In this day and age, any weirdo with a laptop can host and produce a podcast. But how can you set yourself apart and sound (at least) pretty good on your podcast?
Hi. I’m Trin Garritano, and I’m a weirdo with a laptop, too.
As the Digital Outreach Lead for the Kickstarter Games team, I produce and edit our podcast I Think You Two Would Get Along. Each episode, we put two games industry personalities onto a Skype call and try to get them to be friends, or at the very least add one another to their rolodex.
I’m also the co-host and co-friend of the Friendshipping podcast with my creative partner Jenn Bane, and have been since 2015. Occasionally, I crash other people’s podcasts. This is all to say that I have some podcasting experience, and I think I’m alright at what I do, but I’m not some Big Podcast Boy, okay?
Here, I’ll share some lessons I’ve picked up along the way about being a good host and creating great audio. As with any advice you’ll ever receive on the internet, your mileage may vary. Take what seems reasonable to you, and leave what doesn’t. Hopefully you, too, will sound pretty good on your podcast.
— Trin Garritano
General tips for sounding good
- Don’t worry about “likes” or “ums.” Using filler language like “uhhhh” or “y’know?” is a sign that you’re speaking casually. Try not to keep track of your “like” count.
- Smile when you are speaking. I am loathe to tell anyone to smile. Unfortunately, human beings sound like absolute serial killers on audio if we don’t take some precautions. Smiling makes you sound nice. It just does. I’m sorry. In other news of annoying things you can do to sound better, try recording while standing up. This can make you sound more dynamic and help keep you focused. I hate it and it works.
- Vary your vocal inflection. You don’t need to go for Shatner levels of mixing up your vocal inflection, but if you are trying to convey a particular emotion — genuine interest! shock! delight! — it really helps. Once again: no one can see your face or body language.
- Take notes. This isn’t for everyone, but I’ve found that I do a better job of speaking clearly when I’m able to take notes during a recorded conversation. I write down stuff that I think would be helpful to add when it’s my turn to speak instead of shouting something like, “AND ANOTHER THING…”
- Start your sentences over when you’re unclear. When we speak to one another in person, we garble our words constantly and it’s fine. We use body language and facial expressions to help make our point. But there’s no good way to convey that over audio. Make sure you actually say real sentences with real words inside of them. If I catch myself garbling my words, I like to say: “Let me rephrase that real quick for the edit.”
Tips for interviewing guests
- Tell your guests what you need. Be clear with everyone involved in your podcast (host, editor, guests, and so on) about your show’s goals before you start. For example, if your podcast is educational, let your guest know that you’d love their answers to contain advice or information for the listener. I like to start recording by reminding everyone that we’re all on the same team. I’ll edit them to sound smart, and they don’t need to worry about being hilarious. Since our podcast focuses on the personality of the guests, this allows them to let go, relax, and be themselves.
- Prepare questions. Even freeform-sounding podcasts often have at least a rough outline prepared before recording. I’m not saying you need to write out every question you plan to ask, but it’ll do you a lot of good if you at least keep a list of topics you’d like to cover. Bonus points for you if you keep a paper copy of your list with you as you record. You’ll be able to take notes as you go, helping you form a more coherent discussion.
- That said, don’t just go through a list of questions. Listen to how your guest responds and ask them to elaborate on something interesting that they just said. This is called active listening, which is a very useful skill that almost nobody has.
- Be the captain of your podcast and steer the conversation. Interesting, brilliant people are not inherently great speakers. They don’t all have a go-to funny story in their back pocket, and they’re not an actor at a press junket. Make sure that you are setting your guest up for success. If someone can’t think up a good answer for your question, you have two choices: you can help them along, or you can cut it.
Tips for editing
Keep in mind: these tips are most applicable to a conversational podcast like I Think You Two Would Get Along.
- Cut out some of the “likes” and “ums.” But don’t buff out 100% of the filler or you’ll sound like an android. (And it will take you f o r e v e r.)
- Treat yourself like anyone else. Editing a recording of your own voice is emotionally exhausting. As you are forced to grapple with every awkward pause you initiated and every poorly received joke you told, try not to beat yourself up. You will get better. Resist the temptation to erase yourself from your own podcast. Having said that…
- Don’t get precious about your own jokes and stories. When you’re recording with a guest, telling your own personal tales can put your guest at ease and help them open up. But your listeners don’t know you, and they weren’t in the room. Be honest with yourself about which stories are fun to listen to, and which stories are just fun to tell.
- Get a second opinion. If you’re not sure how you feel about your draft, and you’ve got a friend or coworker with the time and the patience, have a second source listen and suggest edits before you post it. They will hear things you didn’t notice.
Free resources for podcasters
- Want to get better at interviewing guests? Listen to Fresh Air with Terry Gross. She’s the best question-asker in the business.
- Can’t afford editing software? Audacity is fine. Audacity is audio editing freeware that is reasonably intuitive and fairly robust. If you’re just dipping your toe into podcasting, this is a great place to start.
- Don’t know how to do something? Just look it up. I Google how to do my job pretty much every day, and so can you! Nerds online are some of the friendliest people out there, and there is no shame in getting help when you need it. Not sure how to add a noise gate? Not sure what a noise gate is? Hit YouTube and I guarantee someone smarter than me will tell you all about it.
Did this guide help you with your podcast? Let me know on Twitter @TrinAndTonic. Did it not help you at all? Don’t @ me.