Checklist for Audio Podcasts

If your idea of a great podcast is a longer version of your local radio commercial, read on. Podcasts do allow you to merely extend your radio ads, but you’ll draw more customers with an informational approach rather than a sales pitch. In other words, you’re better off emulating radio programming than radio advertising.

Most people new to podcasting focus on sound quality. While some successful podcasts are amateurish in quality, customers expect more from marketers. Your customers are likely to compare your podcast’s quality to radio shows, so use that as your standard. Fortunately, any PC can be outfitted with a professional microphone and headphones to provide acceptable sound quality. You can edit your podcast using inexpensive software and post it to your blog or Web site. In short, quality audio is not terribly expensive to distribute.

The harder part is the content itself. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Decide your schedule. Are you doing a ten-minute interview each month? A roundup of headlines every day? You’ll build a following faster if you keep to a regular schedule. Many successful business podcasts come out once a week—their listeners subscribe to a Web feed and get it each week at the same time.
  • Choose your length. Can you really create 30 high-quality minutes each week? Keep in mind that it may take you two hours every week to produce those 30 minutes. Does your customer listening on an iPod on a commuter train want to listen to 30 minutes or would something shorter be better?
  • Select a format. Think in terms of short regular features, such as news headlines, a commentary, or an interview. Or combine several of them into a longer show.
  • Cast your podcast. Decide who will be your regular host and contributors and bring in guests for variety. In general, multiple voices in conversation make for a more interesting production than a one-person monologue. You can overcome geographical boundaries by using Skype for free phone calls—the quality is quite good.

Consider the tips above, but use your judgment, too. If you can’t find a partner who will add to the show, then do it solo. If you just can’t post on a regular schedule, at least make it worthwhile when you do. If your audience responds to long podcasts of speeches you make at conferences, who cares if they are 45 minutes? You need to figure out what works for you and your customers, not follow a set of rules. As with all content, quality is of overriding importance.

To improve your sound quality, pick a regular “studio” to do your recording which is quiet and free of echoes. If you record on location, always perform a sound test before your first real “take” so you don’t waste your efforts on a full show before discovering you were inaudible.

If you do “soundseeing” podcasts (“This week, we’ll tour our Des Moines factory floor with our Quality Control Supervisor, Les D. Fects…”). you’ll undoubtedly have a higher background noise level than in your studio. Make sure that you and your guests talk as close to the microphone as possible so you can be heard clearly.

If possible, break up your full show into segments that can be recorded separately. That way, re-takes can be limited to the segment with the error, rather than having to “take it from the top” if you mispronounce your guest’s name in the last 30 seconds of the show. Check out a sample podcast outline:

Time Segment Cast Comments
0:00     Cue intro music
0:08 Intro Larry Talk over music to announce the name of show with today’s guest and introduce Sheila and Rick.
0:20 Welcome
and news
Sheila and Rick  
1:50 Transition music Larry Talk over music for company name
2:00 Guest interview Sheila and guest  
12:00 Transition Larry Talk over music for brief company message, followed by Rick’s intro
12:30 Rick’s commentary Rick  
14:30 Wrap-up Sheila Thank our guest and preview next week’s show

You need not write out a full-blown script—it usually sounds more natural if you have no more than talking points jotted down. You don’t need to be religious about the timing—unlike radio, if this week’s show is 15 minutes and 30 seconds and last week’s was 14 minutes, it’s no big deal.

Using music gives it a more professional sound, but don’t forget to get permission from the copyright holder—popular music usually requires a royalty payment. While we are on the subject, you’ll need to get permission from anyone you record (and from venue owners when you record on location).

Podcasts are great for posting to your blog, because customers can subscribe to them and get them the moment they are available. You can also post them to podcast directories. Just as with a text Web page, make sure you use a good title for your podcast and provide textual notes with the highlights of the show. This text will help searchers find your podcast and will cause folks seeing the page to want to actually listen to it. (It also helps to list any Web links you refer to in the podcast so your customers don’t have to write them down while they listen.)

By following this checklist, your podcast will stand out among the rest.

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