Podcasting may seem like a bandwagon that everybody’s jumping on these days. But that doesn’t mean getting involved is a bad idea.
The statistics speak for themselves. 20% of people now listen to a podcast every single week, and numbers are expected to grow. By 2024, forecasts predict 100 million podcast listeners – in the US alone.
As such, you can ignore anybody who tells you that podcasting is a temporary craze. Listening to podcasts is a regular part of many people’s routines. There is DEMAND for podcasts and makes sound business sense to have one of your own.
With all that said, the bandwagon thing does have some truth to it. MANY people are working on podcasts, and listeners have a huge amount of choice.
In this crowded space, it’s essential to make your podcast stand out – and to make it stand out for the right reasons. Podcast listeners won’t tolerate things like poor audio quality, long, rambling episodes, and content they don’t feel they benefit from personally.
That’s why it’s crucially important to know exactly how to prepare your podcast episodes. This means getting things right both pre and post-production – from planning your content to creating a polished end result.
We’re going to go through all of that step-by-step in this article. Let’s start with the technical stuff.
We’ll begin with some good news: Creating professional podcasts is not an expensive endeavor. However, the right choice of equipment and software is incredibly important.
Podcasts are (usually) an audio medium, so the most crucial thing to remember is that audio quality is everything. Getting that right starts not with your microphone, but with where you are recording.
Big, echoey indoor spaces don’t make for a good podcasting environment. In fact, you often hear of podcasters heading to a walk-in closet in order to get the best acoustics!
There’s no need to take such extreme measures, but it does make sense to carefully consider the best place to record. Audio screens are inexpensive and can help you build a makeshift “studio.” However, simply choosing the right room and making good use of fabrics and soft furnishings can help.
At the time of writing, we still live in a socially distanced world. Prior to Covid, lots of podcasts involved in-person interviews. Nowadays, it’s very common to use audio and video calls. There’s plenty you can do to make these sound better.
If you are speaking “remotely” it’s certainly worth considering the acoustics at both ends. Obviously, you have limited control over your guests’ setups – but you will find that many people who guest frequently on podcasts already have this stuff covered.
THE most important equipment for recording podcasts is your microphone.
The one built into your laptop or webcam almost certainly isn’t up to the task.
Thankfully, there are plenty of inexpensive microphones that plug in via USB or even into your phone or tablet. You’ll find plenty of discussion (and debate) about the best options.
It’s important to do your own research here, as what’s best for you might not be a good fit for everybody. For example, some microphones are better for multiple speakers and others more suited to solo work.
You’ll definitely want to grab a pop-filter for the mic too. These are readily available for very little money.
While there ARE plenty more things you can buy, such as little mixing desks dedicated to podcasting. You really don’t need anything else. You will, of course, need a computer (or perhaps just a phone), but let’s assume you already have that!
The software you need for podcasting broadly splits into two: The app(s) you use to edit your audio and put the show together, and the software you use to upload and host your podcast.
Many podcasters use Audacity for the editing part. It’s open-source and free, and while there’s a bit of a learning curve, it can do everything you need.
You can use more advanced and / or more expensive software, but this is optional. Apple’s (free) GarageBand is one choice, or you can go for more complex audio workstations (DAWs) like Logic or Cubase.
In reality, using something like this is overkill unless you’re doing complex stuff. But if you already have and use such software, take full advantage.
There are various examples of podcast software here.
When it comes to uploading and hosting your podcasts, there are plenty of platforms that give you everything you need, all in one package. While you can do it all yourself, and worry about things like bandwidth and RSS feeds, this is more an enthusiasts’ choice.
Platforms like Podcast.co, Buzzsprout, and Podbean make everything very simple. You needn’t worry about much beyond supplying the audio file and the show notes. Everything else, from hosting the audio to distributing it on popular podcast platforms, is taken out of your hands.
Prepare your Podcast Episodes
Having covered the basics, let’s move on to how to actually prepare your podcast episodes.
One thing that’s well worth doing is gaining inspiration from others. Perhaps you are already an avid podcast listener. If you are, you probably have an idea of what you’re aiming for. Regardless, it’s wise to check out other podcasts in your niche.
Don’t just listen to a few shows. Have a good look at archives of past episodes, concentrating on what kind of topics people cover, whether they stick to a ‘normal” show length, and their normal frequency for posting fresh episodes.
You’ll soon see that podcasters take a wide range of approaches. Looking at online marketing as an example, you’ll find that Niche Pursuits, Authority Hacker and Marketing School all discuss the same kind of things, but in vastly different formats.
That’s one of the great things about podcasting – you really can do it your way.
With that firmly in mind, let’s run through the key steps:
1. Choose a topic and an angle
Naturally, you want to know what each podcast episode is going to be about, and how you’re going to approach it.
One useful method for planning topics is to maintain a big list of everything you plan to cover at some point. Add to this list all the time, then you can just grab it and see what inspires you. This also helps you ensure you have ideas lined up for when you’re not brimming with inspiration.
