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3 Things to Do Before You Hit Record on a Podcast

The audience for podcasts is bigger than you expect. So is the need for upfront planning.

tape recorder with cassette on the floor

Raise your hand if you’ve listened to a podcast in the past month.

I can’t see you, readers, but I bet there are a lot of hands in the air right now. According to research from Pew, nearly a quarter of Americans have listened to a podcast in the past month. That’s up from 9 percent in 2008.

These numbers are promising for would-be podcasters in the association world. But what’s even more promising is what the format allows: deep conversations that showcase specific expertise and thought leadership. Who does expertise better than associations?

However, like any type of content, podcasts take time and effort. To make the most of that time and effort, do your homework long before you ever hit record.

1. Define your style

Are you looking for a lighthearted, free-for-all gabfest or a tightly scripted narrative? Do you want your podcast to feel like a conversation or a high-concept experience? The format you choose will depend on your audience, goals, area of expertise, and—frankly—capacity and resources.

Many long-established podcasters—with topics and audiences as varied as Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels of Separation or The Joe Rogan Experience—have found success with a simple DIY approach. They line up guests they find fascinating, then they simply record a conversation with minimal editing. It’s a format that will work if you have meaty topics to discuss, plus hosts and guests who can speak at length with authority.

On the other end of the podcast spectrum is the episodic narrative, a la Serial or Startup. It’s an engrossing format custom-made to hook listeners. For instance, the National Fire Protection Association produced a narrative podcast series called The Survivors using a story with built-in drama: the aftermath of severe fires. But not everyone will have such naturally dramatic material to work with. Also, know that if you choose a serial narrative, you need to devote ample time to the scripting and production work that ties a story together.

Don’t let that scare you off, though. There’s plenty of middle ground. For instance, AGB’s Trusteeship Radio (full disclosure: I host and produce it) uses a hybrid approach. A discussion with subject matter experts provides the centerpiece of each episode, but scripted intros, outros and transitions set the scene and keep things flowing.

2. Determine your thought leaders

If demonstrating thought leadership is one of your goals in producing a podcast, you need to define who those thought leaders should be. That can determine everything from your host to your guests.

For instance, one of Trusteeship Radio’s key goals is to get volunteer board trustees from colleges and universities around the country to be advocates for higher education. So it makes sense that those trustees themselves have a voice on the podcast.

With that in mind, most episodes feature two guests per discussion: one subject matter expert (such as an economist or researcher) and one trustee with experience dealing with the topic at hand. The result: a free-flowing and hopefully compelling back and forth in which the guests challenge and question each other as much as the host asks questions.

3. Work ahead

For one thing, consider producing three or more episodes before you launch. Doing so allows you to hook binge-listeners—and also helps you get over the pilot episode hump and find your podcasting flow.

Along those same lines, don’t let your podcast marketing plan become an afterthought. Think about how you’re going to use your existing channels, from enews to social to a prominent landing page on your site, to share and promote each episode. Tap your guests, too. If they’re willing to be on your show, they’re probably also willing to share it with their own networks.

The pre-recording work doesn’t stop once you’ve launched, either. There’s one extra step for each episode I highly recommend: the pre-interview. Before you record a conversation with your guests, have a brief call with them to set the ground rules, talk about topics and let them get to know fellow guests, if it’s a roundtable approach.

Doing so not only helps you gather information but also puts people at ease. Most people aren’t media pros. Anything you can do to make them feel comfortable will go a long way toward making your podcast feel conversational once you finally do hit record.

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