I figure, if I want to learn podcasting tips that can help my show stand apart in the crowded podcastosphere, I might as well go to the people who have made a living from doing audio well.
And I also go a little help from a new friend - a guy named Cal Newport. Well, Cal's not actually my friend, but he's like a long-distance mentor via his books and interviews.
Cal's book "So Good They Can't Ignore You" inspired me to work at becoming the very best I can be in a chosen field.
The field I've chosen: Podcasting.
So.... reading a book by the folks at NPR about audio reporting and recording was right up the alley of my learning curve.
This episode is about the podcasting tips I learned from the good folks at NPR.
Main Points : Podcasting Tips from NPR
- [4:09] The benefits of audio (why we are audio people)
- [7:10] NPRs tips for making good recordings
- [16:28] Best practices for working with a co-host
- [20:50] Tips for doing better interviews
Podcasting tip #1 : Get clear on the benefits of good audio
As I said, the folks at NPR are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to recording and producing great audio. We podcasters can learn a ton from them and the book “Sound Reporting” outlines a lot of those valuable principles.
Here’s a sampling of the points the author shares about the benefits of good audio… keep in mind, he spoke in terms of audio in general. I changed the points to reflect our particular form of audio, podcasting.
- Podcasts are portable (for the listener)
There’s a benefit to audio that you can’t get with video or theater, or any other form of communication. That’s its portability. People can listen on the treadmill, in the car, in the backyard pushing a lawn mower… anywhere.
That makes audio powerful in terms of its ABILITY to be consumed by the end user.
- Podcasts are intimate (spoken to one)
Yes, we want to have more than just one person listening to our podcasts. But when we think in terms of the individual person who may be listening, it opens up a whole new perspective that enables us to be more effective.
When you’re recording, imagine yourself speaking to one person - just one.
How would your manner change? What sort of voice tone and inflection would you use? How nervous would you be? Do you see the point?
This is a tip you can apply to your podcasting that could make your process and actual outcome more effective because it’s more effective.
- Podcasts are nimble (easy to do anywhere)
- Few things affect us like the sound of the human voice
There are lots of sounds that impact us. The sound of a siren. The bell that rings to end classes at school. The screeching of brakes.
But the sound of a human voice is more powerful than any of those. It is filled with meaning, emotion, depth, significance, much more than anything else we hear.
Podcasting enables us to make the most of that reality. We’re able to use the human voice, perhaps the most powerful communication tool in the world, to impact the lives of other people.
- Sound tells a story
We all love a good story. That’s why movies - and now narrative style podcasts - are so popular. Stories are told primarily through sound.
Yes, a skillful drawing or painting can tell a story of sorts, but it’s not as complete, not as impacting as a story told through the spoken word. Even words on a page are not as powerful. Notice how the audio book genre is growing?
These are just a few of the podcasting tips I learned reading the book, “Sound Reporting.” I hope you’ll pick up a copy and read it for yourself.
But if you’re not interested in reading, at least listen to this episode.
Podcasting Tip #2: Learn how to make good recordings
A good recording involves more than hitting the “record” button and speaking into a microphone. There’s lots of nuance and skill needed to do it well. Here are the tips I learned from the book about the HOW part of making good podcast audio...
- Write and speak for the ear (not the eye)
This point has to do with people who use scripts or bullet point outlines as part of how they make recordings. That’s very common in a highly produced radio project like the folks at NPR create.
But the point is well-taken, even for those who use a script.
That’s because when you think in terms of your listeners actually BEING listeners, you start to realize that we don’t hear things as well the same way we read things. It’s weird, but it’s true.
- Simpler is better (be comprehended the first time)
Podcasting is a bit different than radio - which is what the NPR folks are writing about in this book. They only get one chance to get it right for radio because it will be broadcast once and then it’s over with.
So listeners need to be able to hear it and understand it the FIRST TIME. So, in that sense simpler is definitely better. But I think there’s a great podcasting tip for us here…
The same thing is true for us.
Yes, our listeners CAN skip back 30 seconds to hear something that we didn’t quite say clearly enough… unless they are jogging, or driving, or….. Hmmmmmm.
Maybe it’s worth it for us to put a bit more time into our podcasts so that our listeners don’t have to do any back skipping to relisten. It seems to me we’d be serving our audience better by doing so.
- Present information at a pace and in a form that allows people to absorb it
Some of us talk fast. Guilty as charged.
I think my brain gets going faster than my lips can keep up, but it doesn’t stop me from trying!
The tip I hear from this point is that we have to learn to slow down so that what we’re saying can have the time to register in the brains of our listeners and be truly understood.
Understanding is what we’re after, right?
- Write the way you speak - to one person (not hundreds or thousands)
- Don't use words you wouldn't use at other times (lends to authenticity & aids comprehension)
I laugh at how many of us podcasters seem to go into “announcer mode” the moment the record button is depressed. But there’s no need for it… our audience typically wants us to be us. Go figure.
