You've been hearing a lot about podcasts lately, but maybe you're not sure what they're all about. Should you start one? If yes, where do you begin? Read on for a look at podcasts, including advice, practical tips and experiences from podcast veterans.
What Is a Podcast?
The word podcast is a compilation of "iPod" and "broadcasting." The most popular format for podcasts is MP3, which is "a standard technology and format for compressing a sound sequence into a very small file (about one-twelfth the size of the original file) while preserving the original level of sound quality when it is played" (WhatIs.com 2016). In simple terms, MP3 is a popular—yet not the only—audio file type for podcasts.
You can listen to a podcast, just like music, on any device that will download the audio file. Unlike with music, people can subscribe to your podcasts in the same way they subscribe to blogs. Your information gets automatically syndicated to your clients and interested followers. So a podcast is similar to a radio show, but it has "legs": It can be listened to whenever the listener desires, as it's not necessarily live.
Jen Levin, production coordinator for Inside Acting Podcast (insideacting.net podcast) in Los Angeles, and owner of www.findingmyinnerbombshell.com, defines podcast in straightforward terms: "A podcast is similar to a radio show but it is recorded. Listeners can use a variety of podcast apps (many smartphones have one pre-installed) to download and listen to the episodes. Listeners can subscribe so that new episodes appear in their apps automatically. Plus, people can discover the podcast years after you start it, and listen to episodes from the beginning if they'd like." In short, it's evergreen content that helps promote you.
Benefits of Producing a Podcast
"Most people start a podcast to expand or define their audience, or add to their social credibility," says Greg Vaughn, CES, multi-unit manager for Stay Fit 24 in Princeton, Kentucky, and producer of PT Nation Podcast at gregvfitness.podomatic.com. "It's a great way to reach more people, expand your network and gain more customers."
Margo Porras, host of NachoMamas Podcast at Blogtalkradio.com/NachoMamasPodcast, has been producing written, video and audio content since 2006. This San Diego-based entrepreneur says her most active audience engagement is with her podcast listeners.
Host of the Blissful Bites podcast at nicoleculverblog.com/podcast in Rockville Centre, New York, Nicole Culver waxes enthusiastic about the advantages of producing a podcast. "The benefits of hosting a well-put-together podcast are huge," she says. "The most important benefit is that it's something people can listen to while doing something else. They can fold laundry, commute to work, run, walk, etc. Your listeners also feel like they get to know you because your voice becomes so familiar. You obtain expert status quickly, because having a podcast gives you a different medium, and not that many people have podcasts. If you are hosting a podcast where you do interviews, then you are also leveraging the audience of your guest."
Is a Podcast for You?
All this advice is of no use if a podcast isn't a good fit for you. Rather than learn the hard way, take advantage of the insights of podcasters who have gone before you. Doug Holt, CSCS, MFS, of Santa Barbara, California, uses a variety of platforms to spread his message, including his two podcasts at www.dougholtonline.com/online-shows-podcasts. A podcast is in your future if you answer yes to Holt's questions:
- Do you love sharing your fitness passion with others?
- Are you willing to outsource the mechanics of running a podcast, if that's not your area of interest or expertise?
- Will you have 8–10 episodes ready to be recorded before you launch?
- What is your goal? Sharing knowledge, gaining clients and/or establishing yourself as a world leader?
Vaughn adds to this list with his own set of questions:
- Do you need to expand your audience or network?
- Do you need to add value to your current audience or customer base?
- How are you with speaking and technology?
- Do you have the time to commit to publishing episodes on a consistent basis?
What will you call your podcast? Choosing the right name for your podcast is incredibly important. If the title is very specific, you may regret your choice later if you broaden your scope. Or the opposite could happen: You pick a broad name, only to discover that your audience is a narrow, focused demographic.
What equipment do you need? "Starting a podcast is really easy," says Ryan Halvorson, personal trainer, freelance writer and editor in San Diego, and host of The Book Builders: On Books and Authors (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/book-builders-on-books-authors/id1115530410?mt=2).
