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Find Out if Anyone is Listening to Your Podcast

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“Lies, damn lies, and statistics.” To the old cliché it might be worth adding “number of internet downloads” because working out just how many people are consuming your content is the source of countless applications, rules of thumb, and the occasional touch of snake oil (yes, I still get pitched with measured “hits” in 2011).  It gets even more interesting with podcasting.

Nobody likes to produce to an empty room, so how do you know if people are engaging with you? While most podcasters are going to have a blog (even if it’s just to power the RSS feeds for your show), there are some great strategies and ideas to discover your listeners and interact with them. Here are three, and feel free to add your own.

One of the important areas you have to remember is that people listening to your podcast are not likely to be next to their computer when they do listen, and if they are out and about they might not be in the best place to use a smartphone or tablet to carry out the action. So you need to make any call to action memorable and simple.

If you want something, ask for it. That’s a rule you want to remember here, because you want to get that listener interaction. The time honoured way is to offer some sort of inducement, and that’s why competitions should be considered. It doesn’t need to be a fantastic prize (unless you’ve got a sponsor who’d like to help out with that). An Amazon digital voucher is always a good place to start.

You could always combine the competition with a survey. Asking your audience a “question of the month” is a great format, and as well as engaging with them and starting a two-way conversation, any survey should always ask the basic demographic details of those taking part. Why? Because when you start to approach advertisers, they’ll really appreciate that kind of information (so make sure you tell people why you’re asking for the demographic data, be honest).

Finally, your podcast is just a file on the internet, so tracking downloads is a valid method. There are various plug-ins for blogging platforms that will help you do this, and some of them are tailored for use with podcasts. Personally I’m a fan of Blubrry’s service that’s wrapped up in their Powerpress plug-in for WordPress, but there are others out there you can use.

The flaw in relying on a counter is that downloads don’t necessarily mean listeners – go and check your podcast queue to see how many podcasts you have unplayed and you’ll see what I mean. That’s why the call to actions in your podcast are important. They may be reinforced with links on the show notes, but fundamentally they are discovered when people listen. Keep them simple, make them easy to remember (consider using a custom bit.ly link such as bit.ly/blogworld), and make sure to keep your own records on what works and what doesn’t – it’ll be different for every podcast audience!

Image: TwiT at MacWorld 2008″ cc Macinate / Flickr

Podcasting: Added Value

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People hear my podcasts, they hear about the way I’ve set myself up, and they invariably ask me how much work I put into it. I tell them that in the beginning, it wasn’t much work at all. After a while, it became a lot of work. These days, I’m back to it not being much work at all, even though I’m producing more shows than ever. In conversations that I have with clients and people interested in podcasting, one of the most common fears that prevent folks from getting started is that podcasting—the way they see me and other full-time podcasters doing it—will take up too much of their time.

And it would. It totally would.

Podcasting is my primary gig, and other interests feed into it. I’m also an affiliate marketer, so I’ve done some things in that space that feed into my podcasting efforts. If podcasting isn’t already your primary gig, though, I can see how looking at someone who spends many hours a week podcasting (along with dozens of hours of prep work, website work, marketing and all the rest) can be daunting. You have a job. You have a business to run. You have other things that keep you busy.

But. You had to know there was a “but” coming.

You do have 30 minutes a week. You can fit podcasting into your overall business plan. Your podcast will be added value; it will be something your competitors don’t do. When I was a t-shirt designer years ago, I noticed that most of the successful people selling print-on-demand t-shirts were the ones that weren’t making “selling shirts” their primary gig. It was just something they added for extra value to their existing business. Podcasting can work the same way for you.

Maybe you run a site that sells blue widgets, along with a dozen other people that sell blue widgets. You’ve all got roughly the same quality website, roughly the same prices, but you do a half hour show every week about how people can use blue widgets in their everyday lives and you give one away to a lucky listener to boot. See the potential there? You’re giving people a reason to stick around your site.

If you’ve been shying away from podcasting because you’ve thought that it requires doing a show with a heavy commitment or schedule, try thinking of it in terms of added value to an existing enterprise. You might be surprised by what you can do.

