George Lucas Educational Foundation
Education Trends

Start That Podcast!

With a strong vision, simple setup, and plan for content, format, production, and promotion, you can turn your expertise, unique approach, and enthusiasm into a podcast.

February 29, 2016
Photo credit: Bernard Goldbach via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Do you have more lesson than classroom time? Do you have a passion for something that you can talk about at length? Do you have stories that might inspire others? If so, then it's time to start that podcast.

Podcasting is the new black. For those of you in the dark about what it is, think of podcasting as audio-blogging or as radio-on-demand. With it, you can create an audio file that can be sent to others who want to hear you share your stories and other tasty nuggets.

And the timing to start a podcast is perfect, since the podcast world is growing. According to The Economist (Jan 23, 2016), 11% of Americans aged 12 and older listened to podcasts in 2006. Just nine years later in 2015, that number tripled. This means two things:

  1. There is a hunger for podcasts.
  2. There is a growing number of listeners accustomed to learning things via this format.

So now is the moment for you to jump in and share your wisdom with others on a global scale. In the process, you'll grow a community, highlight your expertise, and serve a greater need.

Hatching a Podcast

In crafting your podcast, there are a few broad questions that you should consider:

  • What do you want to talk about? (Content)
  • How do you want to offer that information? (Format)
  • How will you record and create the audio show? (Production)
  • How will you spread the word about your creation? (Promotion)

While a very long post could cover all those questions, I'll briefly share the lumps and bumps that I encountered when creating my two-minute science podcast, Science Underground, and will focus mainly on the production part.

What's Your Mission?

When it comes to the content, perhaps you're an expert in something, have a new take on it, or can provide a fresh voice. This should be part of your mission for getting the material out. There are thousands and thousands of podcasts, so find a way to be unique and provide something that your listeners would find useful.

My personal approach to Science Underground was providing science content that teachers could use in their classrooms. Sure, there are science shows out there, but my unique style was to create a science show that was fun and understandable to middle-school kids (and adults). The other unique part of my show was the short format, which leads me to the next point.

Presentation Is Everything

Select a format that works for you and that you can produce sustainably. Will listeners hear just your voice? Will you have guests? How long is your show, and how frequently will you create it? The average podcast is around 20 minutes long. And many like to have a show that comes out weekly. Perhaps your schedule doesn't permit that. The take-home message is to be consistent. Listeners will establish the habit of tuning into your podcast, so don't disappoint them. But, of course, choose quality over quantity. A great short show trumps a long show with a bunch of blabber any day.

As for my own experience, I chose a two-minute weekly science show. My podcast is scripted and contains an occasional interview with another scientist. The show is also unique because it has music, sound effects, and stingers to make it more kid-friendly. This format makes it useful for classrooms, and also sustainable for me to produce, which leads me to the next part of podcasting -- the production.

Ready, Set, Podcast

OK, say you want to jump into podcasting. What are the tools to get something off the ground? I would start with a warning: Audio gear is seductive, and many new podcasters get stuck at buying overpriced things. When you're starting out, you don't need all the bells and whistles. What you actually need is:

  • A microphone
  • A pop-filter
  • An audio interface
  • A computer

You'll also need a quiet room for recording, or some noise-canceling solution. Below is a simple setup for a show with an interviewer and remote interviewees:

Basic Setup

  • ATR 2100 Microphone (<$50) (This has a built-in audio interface.)
  • Pop filter
  • Laptop (with a quiet fan)
  • Audacity or GarageBand software (free)
  • Skype/Skype recorder software

Next Step Up (My Setup)

You’ll need software to record your voice. Some options are Garageband (free on the Mac) and Audacity (free shareware). You'll need a place to put (or host) your show so that others can get to it. You cannot post directly to iTunes, but you'll need a host that will get your files over to iTunes for you. Some options are Podbean (free), audioBoom (free), SoundCloud (free), Libsyn (premium), and Blubrry (premium). (Note: Do not add the audio files to a website -- you'll have problems as you produce more and more podcasts.)

Perhaps you’ll want music and sound effects. Do not use any copyrighted materials of any length -- lawyer fees are expensive! So use royalty-free music and sound effects like those on pond5 and freesound.

As for sound quality, the basic goals are:

  • Reducing the filler words ("um" and "ah"), which can easily be edited out in software like Audacity
  • Reduce the noise (with noise reduction in the software)
  • Normalize the signal

Noise reduction and signal normalization are common features in most audio software.

Can You Hear Me Now?

As you can see, podcasting takes some effort, so find a routine that works for you, create a checklist, and work in batches. Like anything, you'll gain in expertise over time. Podcasting is a great way to get your message out -- and the world is ready for it. So don't delay. Start that podcast!

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