I was a little late to the podcast game, but found them when I was doing research for one of my books. And then came Serial. Now I listen to a handful of podcasts on a daily basis and love discovering new ones. I even had a podcast of my own for a while, so I’ve been on both sides, as a podcaster and a fan.
Podcasting is the democratization of radio broadcasting. In the past ten years technology has opened up many platforms for the “everyday person” in publishing, video, and audio broadcasting. This means that most podcasters aren’t classically trained in broadcasting and are learning as they go along. If you are just starting out, have aspirations of producing a popular podcast, or have been podcasting for a while, please take the time to read my tips, below, from a listener’s perspective.
- Who’s Who? If there is more than one host or guest on a track, make sure the listener can differentiate between speakers. Voices might not be distinct enough on their own, especially with the same gender. At the beginning of each episode, introduce the speakers and let them say a couple of sentences so your listeners can put the name with the voice. Throughout the episode, refer to each other by name. Crime Writers On is especially good at this. They have four regular hosts and name each other throughout the episode. Rebecca Lavoie will often start a question directed at one particular person: “Toby, what’s your theory about the knife that was found under the bed?” We now know that Toby is answering the question.
- Laughing/Overtalking. Most of us have grown up in the sit-com laugh-track generation. You probably haven’t noticed, but we tend to laugh at ourselves every time we say something witty. That’s because the laugh tracks from television are so ingrained in our own heads, we want to bring them to real life. But in legitimate broadcasting, you’ll rarely hear a team of NPR hosts burst into ruckus laughter. For one, it messes with the audio volume (I’ll talk about that below). But most importantly, it takes up unnecessary time. I’ve listened to podcasts where there were over five minutes combined of the hosts laughing hysterically. Yes, I timed it. It’s not entertaining to hear hosts bursting into laughter between sentences. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to be morose. When Chuck Bryant cracks up Josh Clark on Stuff you Should Know podcast, Josh will give a short chuckle and I’ll usually laugh along, because it’s rare and he’s broken “character.” Bottom line: check your chuckles and edit out the laugh track. As for overtalking, nothing is discernible when two or more people talk over each other on a podcast. This isn’t a party in your living room. Practice taking turns.
- Audio Quality & Volume. Every Podcast 101 article says to invest in a good mic and how to get a clean track without echo. Audio quality is important, especially if you want your fans to listen to your show on a regular basis. You must also pay attention to volume. If there is more than one speaker on a podcast, make sure the volume is equal. You can do this by recording each speaker on a different track and adjusting before you record, or you can edit the volume in post production. Best to do both. Also, mind your breathing. We don’t want to hear your entire respiratory track on each inhale.
- Verbal Ticks. Your listeners are going to get to know your voice and hear it on a regular basis. Therefore you have to be aware of your own personal verbal ticks (we all have them). If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s a repetitive word or tone that you don’t even notice anymore because you do it so often. The most common verbal tick is “um.” Then there’s the word “like,” which like grew out of the West Coast Valley girl talk in like the 80’s. It’s like so annoying! Another common millennial tick is starting sentences with the word “So…” Just. Stop. It. And please, please watch the uptalk. Uptalk is ending a sentence with a rising intonation as if it was a question. Think the Kardashians? It’s really so irritating? Because we all want a statement to feel final? And it doesn’t? Uptalk makes a person sound immature, unsure of themselves, and has no business in broadcasting–period.
- Referencing past episodes. Serial is one story told over many episodes, hence the title, but most podcasts have one self-contained subject per episode. Be aware that listeners might not necessarily listen to your eps in order. If you reference a past episode, re-explain the reference, and tell your listeners how to find that episode by title or number.
- Referencing other sources. If you reference other sources–podcasts, websites, books–make sure that you document them somewhere for your fans. You can put links on your website or Facebook page for that particular episode. Even and especially advertisers. If I’m listening in bed, I might remember that there was an ad for a mattress, but won’t remember the name in the morning. Your sponsors will appreciate it, too.
- Engage with your listeners. Whether you have three avid listeners or three hundred thousand, acknowledge those who take the time to tune in. Read your fan email at the end of the podcast. Have giveaways with sponsors. Respond to fans on social media. You can’t afford to have a one-way communication in this day and age. Word of mouth is your best advertising, so keep your listeners happy and let them know that you, too, are listening to them.