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Ewan Spence

The Flowering Structure of a Podcast

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So you’re got a microphone ready, there might be a camera in the background with a blinking LED, and it’s time for you to record your latest podcast. But where to start?

One of the questions I get asked a lot is "what should I talk about" in a podcast. To be honest as long as you are talking about something you are passionate about, which has elements of entertainment, education and information, you’re probably on the right track. What’s just as important is how you say it. There’s a structure that’s worked well for me for presentations, seminars, training courses, and podcasts, and I want to throw it out there as a rule of thumb just now.

It’s a pretty simple formula for framing your chunk of information you want in the podcast. The thing you want to tell people sits nicely in the middle. Right before you tell people, you tell them what you’re going to tell them. Once you’ve told them, tell them what you just told them.

Okay you’ll be using some production tricks between the three parts, but a strong "welcome to the show, today I’m going to tell you how to fly to Paris" followed by a jingle, then how to fly to the French capital, followed by another jingle or musical sting, and then "that was how to get to Paris, for more, listen to the next Wonderful World of Travelling episode."

Too broad strokes for you? Then break down the fly to Paris in to two or three sections – for example landing at the Airport, and then travelling to the centre of town. Tell them first you’ll talk about the airport experience, then tell them, then remind them as you move towards the city centre.

With this "flowering" technique you can not only break down a big presentation in a podcast, but you’ll have a natural flow of information, alternating new facts and reinforcement through repetition, as well as a structure that can be used again and again. It’s a great framework when you start out, but also a good safety net if you loose focus and have no idea what to do – it wouldn’t be the first time that this has saved me in a live show!

Tell ’em what you’ll tell them – tell them – tell them what you told em.

Simple.

Image Source: Yukiroad, Creative Commons.

Imperfection Makes Perfect

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On of the things that I found surprising when I started out in podcasting was the value that imperfection can bring towards your production. I’m about to start my yearly coverage of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – a daily show that runs each day of the month long festival featuring news, chat, reviews and interviews. This will be the sixth year that it runs, and each year of course has lessons for the following year (be it thing to do better, and things that should never be done again.

I want to go back to my second year to illustrate a point. The first year of the Fringe, I was recording while out and about, finding quiet corners in bars, alcoves in the streets, dark alleyways just out of the volume of the street performers to do the interviews. Mostly because this was 2005 and I didn’t know better, but also because I couldn’t get a "base" to work from that I could set up equipment and get really good sound quality.

Everyone loved the shows though, and it gained popular and critical acclaim (and six years later has a crowd of people eagerly waiting for it to return and performers lining up to get on the show). And in year two I had more time to plan the show, and was doing some volunteer work at a local community radio station. Which meant I had access to an honest-to-goodness real studio. Mixing desks! Microphones! Comfy chairs! Tea and Coffee making facilities!

Perfect, I thought, and proceeded to book in the performers to the studio, rather than a bar that was close to their theatre space. The audio quality was good, the quality of the interview was better than the year before (that’ll be a year of experience talking)…

Yet after a week I got a few listener emails all saying the same thing. They loved the interviews, they loved the people that were on the show (and some were buying tickets on the strength of these spots), but they missed something. They missed the hustle and bustle in the background, they missed the feeling that they were right in the thick of the excitement that the Fringe brought to Edinburgh. They missed the moments I had to stop and let a very loud bus pass before I could ask another question.

They missed the imperfection, and it was that imperfection that created the flavour that the rest of the podcast drew its energy from.

I cancelled the studio, moved back onto the streets, and to this day have continued to do the interviews wherever I as in Edinburgh, be it a quiet coffee bar, the busy Royal Mile, or in the middle of a Bouncy Castle which is being used as a stage to put on a performance of Dracula.

It also led to a special show that I do once a year, where I literally stand on The Royal Mile, switch on the recorder, and just stop and ask people "why are you here?" for 45 minutes to bring over the spirit of the Fringe. And that’s the one I get asked about the most!

The lesson? Pay attention and talk to your listeners, and never be afraid to throw your plans out the window if you’re presented with a more appropriate option. In the long run, it will be improve you and your show.

Image Source: Leith Podcaster, Creative Commons.

Stay Outside Your Comfort Zone

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Stay outside your comfort zone!

It’s one of the most important things you can do with any new media site, be it a blog, podcast or customised video channel. You can change the product at any point. It could be radical, or more likely it will be a little tweak here, some reworking of an element there, and the website continues on it slow evolutionary path.

But to do that you need to keep the ideas text file full of things to try out? What’s the best way of keeping your mojo flowing? Apart from thinking that BlogWorld LA might be a neat idea?

For want of a better word, keep grazing around the Internet like you graze a Conference’s Exhibition Hall.

