This post was written by my friends Massimo Bonanni and Roberto Albano.
We started producing podcasts with the idea of providing people with a way to easily improve their skills by using the time that would usually be wasted, such as time spent driving, during trips on public transportation, or while the make jogging.
We think a podcast is perfect for having a high-level view of a topic: a general idea of the argument but detailed enough to make you want to deepen it using the most appropriate channels.
For these reasons, our podcasts have a duration of less than an hour, and they are more discursive.
How we choose the topic/guest
Generally, we decide to produce a podcast because we think that a topic is interesting for a lot of people.
Sometimes, people ask us more detail about an argument using our contact channels (twitter, Facebook, contact form on our site, and so on), or we realize that a topic is interesting because it is talked about a lot.
In other cases, we know exciting people, amazing professionals, and then we ask them to propose a topic (or a list of topics) to produce one or more podcasts.
If we have the topic and we don’t have the guest, we try to find one or more people who are experts in the specific argument, and we offer them to create a podcast. An expert may be a professional that works with the technology we want to talk to or someone that knows the argument very well. Our podcasts are, mainly, based on Microsoft technology, and generally, the guests are Microsoft employees or Microsoft MVP. For some topics, we produce more than one podcast with different guests to provide our listeners with varying points of view.
Prepare the podcast
Once we choose the argument, we start to prepare a set of questions, and the number of them depends on the interest in the topic, but, generally, they aren’t more than eight or ten. If a topic needs more than ten questions, the best approach is to split the podcast into two or more episodes.
Preparing the questions is not a simple task. You must create every single question with some points in your mind:
- The entire list of questions must have a logical thread, a kind of discourse, a ‘fil rouge’. You must think of the podcast as something that people listen while they are doing something else (for example, driving), and they cannot take notes or concentrate in a particular way. Every question should reveal more of the topic than the previous question.
- Every question must give the guest the possibility to make a complete discourse: remember, the guest is the main actor of the podcast; you are only the interviewer. Avoid the questions that request only yes or no as an answer!
- The questions must be consistent with the topic and must contain verifiable references. In general, they should not include the interviewer’s opinions. However, space must be left for the guest’s views in the response.
- The questions should be interesting. Avoid the “silly” questions. The guest can help you to remove or modify those kinds of questions.
After we complete the list of questions, we share it with the guests. They have the last word about the list because they know the topic. Generally, we ask them to modify the list of questions by adding or removing them appropriately.
We use the list of questions as a canvas that guides us during the podcast recording. If during the registration, most appropriate or a more interesting question comes up, then we ask the guest. Remember: never ask questions that you know are uncomfortable for the guest or that the guest will not be able to answer (for example, on something that is under NDA). A guest who does not feel comfortable will not want to register another podcast with you in the future.
Record the podcast
Once we complete the list of questions, we proceed to record the podcast.
If we can meet the guest, we prefer to make a live recording of the podcast. In this scenario, the podcast is a chat between friends and the interaction between the interviewer and the interviewee makes, in our opinion, a better podcast.
If we cannot meet the guest, we use Skype for Business or Teams (or other online communication tools) to have a connection with the guest.
In both scenarios, even if we have a list of questions that drive us during the conversation, we try to be the most natural we can.
Some suggestion after more than four years of recording (and about 200 episodes):
- Prepare yourself: read the questions more times before the recording. You shouldn’t read the questions during the recording because listening people are uncomfortable listening to someone that repeats the questions as a parrot.
- Don’t invent questions during the recording. If you haven’t experience in podcast recording, don’t invent a question during the recording. Remember to keep the “fil rouge” of the conversation, and, never, make the guest uncomfortable. After some recordings and with experience, you will be able to find interesting questions to add, during registration, to those in the list to get a better podcast
- You are the interviewer, not the main actor in the podcast. The star is the guest, remember! Leave to the guest all the time to answer the questions. When the guest completes the answer, then you ask the next questions.
- People listen to your podcast; they don’t see you and your guest! During the recording, don’t use phrases like “as you can see” or “as shown on the page”. Your audience is listening to your podcast; they aren’t viewing it. May be frustrating for the listener not to have the opportunity to contextualize what you are saying
- Be clear when you talk. It is essential to speak clear all the words you and your guests use in the podcast. The language must be simple and clear, and you need to avoid “dialectal” terms. If you use acronyms, explain it the first time you use it, and then you can use them without any problems.
