As so many podcasts have a casual structure and an informal air about them, it could be easy to be fooled into thinking that making a podcast is as simple as hitting the record button and letting your creative juices flow.
In reality, most podcasts are best when they find their perfect balance between a set structure and allowing the material to thrive naturally through the presenters or the guests. Though, this of course depends on the type of podcast you’re making. Documentary or informative podcasts will likely need to rely on a strict script, especially if yours has a dedicated running time.
Regardless of the type of podcast, however, just like everything, all podcasts will benefit from practice and preparation. In this article, I’m going to discuss the key points in practicing for a podcast, whether you’re the guest or the host.
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The Importance of Practice
As of November 2020, there are over 1 million active podcasts, up from 550,000 in 2018 according to Apple at WWDC18. The medium is growing day by day and it is growing fast. This is great for the listener but means that there is a lot of competition for a podcast creator – if you want a podcast to grow and be heard by as many people as possible, you want to do as much as you can to make it sound as professional as you can without stifling the thing that makes your podcast yours.
This heavy competition is just as relevant to guests as it is to podcast producers. Even if the podcast you are guesting on is well known and well listened to, you want to come across in the best possible way, whether that is as a contributor who would like to be asked back or as somebody with something to promote. The podcast you’re joining might have 100’s of episodes, making yours just a drop in the ocean which is in turn a drop in an even larger ocean of podcasts.
So, it is incredibly important to make your go count. No pressure then! Remember that even in the creator-run world of podcasting, the listener is the one that dictates what is and isn’t good. If your podcast gets a great response, you might be asked back, or more people will check out whatever it is you are doing.
How to Prepare for a Podcast
Probably the most important thing to do to practice for a podcast is to carry out sufficient preparation. Doing a bit of research, even if it’s just a small amount will make the podcast run more smoothly and will produce better results overall. Ideally, you want to do this a bit before starting to record so you have time to mull over ideas and allow your brain to conjure up talking points and ideas.
Tips for Podcast Hosts
Research is vital to creating a great podcast, and if you’re already producing and releasing episodes you will definitely notice a correlation between the ones in which you have done the research and the ones you haven’t.
Find out a bit about your guests and keep notes to use during the podcast. Use this information to ask questions and prompt talking points when interviewing them, even if what you find out seems trivial, chances are it’ll help you create a greater rapport with the guest and will make for a more entertaining listen.
There is a balance though, knowing everything about your guest can be stifling, and knowing nothing can make your guest feel unwanted so you want to strike that perfect middle ground. There is nothing more fun than a podcast where the hosts are clearly having a good time.
Know your equipment. This part sounds simple, but make sure you are well acquainted with the equipment and programs you are using. Knowing how it all works will be vital when something does eventually go wrong, and you can guarantee that at some point, it will! There will be times when things don’t go to plan and knowing your set up inside out will make it considerably easier when trying to fix something on the fly.
This is also relevant to your guest’s equipment, particularly if you’re recording remotely. Finding out what they have to hand in advance means you can adapt how you work around them and it’ll involve less faffing about when you want to be getting on with your interview. For example, if they have their own microphone and DAW at home you can ask them to use that to produce a much nicer recording than if they use an in-built computer or phone mic.
Introductions can be hard. Writing a script or having a list of talking points before you hit record is a great way to make sure you don’t forget anything you’re meant to be plugging, anybody you need to thank, or any sponsors you need to mention. This will also help you sound more professional.
Having the points you want to address right in front of you will help eliminate all those ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ that can get in the way of a smooth presentation. Of course, practicing this every week will make it sound more and more natural. It can be hard to do sometimes but listening back and checking you’re not speeding through everything will undoubtedly help and doing a few practice takes first will familiarise you with your material.
See our article on how to write a podcast intro script for more detail on this topic.
Podcast Guest Tips
So, you’ve been asked to be a guest on a podcast? Great news! Your role is arguably easier than the host’s – you’ve just got to be yourself, right? Well, yeah! But there are ways in which you can make yourself a really good guest rather than just ‘this week’s allocated guest’, and most of these come down to practice and preparation.
It is the job of the host to guide the interview, but it doesn’t mean the guest is not responsible for how the podcast goes. If you want to be one of the best guests they’ve had, make sure you’re ready and you’ll be the one they remember when pushing the podcast down the line.
Many podcasts have structures and themes, some of these are loose and some are strict. Make sure you know the vibe of the podcast before you dive in. If they have specific questions they base the podcast around or ask every guest they have on, knowing your answers will make your podcasting experience much, much smoother. The listener (or the host) doesn’t want to hear you scrambling to think of a good answer so think about it beforehand! It’ll also make the conversation of why that’s your answer better too as you’ll actually have something (hopefully) interesting to say.
Know Why You’re There
Being on a podcast is fun, but often you might be there to plug something you’re doing or are part of, or perhaps, you’re relevant to the theme of the podcast. Whatever that reason is, keep that in mind; if you have a new book out, a new album, or your own podcast to plug, whatever it is, use this platform to talk about it – that’s why you’re there!
Obviously, don’t overdo it, but when that opportunity in the conversation arises, bring it up – you’ll be kicking yourself if you don’t. If you’re a fun, interesting guest, the listeners will be interested.
Find Your Space
If you’re being part of the podcast remotely rather than face to face, make sure you find somewhere comfortable and private to do it. The listener wants to hear the guest sounding natural and to be enjoying their time on the show and if you’re somewhere you feel comfortable being, that’ll be easier to achieve.
The fewer the distractions the better, and if you’ve got your own space, like an office, in which you can do it in then the chances of interruption from housemates or pets are minimized. This will also help hugely if you’re self-conscious or nervous.
For both the podcast host and the guest, when practicing for a podcast, everything boils down to preparation.
Make sure you know what points to bring up, how you want the podcast to go, and how it’ll be recorded and presented. Using these tips will make your life easier in the long run and will help minimize any unfortunate hiccups.
The likelihood is, from time to time, mistakes and awkward interviews will still happen, but these tips will help those times become fewer and mean you’ll be walking away from your podcast happier and more confident far more often.