Oh, and about the part at the beginning where I said it wasn’t a lot of work, then it was a ton of work, and now it’s not again? When I began, I was one of three hosts of an informal podcast. We didn’t care if we had listeners, and I don’t think we even submitted to iTunes until we were several shows in. We were doing it more for a goof than anything else. After a year, I started to take it seriously, and seriously started learning more about the craft, experimenting with new software and tools, and spending way more time on podcasting. I started up three more shows, rebooted the first one, and launched QAQN.com. Only in the past few months has it gotten a lot easier, as I scheduled all my shows for the same day and wrote an automation script that handled 95% of my post-production.

With experience and the right tools, what seems like a daunting amount of work is actually quite… not. Something to maybe keep in mind.

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The Flexibility of Consistency

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One of the initial attractions to podcasting is the ability to listen to a show whenever you want to – be it in the car, the daily jog along the boardwalk, or on a long flight across the Atlantic (perhaps to BlogWorld, if so I’ll be in the back of the plane in cattle class). I think this freedom for the listener has been one of the strengths that has made podcasting what it is today.

By creating personal appointments (such as Vikki Spence and I listening to the BBC’s Friday Comedy Podcast on a Sunday morning), the emotional bond between listener and creator is magnified, but that places a strong demand from the creator.

To have a podcast that creates appointment listening means having a schedule, and sticking to it. Regular content is the key to a good blog, and it’s also the key to a good podcast. People will be relying on you, and when you can prove you have that, listenership goes up, people will be comfortable recommending the show, and feedback from the audience will rise (at least it does for me).

Signpost that regularity too. With my “Friday Rock Show” the clue is in the title, and as a result it leaves me little choice but to make that deadline. The obvious safety net is that I plan my music around recording on the Wednesday, for posting Friday afternoon (UK time). That gives me a few opportunities to record a show if I miss the regular time.

The other option, which needs a bit of lead time but is mighty useful if you know you have a tricky episode deadline to meet, is to invite in a guest host. While I covered the Edinburgh Fringe with a daily podcast (going live at 11am each day, making sure the consistency was there), I also had the commitment to the Friday Rock Show. One show was taped in advance, one show was made up of music that I had found at the Fringe (a nice doubling up of research and clearance), but the third may have caused an issue.

Until fellow podcaster Neville Hobson stepped up to guest host the show.

Double win! Not only do I get the show going out when the listener is expecting it, but I also get the bonus of having a bit of an extra promotion from the guest host as well – because you know they are going to mention it on Twitter or on their blog.

The point of course is to make sure you never let down your listeners, be they the regulars, or the first times who’ll know when to come back. Because that;s what you want, no drive-by listens, but solid, dependable listeners.

A Beginner’s Guide to Podcasting Basics

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You have never produced a podcast. You may have heard or seen an episode or two, but you’re not a regular consumer of podcasts. Those are the two assumptions that this article is going to make, dear reader. This is the absolute, rock bottom “hey, I heard about this thing called podcasting” beginner’s guide to podcasting basics. If you’ve heard the term and are curious about its meaning, you’re in the right place!

If that description fits you and you have any questions after reading this guide, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments. If you’re a podcasting pro, feel free to jump in with answers or post some tips of your own! Alright then, let’s begin at the beginning. What’s a podcast?

A podcast is a web-based series of audio or video content. Episodes are released chronologically and may be seen or heard in a podcatcher* or on a website. Think of it like web-based television or radio: if your favorite radio show were web-based, it would be a podcast. One advantage that web-based podcasts have over their TV or radio counterparts is the ability to archive. Podcasts are typically archived for weeks, sometimes months, sometimes years. Another advantage is the episode show notes**. The internet is great at blending mediums – text, audio and video.

Podcasts can be produced very inexpensively by anyone with a computer and a microphone.

They are as varied as they are plentiful. Many audio podcasts are live off-the-cuff talk shows; many others are scripted and sound a lot like an audiobook. Stand-up comedians and at least one prominent movie director have made a splash releasing live sets. Video podcasts abound on topics ranging from technology to news to family and raising kids – and much, much more.