We use different tools based on the type of podcast we provide.
If we interview a guest remotely, we use Skype for business, Zoom, or Teams. For Skype, we use MP3 Skype Recorder (a third-party plug-in) to record the call with the guests while the other tools have a recording feature.
For the live podcast, we start using a dedicated PC with Audacity and a USB microphone (in particular, we buy Samson Meteor microphone).
We always used this equipment every time we interviewed someone until, one day, during a conference, we interviewed Scott Hanselmann.
Scott Hanselman is one of the most important technical figures in Microsoft, and manages and produces podcasts for years and currently manages at least four podcasts (https://www.hanselman.com/podcasts/).
That day, he arrived in the room we had for the podcast recording and, looking to our pcs and headphones and microphones, asked because we carried all that bulky equipment with us.
He spent more or less a half-hour of his time to give us some tips about recording podcasts.
He suggested using a voice recorder. Then we buy the Tascam DR-05 v2. From that day, we always use the recorder: it weighs less than a PC with an external microphone and allows you to record the podcast on the fly.
Once the podcast has been recorded, we have completed the first half of the journey. Now we have one or more raw files to work on, and we have to face the second half of the effort to obtain the “final product” to publish.
When we started this adventure, we chose the layout of the podcast: elements such as the jingles to open and close the episodes, on the kind of picture to represent it, and other things like this. Still, we were entirely unprepared for mount an episode, and we didn’t know what the right tools to use were, nor what should be the right approach to apply to this activity.
So, we googled a lot to understand a little on these topics, and in the end, we realized that we could just use Audacity to mount the episodes. Audacity is a free, open-source, and cross-platform audio software, and it would have been destined to be our best friend in the production of the podcasts.
Work with it on raw audio files was so simple, and a lot of effects and filters are available in it. In the end, we are not professional in this activity, so there was a great initial effort to understand how to make our final product better, changing here and there something, removing background noises, removing backstage parts, attaching jingles, and so on.
Since we are a newbie at all, we started with some short online training, and we used to make a lot of tries to understand how an audio effect change that fragment, or what is the action to apply to better arrange for our final product. Take your time to experiment with the tool to have a better result.
Depending on how we recorded the interview, the raw files can be different in terms of elements and quality. Sometimes, we can have a separate track for every person attending the call, that is the best scenario to create a clean podcast. In other cases, we could have one mono track with no possibility to make great cleaning on it, so the quality of the final product depends a lot from the initial source.
Another element to obtain a good quality podcast is, of course, the time spent to get every single word of the podcast clean and understandable. Another aspect to take care of to obtain a good quality podcast is, of course, the time spent to get every single word of the podcast clean and understandable. Some guests are prepared for an in-person meeting, but they aren’t ready at all for online recording. The consequence of this is a recording with a high number of pauses to remove from the final product. Other guests record in a noisy ambient, with dog barking or ambulance ringing on the background, and this is not always simple to clean.
When possible, if you listen to some noises, ask the guest to repeat the sentence. In any case, this means a lot of time to spend on mounting because you must cut the wrong sentences. We never measured the amount of time dedicated to realizing an acceptable quality podcast, but in the worst situation, we have worked almost ten hours to complete the task.
On the other hand, there were a lot of occasions in which we recorded live with no preparation at all, such as meetings where we met experts and asked them to record a podcast on-the-fly. In this scenario, the recording is almost “as is”, with just removing the wrong phrases. In these kinds of podcasts, the quality of the recording is less than standard, but it is extremely understandable the authenticity of the interview.
After four years of activity and almost 200 episodes, we can say that this is an exciting and constructive but also extremely tiring experience.
Exciting because it is an activity that allows you to meet many people and get in touch with different ways of thinking.
Constructive because, having to prepare the podcast, you are forced to study the topic. You have to identify yourself with who will listen to the podcast and think about what questions might come to mind.
Tiring because to maintain a constant publication cadence (critical to have a lot of followers) and good quality, the work before and after the registration takes a lot of free time.