How I Podcast Smarter: Pearls of Wisdom
Thus far, How I Podcast Smarter has covered the gear you’ll need to podcast and the workflow of veteran EM podcaster. In this last post in the mini-series, we gave our guest authors carte blanche, asking them to share their parting pearls for would-be podcaster. @EMCases, @EM_Educator, @Core_EM, @embasic, @stemlyns, @EMtogether, @emergencypdx, @TheSGEM, @srrezaie and @FOAMpodcast came through with fantastic advice. Many of the points they highlight reach beyond podcasting and are applicable to blogging, producing video content, or starting new EM academic endeavors. Read on to amazing insights from some of the top EM educators.
- Podcasting is a team sport. Build a team of like-minded individuals with a common goal.
- Know yourself. Combining a somewhat unique skill that you have developed outside of medicine with what you are passionate about in medicine will help develop yourself as a unique podcaster among podcasters.
- Be entertaining. The great Canadian philosopher Marshal McLuhan who coined the phrase “the medium is the message” also said “anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either’”.
- Listen to some non-medical well-know podcasts for production ideas.
- Embrace failure. Winston Churchill famously said “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”.
- A combination of enthusiasm with a good dose of healthy skepticism helps lead the way to success in EM podcasting.
- Dive in with both feet and have fun!
Most of these are mistakes I made along the way. You can learn a lot from mistakes.
- Stand on the shoulders of giants. Ask lots of questions. You will meet some hurdles along the way. Don’t hesitate to reach out to people who have been doing this for a while. I have never encountered anything but helpfulness when I have been stuck. Reach out to me – I am happy to help in any way I can. We all get stronger when we help each other.
- Always save a copy of the audio file you record. ALWAYS. Trust me on this one. You may very well accidentally splice out audio that you can’t recover. Having a backup file will make your life easier.
- Practice your voice. Podcasting requires a lot of practice. Practice your intro, your closing, your interview techniques. And listen to really great podcasts that do great interviews.
- Be interesting. This sounds like a pretty simplistic statement, right? Of course you want to be interesting. But one major pitfall that many fall prey to is not asking the basic question, “Will people find this fun and interesting to listen to?” One thing that Mel Herbert always tells people when they record audio or video with him is to “just be interesting.” What would you want to listen to? Do you sound passionate enough? Do you sound like you are having fun? Remember, podcasting should be fun.
- Get feedback from friends. Have friends and colleagues (or significant others) listen to your podcast and give you feedback. You will gain some valuable insights from doing this. This is the only way to get better.
- Consider intellectual property (IP) rights as you begin your podcast. This is a bit of a sticky subject, but make sure to read your contract. Who would own your podcast (and associated blog) if you were to leave that position. You would be very surprised what your contract actually says regarding IP. Many would say I am crazy for recommending you know what your contract says regarding IP. Take it from me – KNOW what you own and don’t own. There are a handful of us in the FOAMed world who have run into issues.
- Always check your equipment before you record. The most important thing is to make sure your “good mic” is the one that’s set to record and not the internal mic of your computer. I’ve made this mistake too many times to count and as a result, have had to re-record segments which is very cumbersome when you are recording with someone else. Before you record, go to preferences in whatever program you are using to record with and make sure your “good” mic is what is actively recording. Remind your partner if you’re recording with others.
- As important is to make sure your recording software is working. I will record a little banter before starting the podcast and then check it to make sure the quality is good.
- Save multiple version as you edit. You never know when you’ll need to back up and work off an older version.
- Improving recording quality is an ongoing fight. Try to find a quiet room that’s carpeted or has other items to absorb sound. Coat closets are a popular poor man’s “sound studio.” Alternatively, you can use towels or blankets to cover your head and the mic but I find this uncomfortable. Alternatively, you can buy sound foam and create a “sound cage” to prevent the sound bouncing around the room and giving you echo or a hollow quality.
- Make sure you have a good concept for your show and have a clear vision. Talk about topics you are knowledgable about and make sure to do your research so your information is accurate.
