After reading last week’s column, you went out (or stayed in, depending on the weather) and bought/downloaded/rigged up your own podcast studio, and now you’re… stuck. You’re staring at your phone, the app you’re recording with is running, and no words are coming out. You might feel the urge to panic; I’ve spent more time recording and deleting things out of fear than I have recording and keeping pieces, but it’s okay. Take a breath. Let’s talk about technique.
Pick Your Niche
Unlike public radio, or anything produced professionally, by the book, in a studio, podcasting is limitless in terms of both creativity and coverage. This is a double-edged sword, and it is the primary reason you need to take some time to think about what you want to say with your show. Interested in news and politics? As a quick glance at iTunes shows, so do 500 other producers. Narrow things down to a specific topic, and run with it – especially if you believe that topic isn’t covered well in the rest of the media.
KISS – Keep It Short and Simple
The very best advice I ever got was from a podcaster I interviewed, Abby Wendle. She told me that the best idea for a show was one you could implement in a few minutes, as that’s generally what radio stations look for. While I’m not so worried about radio stations, this concept applies to your listener as well. (Note: I said listener, singular, for a reason.) Your casual listener has an attention span that will feel stretched if you go longer on a topic, story or episode than five to ten minutes. Obviously, if you go over that time frame, no one is going to, like, sue you, but your listener might not stick around for the whole thing — at least, not when you just start out.
Learn to write like you speak
This is actually a professional technique. I didn’t learn that until recently, when I was flipping through Sound Reporting: The NPR Guide To Audio Journalism And Production while bored the other day. Here’s what Jonathan Kern, the author of that book, has to say:
First, and foremost, say your sentences before you write them down; or at the very least, say them out loud after you’ve written them. […] As you write, ask yourself: Would I ever say this sentence in my regular life, when I am not writing a news story? If the answer is no, change it. […] Remember, expressing your thoughts in short declarative sentences doesn’t require you to eliminate any of your ideas — just to ration them out. You aren’t sacrificing anything by writing less convoluted prose.
I’ve tried podcast writing a number of ways, including: reading from the Associated Press wire; writing whole essays on a topic, the way I would if I were still in school; going scriptless. None of them have worked nearly half as well as when I’m writing the entire episode of a show like I’d speak the show naturally, without any pauses in thought. If you do this alone, the quality of your podcast will improve regardless of what equipment you’re rocking.
Next week: the significance of studioless podcasting.