Podcasting has been been around for a long time now. Regardless of whether you produce your own or even listen to podcasts, you’ve surely heard the term by now. For those of you that haven’t, podcasts are, quite simply, downloadable audio (or video) files that can be listened to (or watched) on a computer or portable player. Most commonly, they’re listened to on an MP3 player, such as an iPod.
I’ve been listening to podcasts on a regular basis for years. I love to listen to them, on my iPod, while I walk – to and from work, on my lunch break, or around town in general. Whether it’s feeding my “guilty pleasure” of recent goings-on in hockey, hearing the latest in nutrition and health, learning about technology and marketing, or getting pointers on productivity, I find I enjoy my walks that much more, to the point that I often go for a walk or extend my walk just to listen more. You could say podcasts keep me in shape! When hiking in nature, I like to take in the natural sounds of the birds, wind, rushing water, etc., but in cities, I prefer to shut out sounds of traffic and construction and focus on a fun and/or learning experience. Some people I know like to listen to podcasts (such as TED Talks) while they work, if the work is something that doesn’t demand deep concentration or problem solving. Point is, there are plenty of opportunities to listen.
Benefits of Podcasting
Why do people podcast and should you consider doing it for your business? In a word, yes. Consider it, that is. Just like blogging and some other marketing methods, podcasting requires a commitment on your part, but it can really pay off. Following are some of the many benefits:
- It’s a great way to reach your existing audience (if you have one) in a different way – many people (like me) prefer the ease and passiveness of listening to something, while doing another activity.
- You can connect with a new group of people, who prefer to listen than to read (or who do both).
- It can be a great way to network (more on that below) with others.
- You can get a leg up on your competition (most of whom likely don’t have a podcast of their own).
- It can be a lot of fun!
There is a bit of a learning curve with getting going on your podcasts, as with any technology (and we’re not going to go into the details in this post), but once you get the hang of it, it’ll become second nature. If you do decide to take the plunge, below are some suggestions on what to do and not do.
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Do’s and Don’ts of Podcasting
Do: Publish Your Podcast on a Consistent Basis
Once you establish a loyal following, your listeners will expect to get to listen to your podcast fairly regularly. There’s the commitment on your part. To keep people steadily interested, you need to connect with them often. Daily is a lot to ask of most of us (unless podcasting is going to be your top marketing mechanism), and monthly may be too infrequent to keep much momentum going, but if you’re able to do a weekly show, that’s probably a good goal for most of us. Once you learn the technicalities and logistics of podcasting, it might only take an hour or two out of your schedule, which shouldn’t be too much, once a week.
Do: Use Quality Recording Equipment
Although you don’t need to book time in a professional recording studio, it is very important that your podcast has good sound quality. Otherwise you’ll lose listeners. Invest in a good microphone. You can pick one up at an electronics store for under $100 – ask a sales associate what he or she would recommend for podcasting. Chances are, if you “cheap out” on the $20 mic, you’ll be back, looking for a better one.
Also, make sure you have a good set of headphones and/or speakers. Although the quality of these isn’t nearly as crucial as that of the microphone, you’ll want to be able to hear any guests you have as well as the playback of your recording well.
Finally, make sure to use good recording software. Again, we’re not getting into the technical details in this post, but there are plenty of good quality programs available, many of them for free, such as Audacity. Find one that you can comfortably work with, that produces high-quality end files.
Do: Decide on a Time Length for your Show
Although it’ll vary somewhat, decide approximately how long you want your podcast to be. It may be 15 minutes or it may be two hours. Whatever you feel comfortable with and what you think your listeners would like. Then try to stick as closely to that length of time as you can. It’ll make the regular production that much easier for you and your audience will know what to expect each episode.
Do: Choose a Focus for each Podcast
Just like when writing a blog post or other article, you can’t just start without a subject, you need to decide on a topic for every podcast. Otherwise it’ll go nowhere fast. You probably don’t want to just read a pre-written script, but you may want to jot down some points to keep things flowing. As with writing, think about what you’re knowledgeable and passionate about and/or what your audience would like to hear about. You may want to focus on questions clients/customers have asked you.