You don’t have to have a set plan for what you’re going to cover week-on-week. However, if you have a big list of episode topics, you can sometimes get good ideas for a related run of episodes.
Most importantly, you must choose topics that have clear, actionable takeaways for your listeners.
Unless you’re a big-name celebrity, people don’t just want to hear you rambling on. In the real world, listeners want to know what’s in it for them. Always have this in mind when choosing topics.
2. Do your research
One sure-fire way to get flustered and interrupt the flow of your podcast is not to have your research ready.
This doesn’t mean you have to do a huge amount. But if, for example, you plan to cite some statistics or interesting data, have it at your fingertips. Don’t be trying to Google search mid-episode with your mic on!
3. Choose a podcast format
There’s no need to stick to a single format for your podcast. Some podcasters switch between monologue format, interviews, and working with a co-host.
However, don’t take the flexibility too far. Listeners like consistency, so you shouldn’t be switching between formats, lengths, and styles with every episode.
There’s a balance to strike here and – again – taking an active interest in what other podcasters do can teach you a lot.
When it comes to individual episodes, you need to ensure that you’re choosing the right format for the topic. It’s probably best to select from two or three tried and tested formats, rather than reinventing the wheel every time.
4. Plan the episode length
There are no rules on podcast length. To emphasize this point, Neil Patel’s Marketing School generally puts out daily five-minute episodes, while Authority Hacker opts for a weekly episode of around one hour. They’re both about digital marketing, and both hugely popular.
You’re free to do what works for you. However, it’s certainly worth knowing that the average length of a podcast is 38 minutes and 42 seconds.
As with format, consistency is a good thing. You CAN experiment with different lengths, but it’s better to settle on something that works.
It’s also wise to remember that bigger isn’t always better.
People like quick, actionable results – if you can get something across in 20 minutes, it’s likely that making your podcast an hour long instead is a bad thing, not a good thing.
5. Prepare a structured intro
As we said earlier, people do want to know what’s in it for them if they listen to a podcast episode.
This is why many podcasters ensure that is the very first thing they hear. A common sequence is a spoken intro, then the introductory jingle, sometimes a sponsored advert, then into the main content.
For fear of sounding like a broken record, consistency is once again key here. Regular listeners like to know what to expect – so don’t try to overcomplicate things.
The most important step is ensuring that listeners know exactly what topic they will spend the next 5/30/60 minutes of their lives concentrating on.
6. Create a detailed outline – or don’t!
Different podcasters have vastly different approaches to their outline planning.
At one end of the scale, you have podcasts that are planned and scripted to the exact detail. At the other, you have shows that are completely improvised and free-flowing.
It’s important to mention that there are successful and much-loved shows at both ends of the spectrum.
A happy medium for many is to create a skeleton outline and then let it flesh itself out naturally. This is essentially a good middle ground between preparation and improvisation.
You will find that this process refines over time. Just be careful to avoid excessive scripting. You’re creating a podcast, not an infomercial!
7. Aim for a conclusion
Many authors say that it’s essential to know the ending before you start writing a book. It’s usually the same with a podcast.
While it’s fine to let things flow, it’s wise to know how you plan to end. Are you trying to sell a product? Tease the subject of your next podcast episode? Give your definitive opinion on the subject you’ve been discussing?
It’s best to know your destination, and then have fun meandering towards it.
8. Prepare an outro
Also on the subject of how to end your podcast, you’ll want to have some kind of outro. This is often in the style of a jingle, and tends to include requests to share, subscribe and review the podcast. If you’re lucky enough to have paying sponsors, it may incorporate their message(s) too.
Creating these outros seems like a significant task to begin with. Thankfully you only have to do it once, and then it’s just a case of pasting it in.
9. Show notes
Once again, there are no firm rules here. Podcasters have varied approaches to show notes. Some are a very basic list of related links, others include transcriptions and other bells and whistles, and can form a good piece of standalone content.
You must certainly ensure you provide links to things you’ve discussed. If you say “I’ll put it in the show notes,” make sure you do!
Timestamps are useful too, especially for longer podcasts. They allow people to jump to topics they’re interested in and come back to things they want to listen to again.
Transcription is worth considering, and it’s not just a benefit for those with hearing problems. Podcasters are often surprised by how many people opt to consume the “written version” of a podcast. Just be aware that automated machine transcriptions are rarely good enough to publish without some level of human editing.
By following these steps when you prepare your podcast episodes, you should ensure you engage your listeners and win their loyalty.
However, it’s good to remember two things:
- Listeners have a HUGE amount of choice of what to watch and listen to.
- They will ALWAYS want to know “what’s in it for them?”
We’re all busy people. Sometimes we don’t even have time for our own favorite TV shows. People will skip podcasts they’re not interested in, even if they’re big fans – and that’s OK.
Just do your best to maintain the quality and consistency – and ensure listeners always know what you’re going to deliver.
Be the podcast YOU would want to listen to yourself.