Podcasting best practices

Posted by Jesse Betend | Aug 24, 2020

It's all about the listener

DO: Talk directly to the listener. 

With rare exception, your introduction, credits, and all other messages are delivered directly to the person listening. You is always the listener. The intimacy this creates is a big part of what makes audio so unique.  

DO: Identify your listeners. Never forget them. Serve them diligently.

Have an idea of who you’re trying to reach, but also why listening will benefit them. 

DO: Think outside the box when choosing subjects and guests.

For example, consider what a professional performer can share with business people. What can science tell us about sports? 

Prep and practice

DO: Read through your script OUT LOUD.

How do the words hit your ear? Reading through your script gives you the chance to check pronunciations, tweak words to make things sound natural, and gets you comfortable with the material, so you can make it sound like you’re not reading, which is your true goal.

DO: Prepare a script, but don’t depend on it. 

Writing out questions in advance gives you the ability to plan the flow of the conversation and make sure you hit specific points. It also frees you to listen to your guest(s) and not worry about what your next question will be—freeing you to change the order of your questions on the fly. Consider crossing out questions after you’ve asked them so you don’t accidentally ask the same question twice. 

DO: Be conversational.

Use contractions whenever possible and avoid or contextualize jargon. Introduce people with a full name; after that, first names are fine. Aim to keep ideas short and succinct. Look for ways to break up longer sentences. 

DO: Make sure you prep lots of questions. 

6 to 8 should be enough to fuel a half-hour conversation, but more is always better.

DO: Book AT LEAST 15 minutes more than you intend to talk. 

Getting connected, working through tech issues and general politeness all take longer than you expect.

DO: Prep your body. 

  • A bite of green apple will help rid the audible dry mouth sounds that nerves may induce. Always keep one around. 

  • Tongue twisters help get you warmed up.

  • Use your body. “Talking with your hands” and physicalizing words can bring out the magic of your performance. Spread your arms wide when you say the word “massive,” mime pulling out your hair when you’re conveying frustration. It really improves your delivery.  

The Interview

DO: Follow the rabbit, but keep track of your intentions. 

Be ready to respond to conversational twists, but don’t be afraid to redirect the conversation. Don’t let your guest control the conversation if you don’t like where it’s going. You’re in control. (One advantage to having your questions written out is you can repeat them word-for-word to get a better answer and the editing will be easy.) 

DON’T: Be married to your intro. 

You may want to update your script’s focus to better reflect the conversation after it’s occurred. Always try to highlight the most interesting part of the podcast. If your guest drops a particularly juicy detail mid-interview, for example, consider rewriting your intro to make that the focus of your introduction.

DON’T: Worry about running out of time. 

You may not have time to talk about everything you planned, and that’s OK. Consider putting an asterisk, heart or other marking next to questions you know you want to ask so you can easily know which to discard if time runs short.   

Getting the best from your guest

DO: Keep things zipping.

Keep questions brief. Ask one question at a time. If you ask a multipart question, your guest may forget—or deliberately ignore—one or more parts.

DON’T: Be afraid to tell your guest what you’re looking for.

Examples: “Walk through this part step by step,” “Tell us the STORY of when you …?”

Advanced Tips

DO: Listen to your guest.

Sometimes an aside is more interesting than your original line of questioning. Let yourself explore the diversion, note where you left off in your prepared list and follow your curiosity. 

DO: Be truthful. 

Be transparent when you’ve made errors and correct mistakes—yours, or your guests’—when you can. 

DO: Understand journalistic ethics.

If you broach a controversial subject, explore it honestly and admit where you have constraints. Declare personal bias and conflicts of interest—perceived or otherwise. 

DO: Use a style guide.

A resource like the AP Stylebook can be a great help in making choices about the appropriate way to refer to people, groups, public figures and sensitive or offensive topics. 

DON’T: Let a guest get away with being superficial, canned or dishonest.

If someone is being dishonest or holding back, push back with challenging questions. Request clarification when a guest says something alarming.

DON’T: One-up the guest. 

Avoid agreeing, disagreeing or otherwise reacting to guests' answers. Let your experts' opinions stand for themselves. Aim to limit your role to asking questions or making statements about which you are personally knowledgeable.