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Podcasting Experiments

Podcasting Experiments is all about experimenting with your podcast. We explore ways you can implement and test different ideas to improve your podcast by looking at different strategies and ideas from other podcasters.
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Now displaying: April, 2017
Apr 27, 2017

Today’s guest is Elsie Escobar. Elsie runs a yoga podcast and has extensive experience in the performing arts. She doesn’t have personal experience creating narrative style podcasts, but she does have a lot of experience listening to them and some really great insights to share.

Elsie’s story:

Elsie started a yoga podcast on her own, which had nothing to do with narrative. She was in Los Angeles and the LA podcasters were all storytelling podcasters at that time. All were creating what we would consider to be more of a storytelling type of a podcast, minus all the hyper-produced musical interludes and overtone of the narrative between the conversations. They were done in a way that struck me as a human being telling stories.

Tim Coin had a podcast called The Hollywood Podcast. Dan Class had The Bitterest Pill. Lance Anderson had Verge of the Fringe. Kush had Things I Say. All four of these guys were producing a podcast telling stories, and all did it completely different from each other.

For Elsie this was an incredible learning to understand how powerful a narrative could be in that it doesn’t have to be a specific type of way.

She also worked as an actor for 10 years, did theatre and movies and TV, and worked in Hollywood for a while. In hindsight, she says she didn’t have confidence in who she was as an artist, she didn’t trust herself, and that was one of the reasons she quit. She didn’t have the creative life she wishes she could have had. Elsie says podcasting gives that to her, the creative control and expression she was searching for.

A listener perspective on narrative podcasts:

  • When working behind the microphone with all the editing and producing, we can forget what it’s like to be on the other end of the microphone. Even when we listen to podcasts we forget what that listener experience is like. Working in theatre is similar. Doing musicals, Elsie always got notes from directors that would say ‘you have to earn the right to start singing the song’. There are times in some narrative podcasts where she felt that they had not earned the right to insert that piece of music there, or to narrate this portion, because it’s more contrived. It needs to be furthering the throughline of the storytelling process.
  • Although like anything else in podcasting there are very specific ‘rules and regulations’ around what constitutes a strong listening audio piece, there is also the ability to mess with them to the point where you don’t have to follow any rules. Creative juices sometimes get stuck in the technical world. Elsie explains the technical stuff comes from one side of brain and creative comes from the other. If you’re thinking about the technical that’s the editing and producing etc. The narrative and storytelling and strategy and heart of the piece is the creative. It’s either too ‘out there’ with no form, or it’s too form-ish with no impact that you’re looking for. A balance between both is what makes the most incredible narrative podcast.
  • You’re into it, you create the thing, maybe you have a team. But then find someone not a part of the “in crowd”, maybe they’re the audience, maybe there’s a person who would benefit to listen or someone you want to reach. You have them listen to see if it works, like a mini focus group.

Tips for planning and crafting the narrative:

  • Make sure before you start that you/the team have the key points you want to drive home or the overarching theme and WHY of this podcast. What’s the bottom line of this podcast? How is it that in the process of capturing the audio, how can we get the bits and pieces that really serve to drive the larger dialogue and larger point?
  • As producers, keep the throughline front of mind, that primary dialogue with the audience. Make sure you mark things as you go. You will think ‘I’m never going to forget that’ but you will. Be meticulous about that. Be clear that you know how to get back to this information.
  • Schedule a buffer time to capture some of that thought process straight after the interview, to write down the key insights from your guest but also from you. Write it down, you won’t have the throughline in your head as clearly as when you first finish that interview.

Advice on crafting the beginning, the ending and the climaxes:

  • The key thing in theatre, dance, almost every art form is pacing. It’s the same thing with storytelling and music. You set up a certain amount of some sort of consistency, perhaps in the rhythm or your voice, and then you add elements that break that pattern. Sometimes it’s more melodic, more pleasing, but sometimes it’s very dissonant and it shocks you. It can be change of speed/tempo (faster or slower), volume (louder or softer) or sharpness.
  • What’s lovely with a narrative podcast is you don’t have to do it just with your voice, you can use sound design or music. Be very deliberate as to why you are putting that where you’re putting it. Pacing also needs to be steady. It doesn’t need to be any one specific rhythm, but the drive does need to continue the story, it needs to consistently move forward.

