The Shrink Next Door, Louis Theroux, Andrew Huberman, Emma Chamberlain and Joe Rogan. If any of these names ring a bell then it is quite likely that you are one of 16 million in the UK who regularly listens to a podcast. So what is the secret of a compelling podcast?
While video may well have killed the original radio star, digital has resurrected it to shine brighter than ever in this 21st Century format! The beauty of the podcast is that, if you have something to say, you have all the tools to present your topic to a worldwide audience.
At this point we will wave goodbye to the celebrity podcasters, who are a different breed, and focus on podcasts which provide information. With new ways of expressing ourselves the concept of a ‘presentation’ has taken on a new contemporary form. In much the way that Zoom et al have transformed the culture of corporate meetings over the past two years, engaging through audio and video media provides additional layers for communicating to your audience.
While some people thrive on video, many more would prefer to shun the camera and retain some sense of anonymity, and the podcast presents the perfect opportunity to do this. Nevertheless, as with every easy access medium, it’s not just enough to plug in the mic and let rip. The best podcasts are well scripted and take the listener on a short but informative journey.
Making podcast material engaging
Ok, so let’s be realistic. For the likes of Dan Snow, whose excellent History Hit podcast explores today’s headlines though the experience of the past, projecting by podcast is helped by access to interesting material. If what you are podcasting is rather more technical then the question for you is, how do you make it more engaging? The answer is to make your topic come alive through your energy and enthusiasm for it.
The best podcasts have a strong narrative and know how to keep the audience’s attention. This includes a clear introduction, sowing the seeds for what is coming later through the use of a sense of drama or tension. It’s the audible equivalent of writing a ‘page turner’ novel. So how do we do this with a technical product? We start by telling its story giving insight into its history, how it was developed thereby providing the listener with insights from the people who understand it and showing why it is relevant and necessary.
Preparing podcast material
A good podcast succeeds because it has read the crowd. If you are presenting a podcast then get into the head of your audience. Ask yourself who will be listening, why they will be listening and crucially where they will be doing it. For most people, the podcast fills a gap in their day, either enlightening dead time, such as a commute or car journey, or illuminating downtime. As with all presentations, attention to scripting is crucial. Good scaffolding gives the podcaster structure to hang their narrative from.
Quality not quantity! The best podcasts are short and sweet. They should be between 20 – 30 minutes so there is no time for rambling. The key is to swiftly engage the listener and to keep them there until the conclusion. Timing is very important in the segments within the whole too. An all-too-common mistake some podcasters make (especially when working in duo) is to spend too long in a longwinded introduction or overdo the banter at and fall into repetition or in-jokes that don’t chime with a wider audience.
Before you go down the route of investing big in cutting edge recording facilities, see if it’s you! It may not really be your ‘thing’ at that is absolutely fine. Just because your firm has gone podcast-crazy doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone should be in front of the microphone. If, however, it is your ‘thing’ and you are itching to give it a go here’s some great set up advice from those who already podcast.
- Use free software packages such as Reaper/Audacity to get a feel before stepping up to the likes of Adobe Vision and Logic Pro.
- Ignore the advertising for ‘podcast quality’ microphones. Instead follow the voice over artists and musicians and buy the mics they use (the Blue Yeti is my microphone of choice).
- Soundproofing is essential to ‘deaden’ the sound – if you don’t have your own in-built recording studio (and I’m assuming this is the case!) then shroud yourself and your mic under a blanket to create the same effect. It’s remarkably effective if a little stifling!
- Experiment with playback (at the beginning of the process to get the reproduction sound right). Do this on good quality headphones, poor quality headphones and speakers and compare the results. You want to achieve a happy mid-range. The sound quality if crucial – we make very quick decisions on whether to listen to someone or not based on the information our ears deliver to our brains and those ears are incredibly sensitive to the subtle nuances of the voice.
- Think like an editor before recording i.e. it’s better to start with a tight structure rather than have to edit down after the process has finished. It will save time and stress!
- Rehearse and find a style that engages. Remember that pitch, pace and tone of voice are your tools for projecting an audio impression. The material may be fantastic but it will die a death when delivered in uninspiring monotone. Record, playback, get feedback. Invest the time to get the style and delivery right.