Take Facebook as an example – with your lists of friends, and the status updates and links they post, you’re going to see, well, everything you’re expecting to see, things that you’ve told Facebook you like. If none of your friends are listening to "Anke Engestrom’s Podcast of Sand" then it’s super-unlikely you’ll ever stumble on it when staying inside your circle of friends. You need to actively go out there and "find the new."

And then you need to make a point of reading, listening (or watching) this new material. With an open mind. Just because you have no interest in pan-continental singing contests, you might learn something from a podcast about Eurovision that you can apply to your daily Major League Baseball round-up show. You’re not listening for content, you’re listening for technique. How do they handle background music, reading out URL’s, listener interaction, sponsorship messages, content structure, and everything else that goes into making a good podcast?

Where to start? Well, iTunes is a good place, primarily because of their "people listening to this also listened to" feature. Start at your favourite podcast, click on a random "people also listen to" choice… three times. Okay where are you now? That’s a good question. There’s probably a handful of ‘casts listed, so even though you’re not strictly here for content, might as well go for the most attractive one.

Do this once a week, and not only will you find some lovely little gems and broaden your horizons, you’re also going to expose yourself to a huge range of styles, techniques and the occasional "must make sure I never do that" shows. Keep a track of everything, good or bad, and listen to your own shows with that same critical process.

Oh and while you’re at it, drop an email to whoever you’ve ended up listening to. They’ll appreciate just as much as you do when you get fan mail. After all, isn’t it all about making human connections and sharing knowledge in the end?

Image Source: Rachel Clarke, Creative Commons

Get Your Blog Ready for BlogWorld New York

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You’re probably going to this week’s BlogWorld NY to meet people, to forge new links for your business, to put yourself “on display”, or a mix of all the above. Before you head in to the Convention Center, you’ll probably check yourself out in the mirror, making sure you’re at your best.

Have you done the same for your online presence?

Just before you get on your flight to BlogWorld, take five minutes to look over what everyone else will check out once they’ve met you. The first impression in the real world counts, but so does the first impression in the online world. Are you making the best use of that first moment?

 

Let’s start with your blog. If it’s not frequently updated, now is the time to put up a fresh post. My own blog is more a map to my other activities around the web, but in advance of BlogWorld, I’ve put up a short post saying that I’ll be at the conference, the best way to get in touch with me while I’m at the conference, and what I’m looking for while in New York to start the ball rolling before I even land..

It also has a recent picture of me, so people who do want to find me know what to look out for. That might not be as important to me (after all, “look for the kilt” isn’t going to turn up too many false positives)

Next up is my Twitter account, and specifically the main web page. Is the background showing what I want to show, is my avatar reflecting what I want it to reflect, and will it match with what people see after they meet me? I think it does. And is the 140 character bio still suitable?

To a certain extent the same goes for Facebook. Depending on your privacy settings you might want to keep your timeline clear of any pictures from a late night in Dusseldorf with a Maltese pop star (ask me over a pint, I might tell you then). If you’re going to be hitting the social scene at BlogWorld, keep an eye out for the tagged photo that causes mayhem. One trick you might like to employ is to create a “banner image” at the top of your profile that uses all five images to create one image (how to do this? Shane Richmond has the details). Striking and discrete at the same time.

Finally, and the one that quite a few people forget about, is LinkedIn. This is much more business-like and always feels like a “living CV” to me, but it’s one of the largest social networks out there. I’ve always got a handful of projects going at any one time, and it’s always good to make sure everything is up to date in LinkedIn with those achievements.

An event like BlogWorld for me is about making initial meetings and starting relationships – it’s one of the big reasons that I don;t mind doing a four day transatlantic trip. I want to make an impression on all fronts, and to make sure that people who want to meet me, and perhaps work with me in the future, are getting the true story no matter where they turn.

So cast an eye over your online presence – even if it’s just in the departures lounge of the airport. There’s always room for improvement!

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"

One piece of advice? Do it live.

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When people who are starting out in podcasting ask me for one piece of advice, I don’t talk about equipment or applications, technology or social network marketing. I go for something that’s even simpler than that. Something that can not only get them started down one fruitful path of podcasting, but one that will continue to reward them outside of podcasting – no matter if it is their hobby, passion or profession.

Do it live.

By that I don’t mean go and set up a Ustream channel, and have everyone listening at the same time around the world (although that is an optional benefit), but gather everything you need around you, from a script and guests, to musical cues, audio stings, sponsor messages and the occasional special effect… I keep a kazoo next to my microphone, for no other reason than sometimes it can be funny to throw it into the mix of a chat show.

I’ll be the first to admit that if you’re starting on your podcasting journey it will add to the workload, but these are the formative days that are going to shape your brain, so start doing it the most productive way.

