Many performers dream of fame and fortune resulting from their talents, but in the world of podcasting, you will need to temper those expectations. Hold on to that ambition! However, thousands of podcasts start—and end—every month. There are plenty of podcasts started by a couple of friends who enjoy talking to each other but burn out several months later when the show costs more time and money than they believe it is worth. If you are considering starting a podcast, there are three important questions to ask yourself.
1 What is my purpose?
When my podcasting co-host, Kristin LaLonde, asked if I was interested in starting a podcast about comics and libraries, I examined my purpose in joining her. I enjoy advocating for comics as educational and entertaining material, and there are always more comics to endorse, so that motivation took care of itself. Speaking to other librarians and comics experts sounded exciting—as they tend to be a motivated, well-read bunch—so that aspect also won me over. Lastly, I wanted to learn more about using hardware and software to record and tweak digital audio files. When you ask yourself the purpose of podcasting, consider the message you want to deliver, the expertise you want to build, or the skills you want to acquire.
As of this writing, Kristin and I co-host The Secret Stacks podcast at a monetary loss. After four and a half years, we have recorded 56 episodes, accounting for more than 10,000 downloads, or less than 200 downloads per episode. Those are relatively paltry numbers, but we have a purpose and enjoy what we do, and the perseverance that results from acting with purpose has carried us further than if we wanted lucrative sponsorships and mass adoration (not that we would complain). Once you figure out your purpose, you will be ready for the second and most complex step in podcasting: the technical stuff.
2 How will I record and broadcast my show?
Good news: Podcasting is relatively easy! There wouldn’t be millions of shows competing for attention if it was difficult. Creating a professionally produced show loaded with quality content and personality is much trickier though.
There are lots of great guides for selecting recording equipment, from microphones to pop filters and sound-absorbing panels. There are also performance guides to help you avoid certain verbal tics or storytelling tropes that turn off audiences. National Public Radio’s student guide to podcasting, for example, has lots of good advice.
Additionally, when it comes to editing the audio on a computer, the free software program Audacity is fairly easy to learn and includes all the essential editing tools you need. Online tutorials are available to guide you along, such as Audacity’s own and The Audacity to Podcast.
Podcasting doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor when you start out. Use technology you probably already have on hand before you spend money and rearrange your house. The microphone for my first year of recording was a basic pair of headphones with a tiny plastic arm that housed a microphone. Once, I recorded impromptu podcast interviews at a conference by talking to willing guests in a quiet corner of a hotel lobby. I simply plopped my smartphone on the table between us as the microphone.
When plotting out the structure of your podcast, make room for feedback. You control your content, but your listeners are in control of the stop and unsubscribe buttons. For example, Kristin and I solicit feedback via email and social media, and one of our most effective pieces of listener feedback was to cut down our episode lengths. While we enjoyed running our mouths for over an hour and a half, most people seemed comfortable with 45 minutes per episode. Planning out an episode’s topics and segments up front will help keep your editing focused on little tweaks instead of cutting entire conversations.
Speaking of editing, can I tell you a secret? Editing podcast audio is like a balm for my public speaking nerves. While I might cringe hearing my audible pauses and prolonged attempts to remember a specific word or name, those moments can all be erased and smoothed over from the editing chair. Kristin and I had no idea we started so many sentences with a tongue click until we were removing them. It’s like using a time machine to fix a conversation—we can stop ourselves from making embarrassing mistakes and keep only the constructive and entertaining segments. Playing editor with your own audio will also make you a better grammarian and Ah Counter in everyday life.
3 What do I say, and how do I say it?
This question might be the hardest to answer as it gets to the heart of public speaking. A lot of podcasts crumble under the opposing forces of wanting to say something but not being sure how to express it, settling for meager chitchat and speculation. Maybe you can get away with that if you have a velvety smooth voice, but everyone else needs to speak with more intention and skill. This is why speaking with purpose will carry you far. There’s a handy investigative tool that will help you frame your topics and interviews. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What do I want people to know and what problem does that knowledge solve?
- If my knowledge doesn’t solve the problem, what is the question that will lead me to the knowledge I want?
- If I don’t know what to ask, is there someone else I can ask for their expertise?
- If the expert doesn’t have all the answers, where do they turn to find out more?
The Toastmasters Connection
Toastmasters offers plenty of options for experimenting with different public speaking approaches—which is why clubs offer a great training ground for future podcasters. For starters, club participation will increase your comfort level in a speaking role—whether you’re just starting in a relatively quiet role, such as grammarian or timer, or leading the meeting as a Toastmaster of the Day or main speaker. Additionally, giving and receiving evaluations, an important club activity, will help you identify and polish a speaking style all your own. Podcasting success requires the ability to assume a performance role as an everyday occurrence. That kind of confidence comes from lots of practice—which is exactly what the club setting offers.
Not surprisingly, Toastmasters has recognized podcasts as a compelling new speaking platform by adding it to the many skills to be mastered in the Pathways learning experience. Developing and delivering a podcast is a Level 4 elective in many path choices, giving members a new outlet for creative expression.
There is no one road to podcasting, and your show will evolve as you learn the ropes and incorporate feedback. The most successful podcasters share a personal sense of fulfillment in common that can lead them to unexpected places. Kristin and I were gobsmacked when we received an invitation to present in Canada at the Quebec Library Association Annual Conference as a result of our podcast. Whatever preparation and equipment you choose to use in your podcasting odyssey, I hope you do it with purpose and find yourself on a surprising adventure.
Thomas Maluck is a teen services librarian at Richland Library and member of Richland Library Staff Toastmasters in Columbia, South Carolina. He reviews comics for No Flying No Tights and School Library Journal, and he discusses comics on his podcast, The Secret Stacks.