4 Keys To Podcast Success

Sounds great, but can you give me examples?

We help people (like you) utilize the power of podcasting to grow their business. Our emphasis is on the strategy and tactics that will attract, maintain and grow your audience – because ultimately, that is the purpose of any podcast. Here are four things you can implement in your podcast right now that are critical to podcast success – and that you likely won’t hear anywhere else:

1. Improve Your Voice

Your voice is everything in your podcast and you are probably not making it sound as good as you could. Think about it… in a podcast, your voice is the only thing people have to form an impression of you. There are no hand gestures, facial expression or other body language. In a podcast – YOU ARE YOUR VOICE AND NOTHING BUT. Every voice can easily be made to sound better.

I’ve been a professional radio talent, narrator and voice-over announcer for a long time. Consequently, I pay attention to voices. What I most often notice in people who complain about the sound of their voice is a lack of power.You just can’t do much with your voice without power behind it.  For your voice to have power it is going to need air.

Air is the fuel. Think of your exhaled breath as the wind and your voice as the sailboat. Your voice rides on the air that comes out of your mouth. For there to be enough air coming out, there had to be enough coming in beforehand. So…

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Posture is critical. It’s very important to keep the chest up. So if you imagine that a hook is going below your sternum and hoisting your chest up, really helps. Also lengthening the back of the neck, the voice box sits in the front of the neck so if the neck and the back are crunched or the head is pulling forward it pulls on the voice box and affects the sound of the voice. So lengthening the back of the neck is important.

Then make sure you are breathing as you speak – inhaling during pauses and exhaling as you speak. One way to check that your voice is “riding” on enough air is the “Hot Steam Test” created by veteran vocal coach Lisa Popeil.

Take your palm and put it about 1-2 inches in front of your mouth. When you’re speaking you want to feel hot steam on your hand. That’s how you know that you have enough air going through your vocal cords.

It’s also important to locate the “source” of your voice. For instance many people who sound nasally, talk from their nose – and most people find a nasally voice very unappealing. Famed “voice coach to the stars” Morton Cooper, says – and I agree – that your voice should come from your “mask.”

To understand – just hum. Say hmmm. Feel that buzz around your mouth and nose – your mask? That should be the source of your voice. That is where you voice hitches a ride on the air that you exhale and gives you that big, strong, powerful, voice.

You don’t always have to talk in a big, strong, powerful, voice – but it is easier to tone it down from there, than to try to create a big voice when you have nothing much to start with. Practice doing these simple techniques and your voice will quickly take on a richer and more authoritative sound.

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2. Podcasting is NOT radio

A podcast is not the same as a radio show and shouldn’t be produced like one. Yes, podcasting and radio are both forms of audio content, but they are consumed by the listener is very different ways. Those differences provide great opportunities to create better podcasts. Let me give you one important example:

The radio audience listens in real time. They hear whatever happens to be on when they tune in. On the other hand, everyone listens to your podcast from the beginning. No one starts listening in the middle. What does that tell us? That the beginning of your podcast is the most important part. If you don’t grab your audience in the beginning, they will leave.

If you think of constructing your podcast more like the way an author writes a book, you will make a better podcast opening. Every writer knows how important the beginning is. The beginning of a book, like the beginning of a podcast is where everyone starts. An author knows that if you don’t engage the reader quickly at the beginning, they will lose interest and stop reading. So imagine a book starting like this:

Chapter 1

“ Now, it’s time to read the ultimate book on marriage – this is the “Book of Love” with your author Fred Smith….But before you actually read Fred’s words, here is about 20 seconds or so of music that is sort of like our theme song even though it doesn’t really have anything to do with anything.

Hi everyone, I’m Fred Smith. I’m your author. Welcome to “The Book of Love” the ultimate book on marriage. This is going to be a great book for you to read today. You see in this book, you are going to read about me talking to a lot of people and I’ll interview some experts and draw some conclusions and offer some advice – it’ll be fascinating (and on and on and on)…”

So as the reader, you have now invested a minute of your time and you have heard nothing very interesting. Do you keep reading based on what you’ve read so far? Probably not. Yet, that is how so many podcasts start.

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If that were a podcast – here’s what wrong with it:

Produced openings with an announcer are fine, but when they are long and overly descriptive, they get tedious. As a regular listener, I have to sit through that opening EVERY TIME. Please don’t make me. I’ve heard it already. I get it. You are great, the podcast is great. Secondly, when your opening announcer describes your podcast in very narrow terms (“The ultimate podcast on marriage”), you are boxed in pretty tightly. If every podcast topic doesn’t fall neatly into that description (marriage), there is a disconnect. Why limit yourself that way?

If you use “theme” music in your podcast opening and let it play too long, it is deadly. It may sound really cool in your headphones, but people are not listening to your podcast to hear music. Music in a podcast is fine – I’m all for it.

But if you crank up the music and let it play by itself for 15 or 20 seconds, I would ask you, WHY? What purpose is it serving? YOU may love it, but what is it doing for the listener? I guarantee you, not much. If you want to use music to set the mood, fine – music will do that anyway while you talk over it. Then even when we finally hear the host, nothing in what he says is very enticing.