Transitions:

  • You need to make choices based on the kind of transition that it is. Is it a very poignant transition? Or is it something where you’re talking about x and then that topic is put to rest so now we’re going to start talking about y. That merits a strong transition, an audio period. This is the end of the sentence. End scene. There are times that may not be so poignant and more integrated from one to the next. Think about what kind of transition you need.
  • Really truly study the narrative podcast genre. Listen not for content but for transitions, what worked the most and what worked about it? Reverse engineer the impact something made on you or why it didn’t work or why it was too jarring or why you wish that it was some other way. Follow your instincts with this, develop your own opinions, find what you like and see what resonates with you. That only comes from studying.

The takeaway:

  • Think about how you can use every part of who you are to make those transitions. There are different ways to use the body and to tell stories minus audio, minus music, minus words, just with gesture. Doing that kind of work opens up so much. It opens up the possibilities when you can so you don’t fall on the same old patterns of ‘I’ll just use music here’. What if instead of music you used silence? Perhaps there are optimal ways to do things, but sometimes doing the different thing will get you the results you’re looking for.
  • It’s necessary to look outside the industry to see what other people are doing and to see what we might be able to pull in and use that. Break the mould!

Bonus notes: The LA Podcasters:

  • Dan Class primarily told stories about his life when he was an out of work actor in LA. He was a stay at home dad, taking care of his babies. He cultivated these incredible, super funny stories of his life. Like a diary but better produced. Each episode focused on maybe 3 stories tops. For the most part it seemed as if he was off book but very clearly he worked on them. He could do it at a stand up show or encapsulate different genres, could shoot it as a pilot episode. It was also highly audio produced.
  • Kush did Things I Say also about living in hollywood around that time. His storytelling wasn’t necessarily as funny as Dan Class’s but was very poignant and cut through a lot of layers of living life in Hollywood. He would tell a story but also give a lot of deep thoughts. You didn’t know if he was serious or making fun of the audience.
  • Lance Anderson’s take was not scripting anything. It was raw storytelling, a kind of “me and my mic, no music, awkward pauses accepted”. He would riff on something that was striking him in some way. It wasn’t just your regular Jo Schmo behind the mic, he really took the craft of getting behind the mic and doing a monologue as something to be cultivated. At the beginning of podcasting it was more common that it was sort of like an open Mic spoken word stories like that, where you would craft the story before, see where the story was going, and then you hit the microphone and you do it, and see if it lands or doesn’t. Sometimes his flopped and sometimes it soared, but it was beautifully done.
  • The Hollywood Podcast with Tim Coin was a very unique take on narrative. He was an actor trying to make it in Hollywood and he told the stories of auditions, brought in all the emotions, covered his relationship with his girlfriend and Dad and brother, all the psychological stuff going on. It was a very well-produced one hour drama comedy. It had scene changes and some musical interludes. Elsie recalls she laughed out loud AND cried publically out on the street because each one of his podcasts was like riding a rollercoaster.

Links:

Apr 20, 2017

Today’s episode features Eric Johnson from Podcast Talent Coach.com. He has a lot of radio experience and he helps people create stories from their podcast. We talk about storytelling in great detail. He also has worksheets and other resources for telling great stories on his website at podcasttalentcoach.com

 

The Pros and Cons

 

One reason to do a narrative podcast is that it’s not prevalent right now in podcasting. Most everybody wants to do an interview podcast, because that’s the easiest type to do. Doing a podcast by yourself where you’re presenting the information is a little more difficult. The most difficult type of podcast to put together is the narrative podcast. It takes a lot of work to create but it’s one of the more entertaining and effective podcasts that you can put together.

 

Eric recommends narrative style because:

  1. It’s not prevalent right now, not many people do it.
  2. It’s incredibly entertaining
  3. It makes you unique because it’s a creative and artful form of podcasting.

