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: May, 2017
May 29, 2017

Today’s guest is Jessica Rhodes from The Podcast Producers.

Reasons to do narrative style

  • Jessica explains that putting on a narrative podcast is going to make you a thought leader in that industry. It brings you a lot of credibility because of the amount of work that goes into it, the production and high quality of the style of podcasts. It makes you come across as a lot more serious about what you’re doing. Interview style podcasts are great but when you put out a narrative show, you are putting out a quality of show that is so much higher than the majority of shows out there so it really does set you apart from the crowd.
  • There is a lot of work both in preparation and post production. There are so many podcasts now. People want to podcast because they want to make money and be famous and they want the easiest way to do it. Well, the reality is if you want to be super famous or successful or make a lot of money, you have to put in the hard work. There is no fast path to a lot of success. A narrative style podcast is a lot of work but you will get a lot of recognition and exposure with a really quality show.

Planning and Preparation for a Series

  • You need to know and have a good understanding of who your audience and target listener is. You also need to know what the story arc is. The difference between a narrative and another type of podcast show is that there’s a story arc; there’s a beginning, a middle and an end.
  • When preparing for their show, Jessica and Corey were thinking about the fact that they were talking to podcasters. What are the questions that podcasters have? What do podcasters think and talk a lot about? They brain dumped all the different topics that came to mind and then on a Google spreadsheet moved them around in a different order and thought strategically about what the right order would be and how that story would be told.
  • Jessica’s advice is to think about who your target listener is and what the goal of the show is. What is the story that you’re trying to tell?

The interviews

  • When you’re thinking about what types of interviews to have on, remember that your guests ARE the show. When you have a narrative based podcast featuring a lot of different guests, you need to be ok with not being the front and center spotlight. The creators are the puppeteers, asking the right questions to allow the guests to tell the story. Jessica was strategic about having guests on from a variety of different categories of podcast, different experience levels, some well known and some not super successful.
  • A good podcast in Jessica’s opinion is not one with just a big name, but one with good content, good production quality, good sound quality and a host who really, really digs their show. She would advise against hosting a narrative show and only trying to get the big names. A narrative show is beautiful because it’s bringing voices to so many different people that you don’t hear on every other podcast.

Tips for having a good interview

  • The difference in doing a narrative style podcast is that the interviews are not meant to be heard just raw and uncut, so it’s not just this flowing conversation. It feels a little choppy because it will get cut and pasted into different episodes.
  • The best tip Jessica ever heard and the best advice that she can give is actually a tip from Mark Maron at Podcast Movement: listen. When you’re interviewing, really listen and let your guest do as much of the talking as possible, especially in a narrative based podcast.
  • Corey also taught her this: the best part of the interview, the best stuff, is going to come after at least 15 minutes. So if you can, have your interviews go for a minimum of 30 minutes. Sometimes you can only get guests for 30 minutes but if you can have someone on with you for an hour, the stuff that comes after that 15-20 minute mark is going to be the best. You’re just breaking the ice after those first few minutes.

The editing process

  • It’s important to have a team. Doing a narrative-based podcast by yourself is going to be a really big challenge. It’s not impossible but Corey and Jessica each brought very different skill-sets to the table, which allowed them to have a really good show. She highly recommends that if you want to do a narrative-based podcast to really make sure you have the right partners to help you do it really well. Jessica has a nice voice on the microphone, can interview well and knows how to get guests. So she was the main booker for the show and obviously contributed along with Corey to the ideas. She thinks more like a marketer and an entrepreneur than Corey does. He is the artist, he is the editor, he is the producer and the one that listens to all the interviews and takes the pieces and puts them together.
  • Having a partner and knowing what your skillsets are helps, but also get as much content as you can. They brainstormed what the story would be but what they realised is they ended up talking to the guests about a lot more than what they booked them to talk about. So they ended up being able to use their interviews in a lot more of the episodes than first thought. You don’t want to pre-edit, you want to just talk to the guests and try to get as much great information. A lot will get left on the cutting room floor, but you want to get as much great audio as possible so you have plenty to work with.

