Stonehenge. Picking a good red wine. Research into an HIV vaccine. You name it, someone has podcasted about it.
Creating a podcast that holds listeners' interest takes time and care. Ari Daniel Shapiro, an independent producer who uses both narration and "acts" (actualities, or taped interviews and other sound) in his podcasts for the Encyclopedia of Life and other groups, estimates he spends from 1 to 3 hours to prepare every 1 minute of a finished piece.
Shapiro usually podcasts on science topics. Andrew Stockel produces a podcast series on business through the Mason Enterprise Center. They described to me how they prepare podcasts. If you need tips on recording, uploading, and publicizing your podcasts, check out the resources below. But read on for suggestions about how to prepare the podcast content.
What Should You Do?
Write for the ear. Most of your audience will be commuting or otherwise doing something else while they listen to your podcast. "Write and read like you talk," said Shapiro. "Create a scene with sound." Think vivid words and short sentences. Vary the pacing so, for example, the podcast is not always two sentences of narration, an actuality, two sentences of narration, and onward into tedium.
Let the tape speak for itself. After Shapiro records interviews and other sound, he "writes in and out of tape" by introducing and bridging the recorded pieces he selects. If the person interviewed is dynamic and would hold listeners' attention, "I give more of the story to them." If they sound more tentative or are hard to understand, his voice as narrator or host takes up more time.
Know your "podcast-ee." Stockel often records people who are not used to being interviewed. "Before the podcast starts, just talk," he said. "Find common ground. You really just want to make the speaker feel comfortable before they actually do the podcast."
Work with an editor. When Shapiro writes his script, he has three windows open on his computer: a Word file to write the text, the audio, and a spreadsheet on which he has logged the recordings. A first-round edit focuses on the written words. Then, he does a "phone edit" so the editor hears what the the podcast will sound like. More changes follow.
Tell a story. "Make the speaker comfortable so the podcast sounds natural," said Stockel. Shapiro agreed. "At the end of the day, we are telling a story," he said. "We formalize it with a script, but radio and podcasting are primal."
How Does It Sound?
I asked Shapiro and Stockel for examples of their own podcasts that reinforce their suggestions. Have a listen!
Shapiro pointed to Beetles & Moths (for the Encyclopedia of Life) and ROVers over and under (for a biweekly series he produces himself called Ocean Gazing) to show how he has woven different types of narration and actualities into a podcast. Also, listen to his other podcasts and radio pieces on his website.
Stockel pointed to his podcasts with Bob Hansen (on mergers and acquistions) and Bob Weil (on contract issues) because the speakers were comfortable speaking about their topics. (Search for "MEC in the MEC," the title of the series on iTunes, or link to it through the Mason Small Business Development Center.) This brings up a point on finding podcast topics. Mona Olsen Salisbury, the Mason SBDC assistant director, said when the center receives three similar questions, they start looking for an expert to interview.