Answer Some of Your Own Questions First When Starting a Podcast

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"Who do you want to be listening?" asked Kate Super, founder and executive producer, Sidford House Media, during a session on Creating Successful Podcasts this morning at Association Media & Publishing's annual conference here in Washington, D.C. "That will tell you a lot about what your content should be."

Super teamed with Chitra Sethi, managing editor, technical content, for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers to present a practical session on that publishing freight train known as the podcast. After attending a session here last year on podcasts, Sethi helped to create ASME TechCast, now about 12 episodes in and flourishing,

"We had to ask ourselves, 'What is our mission? Why do we want to do this?'" Sethi said. "Is music important? [Yes.] Do you need a logo? [Yes.] And what format do you want? Solo, segmented, interview?

They chose segmented. Their episodes spread into three parts: an introduction by the host—he's a senior project manager who auditioned successfully for the gig; short reports by one of their editors about a newsy, trendy story; and finally an interview with a guest speaker/subject expert.

"Music can help your podcast connect," said Sethi. "And what's in a name? Everything. It took us weeks to pick a name. We had Geek Speak and Mechanically Speaking. Once we picked ASME TechCast we had our designer create a logo for it.  We launched with a pilot episode on diversity in the industry" featuring an Interview with a woman engineer. 

Sethi said that some things will be error and trial for you. They realized after recording a few episodes that a long podcast was not in their cards—or 8-hour workday. "We did like a 45-minute interview that we had to cut down to 12 minutes," she said. "We did not have the time for that going forward so decided to try to keep the recordings short." Now the podcasts average about 10-12 minutes.

Here are some of Sethi's DO's and DON'TS:


  • Conduct a pre-interview with your subject. Help them shape their story, Super advised. "Can they tell it themselves or do they need an interviewer to draw it out of them?"
  • Choose your where-to-record wisely and always listen before you record. Wear headphones of what the actual recording will sound like, 
  • Include a call-to-action on every episode for something you want listeners to do.
  • Promote episodes on social media.
  • Track your metrics – how many listens, how long are they staying, where are they dropping off?
  • If you are speaking, find your personal mic distance. 
  • Have a strong introduction. Just like everthing else that's digital today, people want to be engaged quickly.
  • Practice your part.


  • Don't touch the microphone once it's set up.  
  • Don't go on without setting a script agenda.
  • Avoid the yesses, nos and uh-huhs. This isn't like regular conversation, Sethi said, though it does need to sound off the cuff.
  • Don't read from the script.
  • Avoid long recordings. You will spend too much time editing it down. 

Super added other key points. Do you want to do a series or a one-off? What frequency do you want? Look for interesting guests. That doesn't mean they have to be the most preeminent people in their field. It might be better to find somebody who is not fully saturated in that space. And that may also provide an opportunity to be more inclusive—who is not represented in this conversation.

Make space for quiet, Super added. "Ask a question and give them a minute; people will sometimes fill in and answer further. And finish with, 'Anything you think I should ask you about that I missed?'" She believes that unique downloads of a podcast are the best measurement. A targeted survey of users is best for useful feedback.

"Results take time," said Sethi. "But if you enjoy it, have fun! Creating a great podcast is like writing. It's a skill that improves with time."

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…