Why Great Podcasting Starts When The Mic Is Off

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I know a couple of podcasters who are so busy producing their own shows that they have no time to listen to other podcasts. I was one of them, for a time. I know exactly what it takes to pull off a show, so I am extremely familiar with that way-too-busy-barely-time-to-breathe-let-alone-sleep feeling. There are interviews to schedule and record, outros, intros, social media posts, editing, posting to our podcast server, and more. Much more. And then we have our day jobs! All podcasters out there—can you feel me?

But I’ve recently found great benefit in taking/making the time to listen to my peers’ shows. You can get something out of every. single. podcast.—whether it’s an indie show or a pro-caster’s more polished show. I’m not talking about the content here; I’m talking about learning what it takes to make a great show: checking out the editing, style, etc. I’ve learned so much from other shows, in fact, that I’d say that the key to great podcasting comes from what you learn when your microphone is off.

Other people’s shows are like a how-to book, only better. Number one, because, as you well know, you can listen to podcasts anytime/anywhere. But, number two, because you can immediately gauge your own reaction to elements of the podcast and instinctively figure out what works and what doesn’t. And then you can turn around and apply the lessons to your own show.

So here’s what to listen for, when your own mic is OFF:

Take it from the top – Does the banter at the top bore or amuse you? If you as a listener are impatient for content, chances are your audience feels the same way. If you find shooting the breeze fun, then set that same tone on your own show. Think about your target audience and what they are looking for. Tailor your show’s start accordingly.

And now for a word from our sponsors – How are the sponsors presented? Take a cue from the wording and tone of other podcasters. No need to imitate word-for-word completely (that can get you in trouble, as we’ve recently learned), but do incorporate best practices into your own show. Can you personally testify to the value of the product being sold, for example? That will mean a lot to your sponsors…and listeners!

Nobody’s perfect – How many um’s and mistakes are left in? Maybe you don’t need to edit out as much as you think you do. Most podcasters come across as more real and endearing when they leave in their gaffes. Don’t be afraid to do the same. This medium is more relaxed than t.v. and radio, obvi, and more on a par with YouTube and live-streaming platforms.

Engaging the audience – How do the podcasters connect with their audience? What makes you eager to listen to the next episode? Are cliffhangers used? Stories? Give some thought to what attracts (or repels) you to each show.

It’s the little things – Pay attention to audio quality and tricks of the trade. Where is the music placed? How often is it used? What about sound effects? Most of us don’t have a whole production staff since we’re just starting out, but it’s still good to know what the possibilities are for when we do get one!

One final note, don’t just listen to shows you love. I listen to some that I can hardly stand, truth be told. But the shows are popular.  So I listen to figure out why. I’ll tell you something, though. Even in the shows that are not personal favorites, there are pearls to mine. (Oh, wait, you dive for pearls and you mine for gold, right?! Anyway, you know what I mean!) So just pop the earbuds in and keep an open mind. What you learn when your mic is off will turn into GOLD for your show!

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Hilda Labrada Gore lives in Adams Morgan with her daughters and husband, and her cat Mia (which means “mine” in Spanish). She recently returned from Kenya and Zimbabwe where she was speaking and interviewing folks for her nutrition podcast! The show is called Wise Traditions and can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, and at westonaprice.org.

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