Over the last ten weeks I’ve had eight roadtrips of at least six hours each. By my calculation that’s almost 50 hours in the car with little to do but watch the road and stay awake. To pass the time and get some essential biz education and tips, I thought why not load up a bunch of podcasts I’ve been meaning to listen to—some shows that I’ve listened to for a while and some new ones based on recommendations from friends and Instagram posts.
Some podcasts were fantastic and I got a ton of great ideas. Others … well, not so much. They were hard to listen to. I felt sorry for the guest, I felt sorry for the audience. Heck, I felt sorry for the hosts!
The thing is, each podcast that I didn’t like has a ton of potential—great topics, enthusiastic hosts—but the execution was way off.
This article started out as a bit of a rant about the state of a society where anyone with a microphone and an Internet connection can call herself a podcaster. Then I realized, hey, maybe I have something constructive to contribute here, drawing upon my background as a TV news reporter, college radio DJ, champion speaker and a past podcaster myself. (Available in iTunes in all my 2011 glory. Listen if you dare ha ha.)
In no particular order I give you my top four pet peeves from my recent podcast binge, and some tips to fix what’s not working.
STEP #1: DON’T forget your guest!
One pair of 30-something podcast hosts introduced their guest at the top of the show—great idea!—and it sounded like she had a great topic to discuss. I was looking forward to the episode.
I should mention their show supposedly gives business tips and strategies to women entrepreneurs.
Their first question: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Guest’s answer: (with all sincerity) A princess.
Next question: Oooh! Who are your favorite Disney princesses?
Answer: Ariel and Belle.
It careened downhill from there. The hosts went on for about 15 minutes between themselves talking about glitter, Disney movies and princesses. I’m not kidding. I could feel the guest on the other end of the phone dying, wanting to say, “Um, hello? I’m here to talk about branding!” Ugh! I felt sooo bad for the guest and turned off the podcast.
- Do your homework. Do lots of research on your topic and/or your guest. If your guest has written a book, read the book. You can cheat a little here and ask the guest to send you their press kit which should have a list of suggested questions. If they have a blog, read their last few blog posts.
- Talk to your guest (duh). Something about your guest intrigues you enough to want her on your show. You must think she can provide value to your listeners, so focus on that. (And if you’re not podcasting to serve and provide value to you listeners, then hang up your headphones and unplug your mic.) A little background or a colorful personal story about the guest (especially if you know her or follow her) is great and helps build that know, like and trust factor, but for the love of God and all that’s holy, focus on the guest!
STEP #2: DON’T wing it.
Unless you’re a seasoned pro, just hitting record and talking into your USB mic off the top of your head or whatever bullet points you scrawled on a sticky note 15 minutes beforehand is wasting your listeners’ time
- Be prepared. If you’re doing it right, having a podcast takes work. As in, potentially several hours a week. Coming up with relevant topics, researching the topic or finding a guest, preparing for the interview, writing out talking points and nuggets … it’s a lot!
- Emulate pro podcasters. Listen to other awesome podcasters like Amy Porterfield. You don’t need a word for word script, but you should have a decent outline of what you’re going to talk about with main points and some nuggets to illustrate each point. If you’re quoting someone, write down the quote verbatim so you’re not guessing when you’re recording. If you have specific statistics or other facts, write them down.
- Organize your show. Here’s a basic recipe for any talk—whether it’s a presentation at work or a podcast:
- Say what you you’re going to say
- Say it
- Say what you just said
Saying what you’re going to say gives the listener a roadmap that they can follow. Their brain will advance to the next topic more easily. They can actually hear and process what you’re saying instead of trying to figure out where you’re taking them.
Say it—have a few points, stories, facts and figures to illustrate your point. Then, when you’ve gone through all your points, give a quick recap and say what you just said.
Amy Porterfield is a master of this approach. If you don’t already listen to her podcast, you should! (Seriously, you need to listen to her, and find other great podcasters you can emulate.)
STEP #3: DON’T annoy the snot out of your listeners with inane banter and filler words.
Another podcast I listened to also featured two female hosts in their 30s. In addition to that sing-songy way of speaking where every sentence ends in an upward swing like every sentence is a question, whenever one replied to other she would say, “Ya, fer shure.” Like this:
“Jane, can you talk about this?”
“Ya, fer shure … um blah, blah, like, blah. Do you, like, want to, like, talk about that, Joan?”
“Yaaaa, fer shure, like, um, I think ….”
“Oh, ya, fer shure, me too.”
Every. Single. Time. They may have had great content but I had to turn it off. Nails on a chalkboard is a more welcoming sound. I realize I may not be their demographic, but God help us if this is the widely-accepted style of communication now or in the future.
- Listen to your own recordings as objectively as possible. What words do you use as filler words? It might be hard to hear, but take notes on how you sound and what you’re saying.
I know that I overuse the word “so.” So much so (ha!) that I have to literally stop myself when I open my mouth and when I end a sentence. It is painful to listen to episodes of my podcast where almost every sentence began and/or ended with “so.” It’s a useless filler word that makes me sound way dumber than I am.
- Be conscious when you speak. Again this isn’t about scripting every word but THINKING before you speak. Pause a half second and swallow that “so” or “fer shure” or whatever your word is at the beginning of your sentence.
- Think about and write down a list of alternative words. Keep this list in front of you when you’re on the air. So (oh good grief!), for example, the hosts I refer to above could reply to each other like this:
“I’d love to Joan!”
“Absolutely, that’s a great point.”
“Yes, I completely agree, and …”
Find something that contributes to the conversation and moves it forward. Speaking of speaking …
STEP #4: DON’T sound like a moron.
Seriously, just because you can make noise with your mouth doesn’t mean you can talk good. (Yes, I know that’s incorrect; it’s an effect. Go with it.) Just as you would question a blog post or an online magazine article full of typos, your poor grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary are huge turnoffs to your listeners.
- If you don’t know how to say a word, don’t say it. If you don’t know what a word means, don’t use it. Or—just a thought here—look up a word in a dictionary beforehand. Pick up the classic “Elements of Style” to acquaint yourself with commonly confused and misused words.
- Educate yourself about the art of speaking. Join a local Toastmasters club. Toastmasters provides some of the best speaker training around. Their Table Topics feature is great for learning how to think and speak on your feet—a very useful skill when interviewing guests on your podcast. If there are several groups in your area, visit them at least once and find one that fits your schedule and your vibe.
Podcasting is a fantastic way to build your online presence, expand your community and get your message out there. It’s fun and you can learn a lot about yourself while improving your communication style. If you’ve been thinking about it, go for it! I hope these tips provide you with some guidance on being the best host you can be, to present yourself and your brand in the best light possible.
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