So I have now invested a minute of time and I still don’t know why I am listening. What’s in this for me as a listener? I am getting impatient. What if instead the podcast started this way? (Music establishes for no more than 3 seconds then continues to play under)

Announcer: “Welcome to the ‘ Love Podcast’ …the ultimate podcast on relationships, family and marriage with Fred Smith.” (music continues under)

Fred Smith: “Imagine a day in your house with no conflict. No one fighting. No one angry. Everyone feeling nothing but love for each other. Could that actually be possible? How much effort are you willing to put in to achieve this state of nirvana? Hi, I’m Fred Smith and we’re going to discuss that today with someone who…”

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Within 12 seconds, I hopefully have engaged you. I have pulled you in before you’ve had a chance to get antsy and wonder what the point is. You know what the point is.  I have enticed you with something YOU might want to hear. Who wouldn’t want what I just promised? I have not wasted your time with a lot of music and excess chatter that doesn’t really say anything.

Unlike radio, the beginning of your podcast is like the beginning of a book. Everyone meets you there. Open the door for them and pull them in before they have a chance to walk away.

By the way, the best way to do a killer opening is to record it last after you’ve recorded everything else so you already know what’s in your podcast.

3. Get a Microphone Processer

As you will discover on this site, I believe there needs to be more emphasis on podcast content quality and less emphasis on equipment and tech. But one piece of gear I think is well worth getting (and seldom talked about) is a good microphone processor/compressor. It will make your voice sound so much better. They aren’t particularly expensive. Well, actually they can be thousands of dollars, but for podcasting, you can get one for under $200 that does exactly what you need it to do.

Why should you get one?

The short answer is – it will give you better levels and make your voice sound more powerful, punchy and authoritative.

 Click the play button to hear an example

Have you ever noticed those guys on the radio with the big, incredible voices – yet when you meet them, their voice doesn’t sound quite as impressive in person as it sounds on the radio? That is because of the way voices are deliberately “processed” on the radio. In fact radio stations pay thousands of dollars on what is called “the audio chain.” It is basically the series of devices and software that the audio signal passes through until it comes out of the transmitter.

For podcasting, you don’t need all that, but processing voices – particularly yours – is well worth it. If you are doing Skype interviews, it is probably a good idea to pass them through a processor as well as it can make them easier to understand and can combat at least some of that “digital hollowness” that often occurs on Skype audio. You can typically use the same processer for both.

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Yes, you can “process” your podcast after the fact using software but unless you cherry pick which sections, you would have to add the processing to the entire file. That may not be so good. For instance, if you use music in your podcast, and process that entire file by adding compression to it – you are now compressing the music which has likely already been compressed. It can start to sound weird.

By processing, we are primarily talking about audio “compression.” It basically limits the dynamic range – or loudness of the audio. It makes your voice easier to understand and the side effect is vocal quality that is a bit hard to describe which is why I created this sound file for you to hear.  Essentially it gives your voice depth and authority.

Here’s the thing… and why you haven’t heard a lot about microphone processors from a lot of other podcaster experts: They are tricky.

Too much processing and your voice will sound horrible – too little and it really doesn’t sound any different.  You have to experiment with it and err on the side of “less” until you find your perfect setting.

It’s one of those things you have to hear so please listen to this short audio file to really understand what I am talking about. Click hear to listen. I recommend you start with an inexpensive one like the dbx286s. As I write this, I found it for sale for as low as $199.

Once you play with it and get used to it and understand how it works, you may want to get a more expensive one. If you stay in the dbx brand, you can’t go wrong.

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4. Prep your guests ahead of time

As a podcaster, you will do interviews with people who are terrible guests. They don’t really understand what the role of a guest is – which is to share information and make you, the host, look good. It is not simply to plug their website or book or program or whatever. That would be a commercial.

Their role should also NOT be to merely answer your questions. They should come prepared. They should know what they plan to discuss ahead of time. I don’t know how many guests I have interviewed who came back and said, “Gee I thought you were going to ask me about….” Or “Gee I had a great story to tell but you didn’t ask me about….”

There is an entire cottage industry called “media training.” There are people who prep guests before they go on talk shows. Often these are authors who are coached by media trainers before they hit the road to promote their book. (This is why booking authors on your podcast is a good idea in general if it is appropriate it. Chances are they “get it.”) I have trained many people to do media over the years. And one thing I – and most media trainers tell guests is – “It is up to you to say what you came to say.”

One way to avoid problems and disappointment is for you and your guest to discuss what you are going talk about in the podcast, in advance. Plan it out together. It doesn’t take long. When I do, I ask guests to give me a strong opening – like a reporter asks someone for a quote. That way the guest is prepared to come out of the box with a compelling statement to grab attention. For example:

“If you drink diet soda you are doing yourself a world of harm. The science is clear and irrefutable.”

“Having friends and social connections will add years to your life –or better put, NOT having friends will kill you.”

Those kinds of statements give you something to sink your teeth into and kick off the discussion. Next, ask for a story or two. Your guest should be prepared to tell a real story – an anecdote – something real. People like stories, they relate better to them than to theoretical discussions or facts and figures.

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I also tell guests to please eliminate the jargon. When I interview a doctor or researcher and they use the word “modalities”, in their answer, I know I’m in trouble. I have stopped interviews and said, “I have no idea what you are talking about. Can you please imagine yourself talking to a class of 6th graders who have no idea what modalities means?” Of course if your podcast is strictly for people in a particular industry maybe jargon is fine. Generally though, it just gets in the way.

There is a little psychology working here too. By talking ahead of time you and the guest get a little more familiar with each other before you record. You will be more comfortable speaking with each other once the interview starts and it will help reduce any anxiety or nervousness which will make for a better interview.

Even if you can only talk to a guest for a few minutes just before you hit the “record” button – any preparation is better than none. Conveying your expectations to the guest beforehand (and hearing his or hers conveyed to you) is a lot better than complaining afterwards that it didn’t go like you had hoped – or the guest had hoped. Get on the same page beforehand and you will have a better interview.

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