Do: Have Guests
Some people are good at talking on their own about a particular subject, but if you’re not an engaging speaker, even if you really do know your stuff, that may not be very enjoyable for your audience to listen to. This is where guests come in. Having a conversation with an expert in a certain field generally makes for better listening. And it keeps the onus off of you having to do all the talking. Plus it usually helps to answer many of your listeners’ questions. While an expert might speak about highly technical stuff, having an interviewer ask basic questions gets the information more in layperson terms.
Having a guest usually makes for a more natural conversation. If the guest is a colleague, you may just decide to discuss both of your thoughts on a certain topic. Or, if you have someone from a complementary field or business as your guest, you’ll probably want to do more of an interview style, where you ask questions to help your audience understand the subject matter.
How do you find guests?
You probably have several colleagues that you work with or have a professional relationship with that you could ask to have a recorded discussion with you. For instance, if you’re a massage therapist, you probably know other massage therapists, with whom you could discuss any number of common physical issues or the latest research.
Or, shake things up by interviewing other healing professionals. Again, if you’re a massage therapist, you could interview a chiropractor about how chiropractic adjustments can affect muscle tension. Or you could interview a homeopath to talk about homeopathy’s role in relaxing the mind and body. Perhaps you could speak with a rep from a health product company about natural muscle relaxants.
You’ll find, if you put your mind to it, you can probably come up with a pretty good list of potential guests, whether you know them well or not. And, over time, don’t be surprised if people start asking you if they can be on your show!
Do: Use Professional Music and/or Voice-overs for Intros/Extros
Some people just start right into their podcast, beginning the conversation from the get-go. While this is efficient, it can feel a bit jolting to the audience. I certainly don’t recommend an elaborate intro – i.e., don’t make me click on my 15-second forward button a few times – but a short musical and/or spoken intro (say, around ten seconds) is a nice way to get things started. There’s plenty of inexpensive instrumental music available on the Internet, that you can easily use at the beginning and end of your podcast. There are also many professional voice-over artists, who will read and record a spoken introduction for you, at a reasonable cost, if you don’t want to do it yourself. Putting together a short intro/extro adds a layer of legitimacy to your podcast.
Don’t: Ramble On
As with the introduction to your podcast, one of my biggest pet peeves is when a preamble seems to take forever. I won’t mention the name, but one hockey podcast that I listen to is usually very enjoyable, but I almost always need to fast-forward through the first 10-20 minutes, as the hosts ramble on about their weekends, a movie they saw, what their kids are up to, etc. Not that I mind a quick bit of small talk before getting into the “meat” of the show, but the reason I’m listening is the supposed topic of the podcast, so get to it quickly.
Don’t: Use Inside Jokes
This is sort of a subset of the “Don’t Ramble On” point, but another pet peeve of mine is when the hosts (if there are two) share an inside joke that only they or a few people would understand. Although a casual conversation style is generally pleasant to listen to, remember that you, as the host(s), are not just speaking to your co-host or guest, but for the benefit of your audience. Imagine you’re talking on a stage with a real audience down below and stick with what they want to hear.
We’re all human (at least, I think we are!) and we’re bound to make mistakes. The beauty of recording a podcast is, should you or your guest have a coughing fit or say something that you wish you hadn’t, you can simply cut that bit out, using your editing software. You can also even out too-low or too-high sound levels and get rid of some background noises (I should have mentioned: record in a quiet space if you can!). Trust me, for the few minutes of effort this will take you (or your assistant), your audience will appreciate it.
Do: Post Your Podcast on iTunes
Make sure your podcasts are saved in the proper format (usually MP3) and in a reasonable file size (which will vary, depending on your target audience and their expectations) and upload to iTunes. iTunes is the place to have your podcast listed. You can determine which category to register under and that helps listeners discover you and download your show. If this technical part of the job is not something you feel up to (or don’t have the time), hire a professional to do it for you. Usually your web developer can do it or recommend someone.
As I mentioned, podcasting can be a lot of fun. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find that you actually look forward to your weekly preparation and recording session. Your passion will come through in the podcast and your listeners will enjoy and get that much more out of the experience.