded material you want to play while you’re recording ready (if you add this kind of stuff later, you can ignore this step). If you have intro music, taped segments, or other audio you want to play, put it all in one folder on your computer and cue it up in your software.
  • Unless you are totally comfortable with the your setup, run a test before you start. If you’re doing a phone interview, call a friend (or even your own cell phone) to make sure everything is working. It never hurts to take a few minutes and make sure everything works before you do something for your audience.
  • Make sure the area where you are physically located is quiet and free from distractions. Radio listeners feel as if you are always focused completely on them, and it can be quite jarring to hear someone else walk into the “studio” or to have a pet suddenly interrupt an interview.
  • Make sure you have your schedule handy, as well as any notes, written intros, and any other references you might need. If you are using your computer to show your notes, make sure that all of the files are open and on the screen, preferably organized so when you close one, the next one you need will be right behind it.

Starting your show

  • Be sure to have an introduction prepared, and timed to match any music you are going to play. Better yet, some hosts pre-record the intro, match it with the music, and just play it at the beginning of their show. Either way, you shouldn’t play music for more than a few seconds before you start introducing the episode, and you should make sure that the music fades down so it is much quieter than your speech by the time you start talking. If you want to play a longer track at the beginning, do it after the intro.
  • Within the first few sentences, you should introduce yourself, make sure you say the name of your show, and highlight one or two things you are going to talk about.
  • Make sure you actually start your show within the first minute or two you are on the air. Don’t spend a long time at the beginning promoting your Facebook group or asking for Twitter followers — you can do that during the show, or at the end. Instead, get right into the “meat” of the program as soon as you can. If you want to promote, just give one URL (your blog, website, or other online presence) and get started.

Making the audio make sense

  • Keep segments short. No matter how long your show is, make sure that each component is less than ten minutes long. If it is a long-form interview with one person, make sure you significantly change discussion topics a number of times. People will drift away if you spend too long on one thing. If it helps, try to think of your show as a series of “mini-shows” that all fall under one umbrella.
  • Be aware that podcasting has the potential for tremendous reach. People who aren’t in your target audience can find your show at any time. How? Well, someone may embed your podcast on their site or even download an mp3 and email it to a friend without any explanation. This means that you should strive for a show that makes sense to anyone from any background, even if they’ve never heard it before: If you use a term that is unique to your topic, explain it. If you mention someone or something from a previous show, include a two-sentence recap. People may not be aware of the context of a conversation. Your job as host is to provide that context.

Wrapping Up/Promotion

  • When you get to the end of the show, make sure to leave time to promote yourself. This is where you can give URLs, invite people to subscribe, and ask people to write iTunes reviews — it’s far more appropriate at the end of the show, after they know what it is they are reviewing or signing up to receive. (Yes, this tip is reused from this post.)
  • Tell people when and where they can listen to your show, and how often you post new episodes.
  • Word-of-mouth can be the best marketing, so ask your listeners to tell their friends about the show. Remind them about posting Facebook messages, Twitter tweets, and old-fashioned emailing of links — they won’t always think to do these things, after all.
  • Be sure to finish the show and end the recording before you do anything else. Nobody wants to hear you drinking water or eating chips, and you really don’t want your audience to overhear you turning to talk to your husband or wife, or making a comment about being “glad that’s over.” If that happens, edit it out before you post the MP3.

After You Finish

  • When you are done, make sure that the description of the show matches what you actually said. Add tags for anything that came up but you didn’t plan to talk about, and add any URLs mentioned to the text.
  • Promote what you just did online, using Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites. especially if it is relevant to your friends. If an interview went very well, say so, and thank the interviewee publicly on Twitter.
  • Make a few notes about things you can do better next time. If you write them down and look at them before you start your next episode, it will be that much better than the one you just finished.
 

A podcast is a great way to deliver information, but you need a way to

  • Make a new blog post for each episode. At minimum, re-post the show description you embed in the MP3 (you do that right?). Even better, add as much information (and as many tags) as you can. The ideal situation is a summary of the show’s contents broken down by when in the episode they appear, followed by a full transcript of the entire show (if you go this far, place the transcript after the blog’s “more” tag so it only appears if people view the entire post).
  • If at all possible, add a picture to each blog post — and don’t take it yourself. Do a search for Creative Commons licensed images, or look for appropriately-licensed photos on Flickr. Tell the image’s creator that you used it, even if the license doesn’t require it — they may be flattered enough to tell others. Whenever you use a photo, add a comment to the image on Flickr (or wherever it came from) letting other viewers know that you used it. This will let new people know about your show indirectly, and look good for the photographer.
  • Name your blog and show appropriately: Either give the blog the same name as the show/podcast, or make a category on your blog that matches the name of the show. Ideally, you would have the URL, name of the show, and name of the blog be the same.
  • Put prominent links to your RSS feed and your iTunes store URL (found by right-clicking the image in your iTunes listing) in the sidebar of your blog, and consider putting them at the end of each post as well.
  • Embed individual episode players in each episode’s post. In addition, provide direct links to the MP3 download for each episode in that episode’s blog post.
  • Optionally, put a direct link to your podcast’s RSS feed, but replace “http://” with “itpc://” this will immediately subscribe anyone who clicks it to your show in iTunes, rather than just bring them to your iTunes listing.
  • Add links to your social networking profiles (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) in the sidebar. This will get you more friends and followers — AKA people you can easily tell about your future episodes.
  • Use a service like Feedburner to provide an email-based subscription to your RSS feed. This will appeal to less tech-savvy members of the audience.
  • Make sure your blog allows easy sharing of your posts to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. You want people to be able to click a button and re-post an episode easily. If your blog doesn’t currently support this, look for a plugin that adds it — they’re everywhere.
  • If you have the technical ability, make a 30-second audio promo for your show, and ask others to play it. Include a link to the MP3 of you promo on your site, and encourage visitors to share it.
  • Always make sure that comments are enabled on every post on your blog. You want people to be able to discuss the episodes where they find them. If people comment, reply promptly — you want your audience to feel like you care about them.
 