Strategic Elements of the Stories and Transitions

  • In the narrative-based podcast, you want to have a variety of feels to the show. For Podcast Producers they had three different kinds of audio: interviews, solo segments and conversations between Cory and Jessica. And there was also music. A person’s voice when they do a solo show is different to when they interview, and again to when they have a conversation. It sounds so different. In a narrative based-podcast, one of the things you can do to hook listeners, is to have those different kinds of vocals.
  • The music is HUGE as well. They actually contracted a musician to write the music for the show. The high quality of the music is a big part of creating the high quality show. You can find musicians to compose a song for you. The production quality and the sound, high quality music, will really set you apart.


  • Getting sponsorship comes back to that high quality content and production, and the launch. They didn’t do that much around marketing but Jessica thinks because all of their energy was into the production of the show, it marketed itself. She thinks the mistake a lot of podcasters make is they go into podcasting thinking about sponsors and have dollar signs in their eyes. But if you think about the story and the listeners, and focus on the quality of the show, then you can definitely attract sponsors.
  • In the iTunes show there is a part about podcasting and it has other shows in there like Podcast Answerman. She emailed iTunes and said that they should feature her show in that category. It took a couple of months but now their podcast is listed in the ‘How to Podcast’ section of iTunes because they had a very clear target market, a highly produced show and they went for it, they made it happen.

Repurposing the interview content that didn’t make it

  • Podcast Producers is a show for podcasters, so the audience will respect and value that unedited aspect. Also showing the unedited interviews is a lesson in and of itself. Also Jessica and Corey wanted a way to create buzz. She was pregnant and he is very busy, so they knew they weren’t going to be able to come back and produce another season for a while, and it was a way to fill that space.
  • They chose to not build an email list together. So on the you can find Jessica’s bio and a link to her website, and a link to Corey’s bio and his website. They wanted a way to keep people engaged in between seasons so they wanted to keep having episodes come out so people stayed in touch.
  • This was about getting content out, it isn’t a list builder, it isn’t a way to make money, it was about making Jessica and Corey authority figures. They were both behind the scenes people in podcasting, working really hard in their businesses but not internet celebrities. They wanted to show that they knew a lot about podcasting. Jessica did not want this to be a business podcast where it just sounds like everyone’s pitching what they do. She says maybe if they had talked more about their businesses they would have seen more people visit their websites. But the original goal was to produce a high quality show and create amazing value for podcasters. When you do that, you will attract people. Quality leads will seek you out.


  • Jessica recommends people use Podfly Productions, Interview Connections or Josh Rivers’ services.
  • She also highly recommends honing your communication skills on the mic. You just have to do a lot of podcasting and do a lot of interviews and listen to yourself after the fact to hear how you sound and to improve.
  • Listen to people like Terry Gross from Fresh Air and Mark Maron host of WTF, or other high quality podcasts. Listen to them as a way to learn how to be a better host and a better interviewer.
  • Also check out Jessica’s WebTV show Interview Connections.TV which is a weekly show with tips for podcasters because that will be helpful too.
May 22, 2017

Today’s guest is Geoff Woods from the podcast The Mentee.

There is a change of direction in the podcasting world, ever since Serial, where narrative podcasting has become more popular. We are still at the very beginning of the bell curve of podcasting’s popularity because we’re still in the realm of the early adopter. Many people still don’t know what podcasting is.

There is going to be an increasing need for podcasts because it will become more popular and the professionals are realizing it. There are narrative journalists who did that as their profession who are bringing that talent and skill set to the podcasting world. With that, you’re starting to see podcasts coming out with incredibly high production quality and budgets for production as well. You don’t have to do that to compete moving forward, but recognize that the quality is going through the roof and if you want to stand out you have to do things differently.