* Podcatcher: You are, statistically, probably familiar with iTunes. That’s a podcatcher. Any program or application that facilitates the downloading of episodes (either through a directory or by manually providing an RSS feed) can be called a podcatcher. There are dozens to choose from on every platform.

** Show notes: Podcasters often write a few paragraphs of text and/or provide a list of links about what was talked about on the episode. These show notes look rather like a blog post, and in fact, for podcasters that work with WordPress (or similar), that’s exactly what they are.

History

Serialized audio has been available online almost for as long as there has been a line to be on. Video would come later as storage and bandwidth costs dropped. The roots go back to the 1980’s, but what we think of as modern podcasting really came about in the early 1990’s with things like Internet Talk Radio, and in the early 2000’s with Rob & Dana Greenlee’s WebTalk Radio. In the early 2000’s, enclosures were developed for RSS that allowed for easy distribution of episodes.

The term podcast was coined in 2004, and despite efforts to go with a different word (webcast, netcast), that’s the one that stuck. Apple added support for podcasts in iTunes 4.9 in 2005, and that was the kick that really sent podcasting on the trajectory that it finds itself on today.

A Few Suggestions: As the Audience

  • Shows live and die by the feedback that you leave in the various directories – especially iTunes. If you’ve got about 90 seconds, that’s all it takes to leave a star rating and a short comment.
  • Most podcasts are available in iTunes, but that’s not the only place to find great shows. A Google search for “podcast directory” will yield a long list of places to check out.
  • If a podcaster lists contact information, he or she would like you to contact them. Reach out, say hello, offer comments or opinions about the show.
  • Name a topic and I’ll bet there’s someone out there doing a podcast about it. Look around, spend some time in the directories and you’re likely to find even the most esoteric subject. If you can’t find a show about a topic you’re really interested in… do it yourself!

Thinking about making the transition from listener to producer? I’ve got you covered.

A Few Suggestions: As a Podcaster

  • You’re nothing without your audience. Take the time, make the effort to get feedback from them.
  • It’s not hard, technologically, to look or sound like a pro. Judicious use of music or graphics, checking audio levels, making sure your lighting and camera angles are correct… these things are worth doing right.
  • I just told your audience to contact you with comments and opinions. Be nice 😉

Podcast Myth Busting

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Podcasting as a medium has been around for a long time. Podcasting, the term, was coined in 2004. Like any cool thing that’s been acknowledged by more than two people, certain myths and misunderstandings have cropped up around podcasting over the years. I’m here to dispel a few of them. Here are eight podcast myths ready to be busted!

  1. You need an iPod to listen to podcasts. No list about podcasting myths would be complete without the all-time number one. No, you don’t need an iPod. This myth is not extremely widespread anymore in my experience. With the explosion of the iPhone since 2007 and the iPad since 2010 (not to mention the slew of popular Android and Blackberry devices), the “pod” in “podcasts” isn’t quite as linked to the i”Pod” as it used to be.
  2. Podcasting has only been around since 2005 (or 2004 or 2006 or 2003). Depending on who you ask, podcasting has only been around for about six years. Some consultants use this myth as a selling point, telling potential clients that they’ve been podcasting since it was invented in 2005. While the term was coined in 2004 and support for it added to iTunes in 2005, recording and placing audio files on the internet in a serialized or chronological way has been done since at least the late ’90s. The basic ability to distribute recorded audio online has existed since the dawn of the internet (or even earlier if you consider Usenet). Nobody woke up one day in 2005 and said, “hey, I think I’ll invent doing radio-style talk shows on the internet!”
  3. Podcasters are all amateurs. Kevin Smith, Ricky Gervais, Adam Carolla, Joe Rogan, Marc Maron, Kevin Pollack, Greg Proops, ABC, NBC, CBS, Discovery, BBC, ESPN, TMZ, Science Magazine, Vanity Fair, CNN, E!, The Onion, HBO, Showtime, NPR and probably every major radio station where you live. All podcasting.
  4. Audiences expect perfect audio, like on the radio. It seems like if a person isn’t of the opinion that it’s all amateurs, then it must be all about having pefect radio-quality audio. While it’s true that it’s becoming cheaper and easier all the time to sound professional, there are many successful podcasts that are produced using nothing more than a cheap USB headset and the free Audacity recording/editing software. Moving up to pro-level podcasting hardware can improve your sound but it’s not a requirement for success.
  5. It’s expensive to produce quality audio. Let’s talk about a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being your voice recorded through a tin can and 10 being perfection. With a $30 USB headset and free software, you can sound like a seven, maybe an eight. That’s not expensive. True, if you want to sound like a nine or a ten, you’ll need to pony up some cash, but even a budget under $1,000 can get you all the way to the top of the scale.
  6. You can’t make money with a podcast. Leo Laporte. Next?
  7. You need to listen with iTunes. Listeners have always had at least one other option in addition to iTunes: listening on the web. Podcasters have nearly always posted their episodes on their own websites for consumption. These days, it’s even more spread out with Zune, Juice, and Winamp, and phone apps like Downcast and Podceiver to name but a few.
  8. It takes too much time. Do you have an hour a week? A fifteen minute podcast with 45 minutes of pre-production and post-production can be very successful. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you can reduce your pre- and post-production time and spend less than half an hour on each episode. My post-production, regardless of the length of the episode, is less than 10 minutes because of the experience I have and the automation I’ve scripted. Does that sound like a lot of time? Not to me!