"Basically, all you need is some sort of recording program or app; production software, like GarageBand; and a podcasting host site, like SoundCloud," says Halvorson. "Invest very little at the start, because podcasting might turn out to be something you decide doesn't fit with your mission. Once you've determined to continue, that's when you'll want to upgrade your software and equipment. How much time you spend per episode depends on how much production you plan to put into it. Many people simply record and post interviews, which require little time to edit and produce. I work on each 30-minute episode of my podcast over about a week, editing and adding in elements like music."
Experienced podcaster Rebecca Forstadt Olkowski, co-host of 2 Boomer Broads Podcast at 2BoomerBroads.com, out of Los Angeles, does the following for each of her podcasts: "We record, edit, add music (head and end music/voiceover), encode, add meta-tags, upload to our podcast host, insert the file into our blog post, write show notes, publish it on our blog and share it on social media," she says. "We've submitted our blog feed to sources such as iTunes, Stitcher Radio, TuneIn, Google Play and SoundCloud."
How much will it cost? Culver shares some basic figures: $30–$50 for a mic; around $30 for a call recorder for Skype (if you'll do interviews), or a $15-per-month fee to record calls; about $30 a month for a host such as Libsyn or Awesound; and variable editing costs. She also suggests taking a free online podcast basics course from John Lee Dumas ( www.eofire.com/products/).
Before anything else, suggests Holt, create a content calendar—with a variety of topics that allows you a "good flow and predictable pattern the listener can rely on." Decide if you'll be a host, a co-host or an interviewer of guests. Of course, you may be all three from week to week, and each style requires different plans.
"If your format is a Q&A," says Halvorson, "then all you have to do is develop questions for the guest(s) to answer that relate to the topic. I do a little digging before my interviews so I know what kinds of questions to ask. If you are the expert on your show, you'd create content in much the same way a writer would prepare a blog post. Pick a topic, do your research, then share what you have learned."
Olkowski suggests writing out a script beforehand, with the caveat that you don't want to sound as if you're reading when you use it. If you think that may be an issue, try using bullet points instead.
Culver lists some questions to ask yourself:
- What does your audience want to hear?
- What interests them?
- What are they struggling with?
Vaughn suggests you answer these questions:
- Who is your audience, and what do they need to hear?
- Who is your avatar (the image that represents you online)?
- What "voice" does your audience relate to—you, or your network/guests?
Tips for Success
"Drink water or eat some green apples before podcasting. A dry, sticky mouth is annoying to listen to," says Olkowski. "It's also best to be in a quiet room that will absorb outside noise. A closet full of clothes is perfect for a solo podcaster, because the clothes muffle extraneous sounds."
If you have an air conditioner, turn it off. Also, try to warn housemates to be quiet, and use preventive measures to keep your pets quiet.
Halvorson adds these tips:
- Pay attention to the sound levels, and make sure they are even. Sharp volume changes are off-putting to the listener.
- Listen to other podcasts to determine what format will resonate most with your audience. Then copy that format. There's no point in reinventing the wheel.
- Keep the podcast to 30 minutes or less. Keep the content moving. Philosophizing on a topic for too long will bore your listeners.
- Take a voice lesson or two. Your voice tone and how you say things can turn listeners off. Gaining expert guidance can help you fine-tune your presentation and sound more professional.
- Seek feedback from someone who will offer an honest opinion about your podcast. That way you can eliminate anything that could be annoying to potential listeners.
Getting the Word Out
Be sure to promote your podcast on all your social media channels, including your blog/website. Also promote it through any client emails or newsletters.
Make listening to your podcast as easy as possible. "For the nontechnical person, the idea of listening to a podcast is often confusing," says Olkowski. "As the producer, supply simple instructions on your website, via email or in person. iTunes, the main platform for podcasts, is particularly confusing. iPhones and iPads have a podcast app, but for listeners who are using Android, you might suggest a simple app like Stitcher Radio, which makes it easier to search for shows."
When starting out, don't worry about how many listeners you have. Instead, focus on relationship building. Culver encourages you not to "obsess over the numbers [of listeners]. Engagement and steady growth are more important."
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