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Learn to Talk on Your Podcast by Listening

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What is a podcast? I’m going to be asking that question at next week’s Blog World Expo in New York, and I suspect there will be a different answer from everyone I ask. What I am pretty sure about is that when you look at the content, it’; going to boil down to people talking to each other.

Be it a formal interview, a panel discussion on the latest news on a specialist topic, most podcasts boil down to people talking to each other, be it the aforementioned interview, a round table discussion, or stopping someone in the hall of a blogging conference. Unfortunately there isn’t a "Dummies Guide for Talking to People and recording the conversation".

But help is at hand! It’s all around you in the podcast world! People! Talking to other people! Unlike "how to set up an RSS feed," there isn’t a set of bullet points to follow, but there are a lot of practical examples out there, and a number of rules of thumb that I’ve gleaned.

Okay, the first one, the most obvious, and the one that seems to be missed by those starting out. Listen to what others are saying, and let your lines flow from that. The next question is always in the last answer – the skill is leading into question two from question one, via the answer, and getting the flow right between the two people involved in the conversation.

I’m never a fan of having all your questions completely written out before an interview, mainly because you can’t react to what is being said, and listening is just as important a skill to use. You need to be able to make it all sound natural, and you can’t do that with a fixed script. By all means have notes, but do what every good blogger does, and #tag the questions you want to ask. That way you can make sure that over the whole interview, but all your questions will feel natural when they come up.

For me though, one of the best things you can do is to listen to other podcasts, listen to other formats, and absorb as much as possible. Here’s three podcasts that I’d recommend you pop on your listening list for the technique as well as the content:

  • Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me (NPR)

    A weekly sports quiz show, where the questions are already known to the panellists, but there is an easy spontaneity on show, and it’s an excellent example of how a chairperson can keep control of a panel of guests, and stay on course for time and content while everyone else goes for the jokes.

  • Tech Weekly (The Guardian)

    A nice descriptive title, covering the weekly news. Lots of structure on show here, with a clear goal, but at the same time it stays fresh and never hard to listen to.

  • Best of Today (BBC Radio 4)

    One of the most surprising things for me watching US media is how gentle your interviewers are with their guests. How are you meant to get any new information that way? Time to listen to aggressive interview technique when the subject is not as forthcoming.

On top of all this, there is one guide, one reference points, there is one sage that I would turn to before any others. Someone I turned to over six years ago when this all smelt like a new car.

Johnny Carson.

Seriously, grab a decent collection of old Tonight shows (here’s my suggestion) and while you enjoy the fun, listen to Carson, and watch how everything just works and clicks together. For me, that was the gold standard to aim for when I started. Now, you have a lot more to choose from and learn from.

But if you;re asking me for advice, it’s simple. "Heeeeeere’s Johnny"

There's a man who sits in the space between podcasting, blogging, writing and reporting - there's a man who's a burst of energy, a flurry of tartan, and a million microphone cables, smartphones, cameras and laptops trailing in his wake...there's a man called Ewan Spence.


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