Geoff’s approach

  • Geoff started recording the conversations with the incredible, high-level people he was spending time with as a way to document his journey from employee to entrepreneur. He got feedback from the listener that what they really wanted wasn’t necessarily just an interview but that they wanted to hear private conversations that were genuine, that actually led to results in his life.
  • His podcast is a mixture of the conversations he was having, interspersed with his own narration about it. As he documented his journey over the last year, there were times where he felt compelled to share his thoughts and document his journey and carrying a recorder everywhere enabled him to do that. He says he has only used perhaps 5% of those little moments in the podcast but it aids in the rawness and authenticity of his podcast. It shows the true emotion, including fear, that he’s going through but also when the lightbulb comes on in his head too.

 Advice for narrative podcasters

  • Recognize that you need to document every interaction not only for your own retention but also in case there is a snippet of gold that you can use for the podcast. Also of course ask for permission to use what snippets you choose in the podcast. You have to document it and form some system of marking the date you talked to them, what you talked about and moments of gold.
  • When you start a podcast or a blog, when you do anything that puts you in the position of being a reporter, you end up doing something that creates an immense amount of value for yourself. This is why Geoff started his podcast. Not only to add value to other people (which was his number 1 goal) but also to give a way to add value that was unique, and get in front of the people he wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.
  • If you were to walk up to those people and ask to pick their brain, the chances are the answer will be no. However, when you put yourself in the position of reporter, all of a sudden you are giving value to them because you have a platform and are giving them exposure. Everyone wants exposure. It feeds the ego. Regardless of how big their podcast is, this is true. Some people will ask you how big your podcast is and how big your reach is, and that’s ok, but most people will just want the exposure.
  • Take Damon John from Shark Tank for example. The odds of getting him to have coffee with me, he’d likely say no. Geoff recognizes that if he wanted to get in touch with those kinds of people, he needed to step his game up even more. Using a brand like behind his name gives him even better access to those kinds of high-level people. Therefore, he set out with the aim of becoming a contributing writer for for the specific reason of being able to network.
  • When he found out that Damon John was coming out with a book, he recognized the opportunity, as a reporter for a major publication, to offer exposure to him for his book. It was an immediate yes, and he got to have the conversation with Damon that he wanted to have, turn it into a podcast episode and turn it into an article for which not only added tremendous value to him in promoting his book, but also adding tremendous value to Geoff from a credibility and traffic standpoint. It was a true win-win.
  • Geoff is always asking the question ‘How can I add value? How can I help you?’ He knows if somebody is coming out with a book then they will be looking for press, so it’s a no-brainer.

Hooks in the podcast to entice listeners

  • Geoff also realizes that recording private conversations with some really influential people can be taken out of context. So what he’s started to do is narrate at the beginning of each episode to provide the context and frame the conversation. It shows people the goal, the mission and the stage of the journey that he’s on so that they can understand why the conversation is worth listening to. Then he adds a take-away so the listeners can easily find out what they can apply in their own life, and also a call to action.
  • It’s a concept of opening loops and closing loops. At the beginning you can say something that sets up the topic. E.g. ‘the 5 things that are holding you back from quitting your day job’. This gives the listener a headline and something that grabs you attention and makes you want the answer. Then, however, they don’t get the answer straight away. They have to stick around to listen to the end of the episode so they will get the answer.
  • Then, throughout the episode, before you give them the answer to that question, before you close that loop, open another one. You can add something like ‘before we finish this episode I just want to let you know that next episode we will feature a conversation with xyz and the secrets he shared about abc.’ Then close the original loop so that the listener does get that sense of closure.
  • The basic formula: Open loop 1, open loop 2, close loop 1.
  • Then in the following episode you address the fact of that open loop 2, but also open loop 3 before you close loop 2. It’s putting a chain together so that listeners are drawn on and on. This idea comes from Ryan Dice at Digital Marketer. This is something, a very specific thing, that Geoff thinks about when he’s planning his podcasts now. He asks himself ‘how can I tie these episodes together?’ so that strategically he can keep people engaged.
May 4, 2017

Today’s guest is Bryan Orr from Podcast Movement: Sessions.