Those are my top eight podcasting myths. What are some that you’ve heard? Want to bust a few of ’em up with me?

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The Courage and Confidence to run a Podcast

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My podcasting work at the Edinburgh Fringe in the last fortnight has led me to think about what qualities are useful in podcasting and social media content creation. And I think I need to add another one to the list.

I just can’t make up my mind if it should be courage or confidence.

Let’s backtrack slightly. I’m doing a daily podcast from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (2500 different shows over three and a half weeks). Each show is about forty minutes long, and follows a standard chat show format of jokey opening, news and recommendations, followed by three long interviews and some music to finish.

Each interview needs around 30 minutes of time in my diary (if I’m being generous) plus an hour beforehand to see the show, then some editing on top of that, and compile the final podcast each morning. It’s a busy schedule, but one that I’ve fine tuned over the years. The only potential wrinkle is that there is very little room for a second take if something is missed.

And that’s where the confidence comes in. Because when you have one shot at getting all your material recorded; when you have one shot at an interview; when you only have the time to do one take of the morning news bulletin or you irrevocably screw up the schedule for the rest of the day; you need to have confidence in yourself that your equipment will work, you can switch it on, start recording, and simply go for it.

I love the luxury of working at home in my studio, with the ability to retake a line, section or even the whole podcast, but at the same time there’s a certain daredevil in my psche that thrives in a high pressure environment that allows no mistakes whatsoever.

I know I can do it. I know it makes for a better podcast. That’s what I mean about confidence.

But it’s also courage to take chances, to go down an interview route where the outcome is unclear, because so much can change. Especially when interviewing up to 15 comics a day in a five hour window, it’s impossible to do the sort of preparation that I would do for a weekly 30 minute interview podcast with one guest. There’s a press release from their PR, some scribbled notes from their wikipedia page and website biography in my notebook, and that’s it. Open the microphone, welcome them to the show, and simply see what happens.

That’s what I mean by courage.

It’s a high wire balancing act that I do as often as I can. Anyone who’s done live TV or radio beyond spinning discs and introducing the bands will know exactly what I mean. There’s an energy that can’t be replicated in a studio or with a safety net, and I’d encourage everyone to take off the stabilizers and find out if you can balance the podcasting bicycle on your own.

Image Attribution: Vikki Spence

7 Ways to Overcome Podcaster’s Block (Yeah, That’s a Thing)

Author:

I have no idea what to write.

No, seriously. I came up with a couple of topics for the column this time, and discarded them. I even got about two paragraphs into one of them before realizing it was terrible. I’m sitting in a hotel room in Idaho Falls, Idaho. My family and I are here for my brother-in-law’s wedding, and I’m up here in the room trying to bash out an article. Oh, don’t worry – there’s nothing important going on right now that I’m skipping out on. This was planned downtime. So, here I am.

I’m completely stuck. I have no idea what to write.

