My wife and I are grandparents, but live some distance from our kids, which means we must frequently commute for visits and holidays. During those drives, we like to listen to music and podcasts to pass the time. But, lately, we’ve had difficulty finding shows we can tolerate for more than a few minutes.
Recently I wrapped up production on my own podcast, “Standing At an Angle to the Universe,” and, based on that experience, plus the shortcomings I’ve noted on other programs, I’ve drawn up a list of items that will really improve the medium, and make it more responsive to the tastes and requirements of listeners.
1. First of all, podcasters, stay focused: Get to the point and stick with it. Many of the shows we hear feature hosts who ramble on and on, completely oblivious to their inanity and narcissism. Sometimes, the programs in questions are nearly 10 minutes old before they finally begin to touch on the topic of interest. When it came time to do my own series, I made sure that each of the ten episodes was scripted and scrupulously edited, avoiding long, pointless sidebars and unrelated musing.
Uh, for the most part. Nobody’s perfect.
2. Next, if there is more than one host, please don’t take turns trying to top each other’s wackiness. For our last trip, we downloaded an episode of Dana Carvey and David Spade’s podcast because they were, allegedly, interviewing the brilliant and hilarious actor-comedian Bill Hader. Hader was a good sport about it all but he barely got a word in edgewise. Spade and Carvey were intent on rehashing moth-eaten stories of their “Saturday Night Live” days, babbling away, leaving poor Hader little to contribute other than the occasional snicker. It was embarrassing.
And just because you’re a co-host doesn’t mean you have to audibly react to everything your on-air partner says. There was one podcast where the hosts were discussing the infamous Clutter family massacre in Holcomb, Kansas (as related in Truman Capote’s masterpiece In Cold Blood). Fascinating stuff…but, every time one host brought up a gruesome detail, or commented about the events of that night, the other would blurt “oh” or “that’s terrible” or “Oh, my gosh” and the like. Please spare us these unnecessary interjections. They are as welcome as a curious skunk at a family picnic.
3. Another thing: PREPARE! I never winged it with “Standing At an Angle to the Universe.” As I indicated, it was scripted ahead of time but I also took pains to practice and rehearse until my delivery was as smooth and glitch-free as possible. Many of the podcasts I’ve sampled give the impression of being improvisatory, poorly prepared and that just seems irresponsible to me. Professionalism is so important in our biz and amateurs and dingbats only hurt the medium and chase away potential listeners.
4. And, work on your delivery. Do vocal warmups, and make sure you stay well-hydrated. It helps give your voice some timbre and nuance. There’s nothing worse than having to endure a monotonic host with the charisma of an oak plank. Get comfortable behind that microphone. It took me two or three episodes before I hit my stride but, by episode ten, my AKG mic was like an old pal to me.
5. Octavia Butler’s first rule of writing is “don’t bore people”, and that’s one dictum I wish more podcasters would take to heart. Find a good subject, yes, but come at it from an entirely fresh perspective rather than just giving it the straight documentary treatment. We can all get that by Googling it.
Research is so important, seeking multiple sources, and making copious notes. But, keep all that in the background, don’t constantly be spouting factoids to show you’ve done your homework. If you’re interviewing a guest, due diligence is required in order to ask informed, concise questions that draw something from them other than the standard, stock responses.
6. Finally, don’t get all hung up on “monetizing” your show, beating the bushes for some kind of corporate sponsorship and so on. I produced my podcast on the cheap, in my home office, using easily available software, and the final result, if I say so myself, is as polished and engaging as anything else out there. Kids, it’s not about building a brand, or making a name for yourself, but it does have everything to do with taking part in an ongoing dialogue, contributing to a future in the process of being made today.
With that in mind, every single voice counts and every opinion matters. With each conversation and exchange, we’re building the fabric of a society that must be able to sustain the strains of dissent and the clamor of competing viewpoints. Say your piece, and say it well. Your audience expects and deserves nothing less.
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- Five Friendly Podcasts for Book Promotion – by Amanda Steel
Cliff Burns has been a professional author for over 35 years, with 16 books and scores of published short stories and poems to his credit. His podcast series on books and the writing life, “Standing At an Angle to the Universe”, is available on a number of popular platforms, including Spotify, Amazon, Podbean, etc.
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