Having just celebrated my one year podcast “anniversary” for Preconceived podcast, it would be an understatement to say that I have learned a few lessons along the way. And while I have many more lessons to learn, the following provides some humble advice, from a beginner, for the aspiring podcaster.
You’ve never had any hosting experience? Why would anybody tune in to listen to what you have to say? These are questions I struggled with myself as I started my podcast. But as with many things in life, I realized that the only way to start this journey was to simply “jump in”. I was self-conscious that I didn’t have any formal journalism training and interview experience. I worried that without such credibility, I had no right putting a series together, let alone attracting guests and listeners.
But that’s the beauty of podcasting. You aren’t expected to be a professional interviewer right out of the gate. You can grow your audience slowly as you develop your hosting skillset. Only by actually conducting interviews can you learn how to interview. Only by actually hosting guests do you learn how to host.
When I look back at my earliest episodes, I don’t always marvel at the content I put out. In fact, I more often cringe when I listen back to myself in the very early days. But while I might be embarrassed by the quality of some of that early content, I am by no means regretful of it. That embarrassment is equally matched by the pride I feel when I look back at those first few episodes. For if I had not taken that initial leap, I might still be waiting in the wings.
Sometimes you just have to “jump in”, even if you don’t know what you are doing. In this hyper-academic world, it can often feel like you need a degree or formal training before embarking on a project. And while the array of available educational tools is valuable, it’s also easy to get so bogged down in educating yourself that you never feel sufficient to actually start what you set out to do. So I’m glad I took the plunge.
As Ray Bradbury has written, sometimes you have to “walk to the edge of the cliff, jump in, and build your wings on the way down”.
Once I settled on a theme for the podcast, I wondered how I would get guests. Who would want to speak with me? I started with people I knew – friends and family with whom I felt the stakes were low. My two prerequisites were that they had something relevant to say and that they were articulate speakers.
After I published a few episodes with content I felt was of high quality, I gradually gained the confidence to start reaching out to people I didn’t know. I sent dozens of emails and expected few responses. And while some didn’t reply, to my surprise I found that the majority of people did respond. I was shocked by the number of experts who I felt were “out of my league” who did take the time to sit down with me and record an episode. People like to speak of the things about which they are passionate. And podcasts are an ideal forum for them to do so. As thankful as I am to have a guest join me on the show, guests are often equally as thankful to me for having the opportunity and forum to share their thoughts.
I went into podcasting with the notion that the best interviews should be natural. And while the organic flow of an episode is important, it is unrealistic to think that every conversation will unfold perfectly.
Making outlines before each episode, with topics I want to cover and questions I hope to ask, has become invaluable. I send the outline to the guest beforehand and ask for their feedback. Sometimes it prompts them to add an interesting topic of conversation I otherwise would not have thought to engage. Giving them an opportunity to review the themes beforehand also allows them the time to contemplate some of their responses.
This outline is not meant to be a rigid template followed to the tee. Being flexible and permitting conversation to take a natural course is critical for any interviewer. But I find that the more prepared I am beforehand, the more confident I am in my ability to pivot and react naturally when the conversation takes an interesting turn I wasn’t expecting.
The idea of editing an episode initially felt inauthentic to me. Shouldn’t a great podcaster be able to produce a seamless episode on the first take? Perhaps for some gifted journalists, yes. But for me, I came to realize that just knowing I could edit my episode allowed me more freedom while interviewing.
If I asked a question that didn’t result in interesting conversation, I could simply cut it out. If there was a topic I had meant to address earlier in the conversation, I needn’t worry that I had forgotten to ask an important question. I could always come back to it afterwards and then edit that part of the conversation where I saw fit. Just knowing that I had the flexibility to edit made me a more natural and comfortable interviewer.
It is not inauthentic to select the best parts of your interview for your final product. I used to worry that I was somehow “deceiving” my audience by editing together the best parts of the conversation into my episodes. But I now believe my listeners actually appreciate that I take the time to cut down the conversation to deliver the most relevant and inspiring dialogue. If listeners are going to take the time to listen to my show, I should take the time to review my interviews and only give them the most worthwhile content to listen to.
Before worrying about growing a following, make sure you are proud of the content you are producing. If you are proud of the episodes you are publishing, then you will lean less on audience listenership for validation. As you gain confidence in your work, you won’t worry as much about who listens. And if you have created solid content, then you will start to intuitively trust that listenership will follow.
Of course there are many marketing strategies I would endorse to grow your listenership, including podcast cross-promotion, social media campaigns and fostering an online community. You can implement these in time. But equally as important is to simply trust the process. If you are happy with the podcasts you are putting out into the world, have some faith that with time, your quality content will find its way to being heard.