I’ve tried my hand at being a writer; a novelist, even. In fact, I have a terrible novel sitting on my hard drive that will never, ever be published. I’ve tried being a blogger. I know what writer’s block looks like… oh, yes, yes, I do.

There are times when I sit down in my studio at home, turn on the microphone and realize I have no idea what to talk about. Some shows are easy: Geek Dads Weekly “writes” itself, and Yet Another Weight Loss Show is just a recap of my dieting efforts during the week prior. But other shows that I produce? Writer’s block is real, and it translates perfectly to podcasting (much to my dismay).

Here then, are my tips for overcoming… podcaster’s block. Yeah, that’s what I’ll call it!

  • Get a portable recorder if you don’t have one. Changing your location will change your state of mind and can open up the creativity. Record something outside, or at the local mall, or at a coffee shop. Something different.
  • Babble. Babble into the mic like an infant. Make strange, random noises. Much like simply scribbling your pen on paper can break writer’s block, making noise can stimulate your brain and get you going in the right direction.
  • Check your email. Oh, I know, this is supposedly one of those things that all the productivity gurus warn you about. Don’t check your email!!! You’ll get distracted from your task!!! Yeah, you will. And that’s not a bad thing when you’re trying to deal with a creative block. Anything you can do to make yourself think is a good thing here.
  • Walk away. I mean literally, walk away from the microphone. Go outside, walk around your house or apartment building twice. Really look around; think about what you’re looking at.
  • Have a drink. A nice glass of wine can do wonders for the creative soul. Remember though, we’re trying to podcast here, so drinking carries risks. The goal is to loosen up a little bit, not to drink enough that you slur your words and make it impossible to record a straight show. Also, if you’re podcasting for your employer, bringing wine to work is usually frowned upon unless you’re upper management, so be careful.
  • Ask for help. Call your spouse or your significant other and tell them you’re stuck. Send an email to some friends asking for topics. Writers often won’t do this because what they’re writing is still in progress – but you’re trying to rock the mic. Turn to your audience. Ask them what kinds of things they want you to talk about. They’ll tell you.
  • Do a show about how you don’t know what to talk about, then turn it into an episode listing your favorite ways to break writer’s – or podcaster’s – block.

Hey, look! I figured out what to write about!

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PodCamp Comes to BlogWorld

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… by Lynette Young

At BlogWorld Expo NYC this past May, we tried something new. We wanted to bring back something old – podcasting. Podcasting has been around for about seven years, but has been slowly replaced by faster and easier forms of online communication. What used to be a difficult process of writing, recording and publishing audio (or video) for on-demand distribution has been whittled down to simply typing 140 characters or less to express an idea or thought.

Luckily in the past few years, podcasting has become almost that easy, and has been enjoying a revival of sorts – both with producers and with listeners. It’s more important than ever that people that participate in ‘social media’ online be introduced to ‘new media’, including podcasting. Podcasting is a very rewarding medium that allows professionals to reach the squeeze point of the funnel and gives hobbyists the ability to create their own dream.

As an organizer of PodCamp Philly (Oct 1-2, 2011) and PodCamp LA (Nov 4-5, 2011), my goal is to unite and educate people about podcasting and related technologies. I want to help bring the podcasting communities back into the social media arena, and introduce the social media community to podcasting.

PodCamp LA along with Podcast Pavilion are both being hosted at BlogWorld & New Media Expo. PodCamp LA and Podcast Pavilion have been created to act as a discussion and conversation hub for podcasters (and for people interested in what podcasting is, and what it can do).

You will get out of Podcamp and the Pavilion what you put into it – so help us make it great! BlogWorld Expo offers a podcasting track and lots of social media tracks, but PodCamp LA and Podcast Pavilion is meant to offer another take on the conference experience.

Podcamp LA will feature knowledgeable podcasting practitioners that know their way around an RSS feed, microphone and video camera. Feel free to get in touch with Lynette via email or Twitter and let her know if you would like to help, or if you would like to speak at PodCamp LA or live podcast at Podcast Pavilion, be sure to submit your proposal.