Yes, productive. You will always have the safety net of a post recording edit, but it’s far quicker to simply catch a stumble than it is to re-assemble twenty different readings like some demented wave-form of a jigsaw. That means less time in post-production, less time while recording (a thirty minute show will take… thirty minutes), and while you’ll initially need to spend more time in prep, that investment will pay off.

And long term you’ll find more benefits. Starting off with a more natural sounding show, you’ll also start to multi-task better, talking and reading at the same time, but you’ll also gain one of the most important things possible.

Confidence.

Initially you’ll just feel this behind the microphone of your own show, but as you spend more time podcasting, you’ll find that this is one of those acquired skills you can apply to many areas in your life. The obvious one is public speaking – you’ll need less of your brain to actually do the talking part, while the part normally juggling sound levels, jingles and other areas an now be spent focusing on the audience, thinking about other areas of the presentation, and making sure that you enjoy the talk!

One of the other areas that I found an improvement in was when I was being interviewed by other people. It was easier to try and keep the interview on the subject that I wanted to stay on, to get over my ideas, and to be able to think about the bigger picture while answering small details.

Finally, and one that now seems obvious, if you move on to other media, especially radio or video podcasting, you’ll find it much easier to feel comfortable and come over more relaxed – which is good as these areas are a lot more unforgiving of errors than pre-recorded audio.

To sum it up, I think that “going live” has a bundle of benefits that will become clear over time. That’s why it’s my big piece of advice to anyone who asks.

Hello, I’m Ewan Spence. You’ve Never Head of Me Before

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Let’s start with a simple statement, as I stand and look at myself in a metaphorical mirror.

You don’t know me.

There we go, simple as that. I’m just a name, but think about this – you already know a lot about me. The first is that Rick and the team at BlogWorld must think I know something, because they’ve asked me to do not just one blog post here on the site, but a series of them on podcasting. I take it you trust the team here, which means that I’m now a name you’ve just heard of that has a little bit of credibility.

You’d probably head off to do a bit of searching online for me to find out if I have the experience to go along with that trust. I you do that you won’t find a wikipedia page (not enough people know me, remember?), but you’ll likely find a Twitter account (@ewan), a website (www.ewanspence.com), and the obligatory appearance on Facebook (www.facebook.com/ewanspence).

What about podcasting itself? Well I’ve done a few – there’s six years worth of unsigned and unknown bands over on TPC Rock, my annual “daily chat show” from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe picked up a British Academy BAFTA nomination, and the Eurovision Insight podcast is one of the leading shows based around the annual Song Contest.

Hopefully this gives you an idea that I’ve been around the block in terms of podcasting, and that I’ve experience in a number of different areas of production, using a variety of techniques, and monetised many of my shows.

I can also be subtle.

If I was handed your name, what would my first impression be? What would I find online, and how would it reflect on you? Would it make me curious, would it make me want to read your site, listen to your show, watch your videos? Or would it leave me cold, would it leave me thinking “there’s someone that missed something”, would there be something that would discourage people?

The old rule of first impressions counting applies equally as well online as it does in a real-life social setting. It was simple to look in the mirror before being introduced at a debutantes ball, it’s a lot harder to remember to hold up a mirror to your online self and see what is reflected back.

Over the next weeks and months, I want to explore podcasting with you, here on the BlogWorld blog. But to do that I need you to be willing to join me on that journey. No matter what you want from an online presence, you’ll likely want people to join you, be it through a story, to buy a product, or to engage with your media.

They’ll pick up on clues around your site, around the internet, and around what you do. Are you leaving the right clues for your audience?

Image Credit: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

The Book of BlogWorld: Part 2

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How to get started in blogging? Ewan and Cthulhu take a look through the Book of Blogworld, used last year to capture the souls, errr, thoughts of bloggers at the Las Vegas Blog World and New Media Expo conference.

Stay tuned for next week’s installment, and in the meantime visit Ewan at his blog!

The Book of BlogWorld: Part 1

Author:

Ewan Spence and Cthulhu take a look at the Book of Blogworld, used last year to capture the souls, errr, the thoughts (!) of bloggers at the 2009 Las Vegas BlogWorld and New Media Expo conference.

Stay tuned for next week’s installment, and in the meantime visit Ewan at his blog!

Ewan Spence Interviews me at SxSW

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If you were to charge there is a certain amount of navel gazing in the blogosphere and at events like SxSW you would be right. The fact is when events like SxSW and BlogWorld happen it gives us new media content creators a chance to meet up with old friends, make some new ones and meet many of our peers, mentors, and thought leaders that we admire from afar.

So you get a lot of people interviewing each other. I certainly did my share of interviews there, and was flattered when the famous kilt wearing podcaster Ewan Spence found me worthy of an interview.  You can listen to that interview here.

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