 

However, it’s incredibly difficult and unless you know what you’re doing it’s not something you should dive into headfirst. Experience in podcasting, broadcasting, audio recording and editing will help. If you don’t have that experience, creating a narrative podcast as your first podcast is going to be very difficult.

 

When you listen to NPR, they have professional editors that sit down and edit the piece together so it comes together in one nice story in 2 minutes. But that person’s job is to edit stories all day everyday. Be aware that it’s not an easy thing to do unless you know what you’re doing.

 

The Steps Required

 

Once you’ve recorded, you have to catalogue the interview, the questions you’ve asked, the details the guest provided. Then once you have the interviews recorded, you have to step back and write the story, find the pieces of the interviews that support your story and piece them in.

 

The toughest part is knowing what parts to leave in and what to leave out and still tell the complete story. You have to be an incredible storyteller, which is difficult and it’s also an art. You need people to interview that are lively, entertaining and energetic but also that will speak in complete sentences to help tell your story. And then you have to catalogue it all so you can put it together in a way that makes sense, so that your listener can understand the complete story.

 

The first thing you need to do is decide what story you’re going to tell. The most well known narrative podcast is Serial. It was telling a story of a guy who got locked up, but the question was ‘did he do it or did he get locked up unnecessarily?’ The creators knew the outcome before they started editing. They knew how many episodes they wanted to create and they worked their way backward.

 

Figure out what the conclusion is of the story you want to tell, and then work your way backwards to figure out exactly how much information you need to include to properly tell the story and reach your conclusion. That will help you figure out who you need to interview and what questions to ask. Until you know what story you want to tell, you can’t begin creating the podcast.

 

The Four Key Elements to Storytelling

 

  1. A powerful introduction. What do you want to make your audience feel, laugh at, marvel at or better understand? What do you want the audience to walk away with? It must be an intriguing introduction. Create the first few seconds to hook your audience and bring them into the story like an amazing opening scene of a movie.

 

  1. Create vivid details so your story comes to life in the theatre of the mind. The images are dancing in the listener’s mind. When you create with wonderful images and vivid detail, it adds authenticity and believability and makes the story come to life.

 

  1. Powerful conclusion. Once you’ve accomplished what you hope to make them feel, you’ll know you reached the end of the story and that’s where your conclusion is. Knowing ‘where you want to end’ helps create the intriguing introduction at the beginning.

 

  1. The call to action. Where do you want the audience to go next? What is the follow up? In podcasting, when you’re telling great stories and you create a wonderful narrative for your listener, the end shouldn’t just be the end, it must lead them to more. Is it going back to your website or the show notes? Know how you want people to get more involved.

 

The most difficult part of storytelling is creating that intriguing introduction that really hooks your audience and tells them exactly where you’re going. Don’t wander into the story. You don’t want your listener to be wondering where the story is going rather than enjoying the details. You want the listener to enjoy the journey, and have the anticipation and excitement build up. In a movie we know where the story is going. But is the hero going to survive or is he going to perish? That’s what draws people in.

 

The Interviews

 

Sift through the interviews that you’ve recorded to find the parts that will tell the story, rather than you telling the story. The more actual interviews you can use the better, because it brings the story to life. Additional voices add depth to the podcast. The more voices you include, the more depth you have.

 

You can learn a lot by watching expose shows like Behind The Music or Sixty Minutes. Watch how they make their transitions in their interviews. It’s truly an art, to go from one interview clip to transition to another interview clip. Behind The Music is a great example: they tell the story of a band using a narrator that voices the transitions, and then the band members’ interviews tell the real story.

 

When you recruit the people that you’re going to interview for your podcast, it’s important to let them know that you’re putting together a story, and their interview will be part of a larger piece. Reassure them that nothing they say will be taken out of context. Make sure in your editing that you are including pieces that are actually what the guest said, not changing their words in any way.

 

The Interview Subjects

 

Finding people to interview really comes down to the story that you want to tell. You need to talk to the main characters and people that have intimate knowledge of the story you’re trying to tell. If you find multiple people who are giving you the same story, find the most credible and/or most entertaining and use that.