So Jonathan suggests a great tip for us podcasters - don’t use words you wouldn’t normally use. Not only could it sound forced… it can very easily feel inauthentic, because it is.
Stick to what you know. Stick to who you are. Your audience will thank you for it.
- Be aware of cliches and look for alternatives
- Avoid unnecessary jargon - explain what you must (to a smart but distracted 10th grader)
I loved this point - Jonathan says that if we are able to imagine ourselves talking to smart but distracted 10th grader, we’ll be doing well.
Isn’t that great? Our listeners are smart, but they may be distracted - by kids, by traffic, by social media, by a TV blaring in the other room - so we need to speak simply and plainly.
- Know and pronounce names correctly
Podcasting Tip #3: Make your co-hosting situations the best they can be
The points listed below are pretty self-explanatory, so I’m going to leave most of them to speak for themselves. But first, I want to say this…
It’s my opinion that unless you’re someone famous that people are fawning over and dying to hear speak… get to the point.
Don’t sit shooting the breeze with your co-host for the first 5 to 15 minutes before you get to the great content your episode title promised. Get with it.
People are busy. And your listeners are busy people. Give them value right away without all the weekend catch-ups and news flashes of your baby’s latest achievements.
My opinion. Clearly.
- Discuss a mutual goal/point for the episode
- Communicate ahead of time
- Create lists of suggested questions
- Inform about your own POV and possibility of sharing it
I did want to say something here. Jonathan points out that co-hosts can add some flair or pizzaz to their recordings by being aware of each other’s points of view.
Think: cable news shows with co-hosts.
When you’re able to inject a bit of disagreement into a conversation, it’s a lot more fun to listen to and people are likely not going to click away until they know the outcome. So… take the time to discuss your topics together - enough to know if you might get to fight a little during the episode.
It could be fun - for you and your listeners.
- Suggest sound effects, clips, etc.
- Have notes handy that contain facts, stats, etc.
- Remember it's a conversation, not a polished script
- Don't say, "That's a good question."
- (mine) Rapport goes a long way, but keep it on target for your goals for the episode
Podcasting Tip #4: Learn to be a GREAT interviewer
This entire section of the book was great. Jonathan shares wonderful tips for any podcaster who does interviews regularly. It’s a skill - and it can be developed.
- Be curious
I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. Let me drive it home a bit…
If you’re interviewing to connect with influencers, that’s only half the battle. You’ve got to make those influencers like you and value the connection you make with them. How do you do that? By being curious - truly interested in what they have to say. And more so, how they learned the things they share with your audience.
Curiosity is one of the cure-alls for people who don’t know what to ask. Just think about the person and start asking yourself questions about them - then turn around and ask them.
- Be skeptical (human nature & agendas)
- Look and listen for the truth
- Listen well (inject emotion and genuine interest into it)
The stories your guests tell matter to them. You want those stories to matter to your audience as well.
The better you listen, the better you connect with your guest’s stories, the better you’re able to help your listeners do the same through penetrating follow up questions and the like.
Don’t just look at your list of pre-selected questions to see what you’re going to ask next. Listen and learn right along with your listeners.
- Absorb information clearly
- Do everything to avoid factual mistakes
- Always engage in small talk first
Engaging in small talk before you launch into an interview does a handful of very beneficial things.
#1 - It puts the interviewee at ease. Nothing like a tense guest to make for a boring show.
#2 - It enables you to make a personal connection, and people share more with people they feel personally connected to.
#3 - It allows the guest to forget that they’re being recorded - sometimes. They get so comfortable with you they relax.
#4 - It establishes the beginnings of a relationship upon which your entire conversation will be built. Don’t take this lightly. Your guests need to feel comfortable with YOU before anything else.
- Play dumb
- Yes/no questions should be avoided
- Either/or questions should be avoided
- Ask for analogies to clarify technical subjects
Analogies are word pictures. Ask your guests to use them when a concept or idea is hard to grasp. You can say things like…
“Tell me what that’s like…”
“What is it similar to that my listeners would know from everyday life?”
“How did it feel to experience that kind of situation?”
When you take the time to dig deeper, your guest’s expertise will be able to shine through even more.
- Put the same energy into your questions as you'd like from the answers you receive
This is another gold nugget tip for podcasters.
Don’t ask boring questions and don’t ask questions in a boring way.
The energy you demonstrate in asking is the energy that will come back in the response.
Podcasting Tips From True Audio Professionals
So… these are a lot different than Aaron Mahnke’s recent “10 Super Sassy Podcasting Tips” - but they are just as important.
Maybe more so… because nothing against Aaron, but he’s relatively new to the audio broadcasting scene compared to Jonathan and the folks at NPR.
What they’ve learned through the years can serve us well, if we will apply them well. :)
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