- Produce a few episodes before you publish your first episode so you are always “ahead of the game”.
- Think of a memorable name for the podcast and make sure to have a logo. It doesn’t have to be complicated (my first logo was created in Microsoft Paint) but you will need it to get onto iTunes and get noticed.
- Get on iTunes – if you aren’t on iTunes, your podcast won’t go anywhere.
- Poor audio is the fastest way to kill a podcast. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on a microphone or computer but you do need to practice with it.
- Don’t let it take over your life or cut into your family time. That is the fastest way to lose your desire to continue podcasting.
- When you are first starting out, your download numbers will be small but with time and effort, they will grow. Don’t get frustrated if you spend months with a dozen or fewer downloads per day. If you keep producing good content that people want to listen to, you will gain followers and downloads.
- Publish as regularly as possible, it’s the best way to gain new subscribers. The more you publish, the more downloads you will get and the more subscribers you will gain.
- Don’t run afoul of your institution’s social media or internet policies. If necessary, explicitly disclaim that you don’t represent the institution where you work. It’s always good to give your boss a heads up that you will be starting a podcast so they aren’t surprised. Academic institutions are slowly coming around to the idea of podcasting and blogging as a means of academic output but we aren’t quite there yet. Bottom line- don’t lose your job over it or do anything to antagonize your institution.
- Make sure that you can retain rights to what you produce. I know of a few situations where people were told that their institution would be the owner of their creative content since they were an employee and that’s just not right.
- Have fun with it. While it can be a lot of work and help you out professionally, don’t let it become your second job. If you have to, take a break or scale back on the frequency of your podcasts. This will make you happier in the long run.
- Have a format that the listener can get familiar with and comfortable listening to. We have a unique theme tune (composed by Greg Beardsell, Iain’s brother who is an internationally acclaimed musician/conductor) and a standard “Welcome to the St Emlyn’s podcast” intro.
- Like any talk limit yourself to three take home points and repeat these three times during the podcast – by all means talk about more than this, but don’t expect your listeners to take away any more than the key points.
- The podcast should be 20 minutes max – about the time of a commute to work. Length is not proportional to quality.
- Try hard to not read from a script – this seems to be very common and it’s hard to make it feel natural. Relax, chat and be confident in your edit. Follow a structure by all means, but if you’re just reading something out there is a chance your listener would rather just read it themselves too.
- The edit is by far the most important part – take out as many “ummms” and “eerrrrrs” you can and eliminate “dead air” as much as you can. Many people listen to podcasts at 1.5x or 2x normal speed – take this need away by taking at a slightly faster than normal conversation pace and eliminating pauses. Expect the edit to take three times longer (at least) than the podcast itself.
- Limit the “banter” at the beginning. Listeners aren’t that interested in your kids or the weather. They want education. If you haven’t grabbed them in the first few seconds they’ll just go to another podcast
- Don’t force humour. Being funny is hard and often dependent on facial expression and other non verbal cues and not many people manage it on a podcast.
- Don’t expect to be brilliant immediately, it takes practice and time to “find your voice”.
- Be honest with each other. You probably don’t realise that you have tics, foibles and aphorisms and until you start podcasting it’s unlikely that anyone told you. Get colleagues to give you great and honest feedback on how you podcast. Everyone on the St.Emlyn’s podcast has changed their delivery style after peer review. The best way to do this is during the pre-publication edit, and you should try editing both your own podcasts and those of others. It’s the editing process that really helps focus on language, voice, pitch, speed, volume, tics and cliches.
- Don’t expect to be the next Scott Weingart – you may only have a few hundred listeners, but that’s ok and still an educational reach way beyond your own department. Imagine if you were doing a talk to a room of 200 people every few weeks and they kept coming back to hear you!
- Think about what you like in other podcasts and try to emulate it.
- Build a team. Podcasting on your own is really difficult and not many people can do it well. Getting a number of voices involved makes the podcast easier to produce and more resilient around holidays, illness or the day job. We are incredibly lucky to work with a group who share the same goals and interests in #FOAMed.
