In the second of this two-part series, Neil Cumins reveals some tricks of the podcasting trade…
In theory, podcasting offers a superb way to express your personal opinions on a potentially boundless public platform. In practice, many people are unsure where to start or how to produce a successful podcast. As our introductory feature explained, podcasts become more appealing as their professionalism increases. So where should an enthusiastic amateur begin?
Firstly, a good podcast requires a good presenter. If your voice is more monotone than baritone, consider getting a friend or colleague to be the voice (or face) of your podcasts. Secondly, the content has to be engaging and tightly scripted. Even Brian Blessed couldn’t hold people’s attention during a half-hour polemic about the Norwegian leather industry, or moles, for that matter. When scripting a podcast, read each draft out loud to make sure every sentence can justify its inclusion. Be knowledgeable without showing off, and try to let your expertise or enthusiasm for the subject matter shine through. A catchy title helps, as does a clearly-defined intro and outro.
Having decided on the content and the delivery mechanism, step three along the road to podcasting perfection involves acquiring suitable equipment. Nowadays, most modern smartphones have half-decent microphones and HD cameras, but bear in mind they have a propensity to fall over and start beeping or vibrating. A docking station or GorillaPod should keep them in place while you perform, and switch off any sounds or vibrations before pressing record.
Audio recordings are easier to stage-manage than video clips, but remain a set distance away from the microphone to avoid sound levels fluctuating. Similarly, face towards the mic at all times; most non-specialist microphones are unidirectional and only deliver consistent results when sounds are heading directly towards them. Pop filters can subdue more plosive syllables, and they can be made using basic household items a la Blue Peter.
Proficient podcasters frequently use a digital voice recorder or freestanding microphone for audio files, while video clips can be captured on a webcam or camcorder. Ensure the device’s output files are compatible with the computer or tablet it’ll be dumped onto and uploaded from. You’ll also need some editing software, if only to cut and paste redundant segments or add intro/outro sequences and other media clips. A common reason for editing podcasts involves unexpected interruptions, so minimise these by turning off electronic equipment and unplugging the phone. If you do need to do some trimming, Linux has plugins like FFMPEG, while Windows and Mac users can download the acclaimed Audacity program for free. Never compress audio files until they’re edited and ready to be uploaded, and don’t over-compress them unless you want to sound like you’re live from the surface of the moon.
One final tip is to study other podcasts for inspiration. What backdrops do other presenters use? Do props help or hinder when discussing your chosen subject matter? Are there any annoying glitches or issues with other people’s podcasts that you want to avoid, like random pixellation or cheesy intro music? Remember that podcasts should build into a dependably regular series of themed presentations, and you don’t want early uploads to look shoddy or unprofessional compared to later efforts. It’s far better to be consistent from the outset.
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