Lynette Young has been a pioneer in social media since she began blogging in 1997. An expert in podcasting and virtual worlds since 2004, she founded Purple Stripe Productions, a social technology and strategy firm, in 2006. She works with companies and organizations to help them have more meaningful conversations with their customers in new and engaging ways. Lynette is a frequent speaker at conferences around the country. She is an organizer for the Podcamp Philly and Podcamp LA conferences, and is the Program Director for Social Media Club Princeton NJ. Lynette is also one of the most-followed women in Google+ and is the curator of the Women of Google+ website and community.

 

How a Podcast Can Grow Your Brand

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If you are a blogger it’s a well known fact that you can no longer operate in the vacuum of your web site. You have to expand beyond your blog. The most common ways people do that are via social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook.  While those are necessary and great outlets, they’re saturated. Everybody has a Facebook fan page and everybody is on Twitter. It’s not going to help you differentiate yourself very much.

I stumbled upon podcasting by accident when I decided to start a weekly series called “Interviews With Up and Coming Bloggers.” That evolved into a site of its own and I became known as the guy who interviews people. Starting a podcast has allowed me to connect with 100’s of bloggers that I might never otherwise have talked to, and extend my brand beyond my blog. Once you start a podcast you’ll be leveraging iTunes as a distribution channel and reach an audience that might never have heard of you. While there are millions of people producing written content for their blogs, there are far fewer who are regularly creating audio content.

A Podcast Gets People Talking About You:

There’s something about allowing people to hear voice that creates a stronger connection. I’ve had countless people tell me “I listen to you on the way to work everyday.” That means that somebody is connecting with you, your voice, and your brand every single day.  If you’re creating something of value they’ll naturally go out and start telling other people about it.

Choosing a Subject

Figuring out what your podcast will be about is not the easiest thing in the world. But it in many ways it comes back to the same way you chose your blog topic. Find something you are passionate about and that other people would be interested in. Cliff Ravenscraft turned a podcast about the TV show Lost into a movement and eventually created additional podcasts which have turned into significant income streams. If you try to create content around something you have absolutely no genuine interest in, it will definitely fail.

One of the things that seems to stop people from exploring multimedia content is that it’s something they’ve never done before. It’s also putting yourself out there for the whole world to hear and see. What you forget is that before you started blogging it was something you had never done. Eventually you stopped being afraid to push publish. Multimedia content and podcasting work the same way. Chances are your content won’t be spectacular when you start, but it’s something you’ll improve with time.

Directing the Conversation

Author:

In my last post, I wrote about the structure of a podcast which would allow you to block out the flow of information as you prepare to record a podcast. Now I want to talk about directing the conversation.

Unless you are doing a solo “news report” style podcast, you’ll have a guest on the podcast – that could be a second reporter or analyst, an invited specialist, chatting to a member of the public, or any other combination that makes for an exciting and informative show. The great thing about guests, at least for me, is that it makes the show unpredictable.

And that means not being able to plan out anything more than the broad areas in the structure. So how to keep everything flowing during the podcast? For me I keep in mind three key points.

The first is that you are undertaking a directed conversation. You know what you want to find out from your guest (and of course your guest has their own goals as well), so you do want to keep the conversation going in the direction of “what you want to tell people”. Keep these ideas in mind, and try to make everything you say lead up to one of those ideas, before moving on to the next one.

Second, your next question is in the last answer. It should all flow, no sudden jumps in the progression. Don’t forget that it is a conversation and not an interrogation, it shouldn’t need to jump around. Think smooth. It’s a smart idea to pay attention to random conversations (such as when you are out in a bar) and take note of how people talk with each other. That rhythm and feel is what you need to replicate, while directing the conversation. It might sound a bit false to start with, but over time you’ll be able to guide someone’s voice to where you want it to go, and still make it sound natural.

Finally, and one that sometimes requires tact and bravery in a host… what are the listeners screaming at you to ask? Right there, that’s the question you have to ask (or at least justify afterwards why you didn’t ask it). The key is getting to that point, and once you are there, being able to ask it in such a way that you get a useful answer. That sort of skill takes practice, but you can get there.

Keep those three elements in mind while you are recording your podcast, and you’ll keep the interest up in the audio or video, you’ll stay engaging for your audience, and your skills will continue to improve.

Image Source: iProng and Bill Palmer, Creative Commons.

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