Before you interview a guest on your show, someone has to track them down, ensure they are willing and able to talk to you at the time required, and check that they can actually speak intelligently and coherently on the topic you want to cover. This list will help you go from “I want to talk to someone about [topic]” to “Dr. Topic Expert, it’s so nice you could join us…”

Getting started

  • Finding the right guest means being a researcher, a detective, and a salesman. You need to learn about the topic and discover who the experts are in that area, track those people down and get them on the phone, then convince them to take part in the interview.
  • You’ll also need to make sure that the guest really is an expert in the area you want to cover, and that they can handle talking about it under the pressure of a recording situation.
  • Beyond just testing to make sure that the guest will survive the interview, you also need to decide if they will be engaging enough that your listeners will enjoy their contribution to the show.

Booking celebrities

  • If you hope to have a famous person on your show, realize that they are going to see it as doing you a favor, not the other way around. For the most part, celebrities will have higher-profile ways to get their stories out than being a guest on a podcast, so you need to understand their motive for talking to you.
  • You will most likely need to talk to a celebrity’s publicist, press secretary, or other “handler” before you can talk to the person themselves, so you have to impress upon that person that you have done your research and are truly fascinated with their boss’s work (their latest album, book, or sponsored legislation).
  • If the “official” point of contact doesn’t work out, sometimes you can go through your target guest’s manager, chief of staff, or someone else who you know has access to the person.
  • If “we just don’t have the time” is a problem, ask “How can I make it more convenient for you?” Perhaps you can book it well in advance, or can schedule a time when the celebrity will be in the car or taking a break. Some celebrities are less busy outside of “prime time,” so if you’re willing to willing to get up early or stay up late, you might get the interview you couldn’t swing otherwise.

Booking a topic rather than a person

  • Sometimes you want an oceanographer, an expert on immigration, or a car salesman, rather than a specific person. In other cases, you want to talk to someone whose house has been foreclosed or who has survived leukemia. In these cases, you want to know how to do your research and — once you find them — approach the potential guest with warmth and friendliness.
  • Start with an internet news search on the topic. If you find someone who has been profiled in an article, you know that they are open to talking about the topic. This also helps solve the “How did you find me?” problem — you saw them mentioned in the paper or heard them interviewed on the radio.
  • If you are looking for an expert, try searching for the topic on Amazon.com. This will give you an instant list of authors who have written about something, along with brief biographies of many of them that may aid your getting in touch with them.
  • For cancer survivors, working-class artists, horseback riding enthusiasts, or other such people, look to online forums or other meeting places that cater to your target group. Look around a site, then start contacting contributors with the qualifications you are looking for.
  • For more geographically-focused topics (a Pit Bull ban in a certain city, or South Florida retirement communities, for example), look to the local newspapers. The writers to the letters-to-the-editor section or people quoted in articles on the topic can be great contacts and guests.
  • Be ready to explain exactly who you are and what your show is — both in terms of coverage and technology. Many people are still unfamiliar with podcasts, so be ready with a quick “it’s radio that people listen to online” explanation. It also helps to know how many people are listening, and what types of people make up your audience. This will help to convince someone that it is worth their time to talk to you.

The pre-interview

  • Once you’ve gotten in touch with your potential guest, you need to do a pre-interview. The purpose of this conversation (which in some cases can last as long as the actual interview) is four-fold: to make sure the person is actually knowledgeable, to gather information to make the actual interview go more smoothly, to find out if the person will make a good guest, and to schedule the official interview.
  • It is important to ask questions about the topic, not just about the person’s availability. If your questions are somewhat open-ended, you will get a better sense of the person’s ability to react on-the-fly, to sound like they’re having a conversation rather than giving a lecture, and — more importantly — to tell interesting stories.
  • Be sure to follow up on any vague answers to make sure that the person can really address the topic head-on, and ask “Can you give me an example?” a couple of times to hear what kind of stories they tell.
  • Once you are sure you want this person to be a guest on your show, explain to them how the recording will work, and offer to do a short test with them if they are uncomfortable with the technology.

If you’ve done these things, you’ll be head and shoulders above other podcasters (and many TV and radio hosts) when you actually interview your guest. Your listeners will appreciate the professional outcome — and so will your guest.

 
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© 2010 Adam Weiss: Podcast Consultant