Bryan's podcasting story:

Bryan got into podcasting doing a typical interview show around small business. He found he was getting bored listening to his own content. Some guests were great and the application was strong but it wasn’t grabbing attention the way shows like 99% Invisible and This American Life had done. He had a real discontent with what he was producing, so he began Mantastic Voyage with his brother. Now he does more of a narrative style with Podcast Movement: Sessions. It’s not quite storytelling, but synthesis: synthesising information into a story.

Define narrative:

A narrative is anecdotes, so descriptions of things that happened, plus emotions or moments of reflection. If you take something that is an occurrence and add in elements of reflections or emotion into it, that can become a narrative. Another way to describe a narrative is to raise questions but be much more slow to answer them using occurrences or a sequence of events. In a question based podcast the host would ask a question and the guest would answer it. But in a narrative based podcast you explore the answer, and you find it by weaving through a set of occurrences.

The pros and cons:

  • A good reason to have a narrative of any kind is if you are wanting to make an emotional connection. If you have no interest in emotion whatsoever, making an emotional connection or getting people’s emotions to rise and fall, then don’t do a narrative. If all you’re wanting to do is simply express information and have information absorbed, then narrative doesn’t make sense.
  • But Bryan challenges anyone who says that all they’re doing is relaying information because information is absorbed when it’s attached to emotion. If we have no relationship to information given to us then you’ll have a tough time remembering it. But if you can attach information to an emotion, then you’ll remember it. Humans are hard-wired for story. As soon as you hear a story, you’ll listen to it.
  • The only reason to decide not to do it is if you don’t have the time, the discipline or a subject matter that has any emotion whatsoever. If you don’t have any time, if what you’re wanting to do is simply create a content machine and not actually go through and edit and write, then don’t do narrative. Narrative requires a great amount of effort on the front, middle and back end in order to pull it off. It requires a time investment a lot of people don’t have, and for certain niches, it may not be worth it.

The steps required:

  • The steps required depends on the type of narrative podcast you’re doing. Some are content-centric. For example, Podcast Movement: Sessions is content centric. Take the content that you already know you want to talk about and find the best story you can from within that. It’s easier than starting from scratch. Fiction podcasts start from scratch and are much more difficult because they centre around really good writing.
  • First, distill one idea, even if it’s a content-centric podcast. Figure out what the one idea is that everything you’re doing is surrounded around. Think about how you want the podcast to sound: intense, mysterious, funny. How do you want it to sound generally speaking?
  • Then start to lay it out on a timeline. What are some pieces you can fit in, and then see the gaps that need effective narration or sound clips to augment it.
  • Bryan's editing process has evolved over time as he has used different programs and learned to be a better podcaster over time. His process is to record the audio and load it into Reaper, which is non-destructive software so you can make changes and go back later not having lost the original take. He will then go through and log the tape using markers, making notes at significant points. Brian uses brown, green or red markers: red says ‘no way to use it’, green says ‘definitely going to use it’ and brown says ‘maybe’. Then, aggressively hack it because it’s non-destructive so he can get it all back later if he wants. He will then assemble the piece with all the narration and extras, then do a final edit where he makes it even tighter, and then he does the scoring which is adding the music.
  • The timeline also helps in the editing. Loosely, you will  know generally the points you want to hit, maybe 6 points. As you log the tape you find the specific things that you want so you fill in the timeline with the specifics, adding more detail until get to a really tight story.
  • Bryan says you can still create a good podcast even if you don’t know where you’re going, but it will take more time. It’s better if you have the general outline of where you want to end up and how you want it to sound before you start.