 

When it comes to selecting guests for a podcast of this nature, the most important part is to find individuals that will speak in complete sentences. When you go to edit your podcast, to put it into parts, you will find it easier to edit if they speak in complete sentences.

 

This is where the art of interviewing comes in. You as the interviewer need to think about that in the questions you ask. You need to ask questions that will generate answers that are complete sentences. The answer has to stand on its own without the question setting it up. It’s more important to find guests that can provide that for you than to find guests of any other nature. A great question you can ask is the ‘complete this sentence’ style question. It’s a great trick for people who won’t use complete sentences.

 

Resources

 

If you want to create great narrative podcasts, look into great storytelling and moviemaking. Understand how movies are created from idea to plot concept to storyboards to shooting the film and how they piece that all together. Go back and look into the early days of radio when they used serials like The Green Hornet or Dick Tracy. If you can find those stories and how they created those through audio, that will help you create great narrative podcasts.

 

Eric covers storytelling quite a bit in his own podcast. Storytelling makes you real as an individual, which helps create that relationship with your audience. When you’re trying to do business online, people want to do business with those they know, like and trust. That happens through your podcast.

 

The take-away

 

Storytelling is so critical. It’s what happens to be missing in great podcasts today. A lot of interview podcasts are successful because guests come on and tell great stories about how they failed and how they succeeded, and those stories make for great entertainment. Narrative podcasts can do the same thing. It’s a tonne more work but it’s a fabulous form of entertainment.

Apr 13, 2017

Today’s episode features Dave Jackson sharing his expertise about creating narrative style podcast episodes.

 

Pros and Cons of doing a narrative style:

 

The big pro is that stories engage audiences more than just a plain interview. There’s a reason every movie, every book, every TV show and almost all media is a story of some sort. It’s the Hero’s Journey: the audience gets sucked in and wants to find out what happens next.

 

The main con is that it takes a lot more time. To do just a host talking into a mic is a 4:1 ratio. If you’re making a 15 minute podcast like that, plan on spending an hour working on it. However other kinds of podcast have a much bigger ratio, because now you’re trying to get things to sound a specific way and create a mood so it takes much longer.

 

Dave’s tips for how to approach it:

 

Start with an idea first, break it down into specific topics next and then construct it into a narrative story.

 

Write it down and start fleshing out the idea, even write your show notes in advance. This helps because often during this process you will come up with cool ideas for production.

 

Choose guests via a criteria so that they fit the goal of the episode. That will mean you will get more of the sound bites you want from them and hopefully less will end up on the cutting room floor.

 

When trimming down interviews to get to the narrative elements, focus on the parts where the guest actually answers the questions you ask. Remember, you are the buffer between the guest and the audience and you don’t want to make the audience sift through content that isn’t relevant.

 

Ask yourself “What’s the point of telling the story, what’s the objective?” Do you want people to laugh, cry, groan or be entertained? Write it out so you can see the ebb and flow of the story. Then you will know where it tugs on their heart strings and where you need to lighten it up a bit so it’s not so heavy etc.

 

Sometimes you have good content that wasn’t relevant to the particular narrative, so it got cut. However, you could still use it for a promo for the episode or you can also release the full, raw, uncut interviews as well. For example, The Podcast Producers do this in between seasons.

 

Techniques to transition between clips or parts of stories:

 

Use music or sound effects, for example, at the end of a segment. Fade in music that sets the tone of the point you were making. It’s also useful for the audience to help the point sink in, let them ponder a bit.

 

Have a commercial break. This is a common way and audiences are familiar with it because it’s used so widely in mainstream media.

 

Simply use a dramatic pause followed by a question. Using a dramatic pause (think Paul Harvey, the king of radio) to let the idea sink in. Then start off next point with a question, to signal to the audience a shift of direction.

 

Resources or sources of inspiration

 

The book “Resonate: present visual stories that transform audiences” by Nancy Duarte.

 

Listen to Serial or Radio Lab or StartUp. Listen to enjoy the story, but also listen for the technical aspects of what they’re doing so you can reverse engineer them and use them yourself.

 

A portable recorder, to try to capture your thoughts in a moment, or your surroundings.

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