- If you work in a team then allow one person to lead on the podcast. Iain (@docib) is the lead for the St.Emlyn’s podcast and in those rare occasions when we disagree about whether to publish he has the final say (and usually says no ;-) ). Whilst it’s important to have a collective responsibility for quality, it’s also important to have a champion and leader for your podcast.
- Make sure you enjoy it – enthusiasm and passion are by far the most valuable attributes and cannot be faked.
- Do this because you have a burning desire to use your creativity, to learn more, to connect with others. The major pitfall is to go in there, blustering into a mic, to prop yourself up. I didn’t want to go dark here on this post, but please, please, go into it with the purity of passion and the genuineness of a friend and colleague.
- You don’t have to be perfect or pan-sophical, just present. Join in, interact, and share your experiences and questions. You are forming a relationship with your listeners. Be there for them on a consistent basis.
- The best advice I can give for content and for direction is to branch outside of our specialty and of our profession. Find inspiration in other fields – whatever truly interests you. This is where you find your passion, and people pay attention to passion. Listen to podcasts in other genres. Take notes from the people you admire and want to emulate. In Medicine, we generally do terribly with this – we only go to each other when we want advice. Branch out. Spread your creative wings.
- In text or video, you can obfuscate, display or portray what you choose. Voice never lies. Can you tell when someone wants to speak with you over the phone? Of course you can. Every intonation is evident, and every attitude and thought is transparent in voice. Believe in what you are saying, say it with verve, and try truly to connect with the listener, and you will go far.
- The kiss of death for any new podcast is poor audio quality. Recording in an echoey room, being too far from the mic, using a crappy mic (although most entry level equipment these days will sound pretty good) will take away from the audio magic you weave. Before you release a show, make sure it sounds good (never record from the tiny mic in the computer), is well edited (take out pauses, umms, ahhs, etc), and sounds like something you want to listen to.
- Be yourself. The more genuine and honest you can be the more personal connection you will make with the audience.
- Before investing any money or time into podcasting, talk to anyone who is already doing podcasting…it is a small, but friendly community. Pick peoples brains about hardware, software, and content ideas.
- Don’t set expectations that are not realistic…getting a good podcast out every month is a tough thing. Make sure you give yourself a realistic amount of time between episodes. Remember, its a marathon, not a sprint.
- Don’t do it alone. Find a partner/team with a proven track record of productivity. Lauren and I had both done a BUNCH of small things (she had dozens of blog posts, I had a crop of ACEP News columns and even a couple of ALiEM posts). People who get stuff done on a regular basis are more valuable in partnerships/teams than you can imagine.
- Kill your darlings. Some of our best/favorite material (funniest banter) gets cut because we believe that every second is precious time to the listener. Sure, we banter a bit. But we limit it and realize that we simply aren’t cool enough that people want to know what books we are reading or what beer we are drinking. We don’t like ourselves, so why the heck would you? We realize that we are simply not Scott Weingart or Rob Orman. So we don’t pretend to be. People tune in for the learning that we are doing/sharing. Maybe someday someone will ask us questions like what our favorite movies are or what books we read last year. But so far, no one has and we’re ok with that. So we keep that off the show.
- Be legal. Using copyright-protected music and images you do not own are mostly not “fair use” even though you’re not making money. It’s an unfortunate truth that most theme music used on podcasts is being used illegally. We only use copyright-free music (Garageband loops) or music we have secured the rights to use. So far, FOAM has gotten away with it but it would be unfortunate if the record companies cracked down all at once and made everyone fix their episodes (a few years ago they did this in New York City to all of the karaoke bars and it was kind of an epic tragedy).
- Be you. And by that I don’t mean tell us about what you’ve been up to lately (see #2: it’s likely that no one cares). By that I mean, be up front with what you’re about. Lauren and I are residents who are learning in public. We don’t profess to be experts. So, we are honest about the fact that we’re learning a lot of this as we go along and having fun doing it. I think people have responded well to our openness about who we are and why we’re doing what we do. So…be you.
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