The interviews:

  • In Podcast Movement: Sessions the main topic for each episode is the main speaker. Then Bryan weaves in interviews and discussions with other people as well as his own narrative comments. He works ‘in the tape’ a lot. That means he goes through the tape a lot to find some areas that are really strong, and some areas that are weak. It’s nice to have balance from other voices when you have areas that aren’t so strong, that don’t stand on their own that well.
  • Bryan turns on a recorder when anyone is willing to talk to him. He has a mobile set-up and does a cell phone interview for the secondary voices. The point of these sections is to create some balance so the audio quality can be less than that of the main interview. He emphasizes the need to get a lot of tape. You never know what you’re going to get, sometimes you’ll get great stuff from unexpected places.
  • The ethos of a one-take interview show doesn’t translate into narrative because the whole interview won’t necessarily be strong.

The cutting room floor:

  • Bryan uses a list of questions to ask himself to make sure he’s not missing anything in the editing process. Is there an idea of place? Is there emotional balance? Are there ups and downs? In the timeline you can mark this with up arrows and down arrows. Is the story bouncing or falling flat? What are the stakes? What is at stake in the story if the subject if the narrative doesn’t go the way that you hope it goes? Establish that early on.
  • Look at your story and if it happens just like someone expects it to happen then it’s not a good story. It has to have some element of the unexpected to it. Rob Rosenthal of the House Down Podcast says use your best tape first, and Bryan follows this advice. Figure out a way to take some of your most engaging audio and use it early on. It creates draw into the story and interest in the story. It establishes the ‘why you should care’ factor.
  • Be conscious that whatever you end the story on is what you’re leaving people with. It’s ok to leave it unclosed. Good modern storytelling very rarely has grand summation, however it does have something that you want to leave the audience with and they’re very intentional about that. Whatever it is that you’re doing with your narrative, you want to make sure you’re conscious of that.
  • As for out-takes, if it’s good, clip it so you can have it later. If it’s topical and interesting, save it as a clip and maybe you’ll use it later.


  • Bryan advises you think of the mood and emotion, make sure the timing is appropriate, give people enough time to digest what just happened and then transition them emotionally into what’s about to happen next. Music is a huge part of that.
  • Ira Glass says This American Life uses ‘plinky’ music. The biggest mistake people make getting into narrative is they just use the wrong music. Music for sound and transitions is not the same kind of music that works if you’re doing an interview podcaster type of intro. Pick music that is very understated and simple and mood appropriate to what’s going on. Usually it’s fairly neutral, even for sad scenes.
  • Tracking is the name for the cutting of those little narrations in between pieces. What works nice is to not only introduce the next thought, but do some of their talking for them so that the narrations aren’t literally just introducing the next idea.


  • Listen to really great narrative podcasts. The RadioTopia podcasts are great examples of narrative podcasts: 99% Invisible, The Memory Palace, The Illusionists, Kitchen Sisters, Lost and Found Sounds. That will give you a feel for what is good, it helps you obtain good taste. You have to actually enjoy it yourself. If you’re not passionate about stories at all, it won’t work.
  • Listen to podcasts that specifically talk about how to do narrative. How Sound by Rob Rosenthal is the best one around, or Out on the Wire by Jessica Abel. Also look into Alex Bloomberg’s storytelling workshop on Creative Live.
  • Go to the Third Coast Festival in Chicago, where the world’s best audio storytellers go to meet and learn to each other.
  • and are good places to go.
  • Look into Smart Sound, which you can use to create your own music tracks and make them exactly what you want them to be. It’s not cheap but it’s a good resource.

The takeaway:

  • Just do it. Do it even if you’re never planning on publishing it. Start with your family, start with the stories you can tell about yourself, and sit in front of the microphone and work on editing it. You can’t read your way into becoming a good storyteller or a good editor. Just get started and you’ll find once you put in some hours you’ll be good.
  • If you’re going to do narrative, you can’t outsource it. You are going to have to learn how to do it all. Bryan strongly suggests getting in and learning every step of how to do it. Cutting your own tape, doing your own logging, learning how to write your narrations, learning how to write your own music.

If you want more from Bryan you can find him at