Hosting a podcast is a tremendous way to promote your law firm, as I previously discussed in detail in this article. Even if no one ever listens to the podcast (not a goal I am recommending), the podcast will nonetheless help to establish you as an expert, and brings major SEO benefits.
I am relatively new to the podcasting phenomenon, but I am an avid listener to many different podcasts from varying genres. I host my own podcast, and that has given me some experience from the production side, but today I want to speak from the viewpoint of the listener. Just as you don’t need a Masters in Fine Arts to offer an opinion on a movie you just saw, I am amply qualified as a consumer of podcasts to offer my views on some of the problems I have seen, as well as possible solutions.
If you decide to create a podcast to promote your law firm, here are ten tips, from a listener’s view, that will make your legal podcast better.
1. Listen to your podcast one more time before publishing it.
This seems self-evident, but I have witnessed many podcasts where it is apparent the host is not taking the time to listen to their own podcast. I list this tip first because if you listen to your own podcast, the issues I am about to discuss will become apparent if they are present.
One big red flag that the host is not listening to his or her own podcast is the presence of glaring editing mistakes.
For example, when I make a mistake while recording a podcast, I just pause for a few seconds, and then do that part of the podcast again. I later edit out the mistakes in post-production. When you edit an audio file, the file is presented as a wave form, and the pauses create flat lines in that wave form that make the places needing editing easy to find. Additionally, I have my outline on an iPad while recording, and if I make a mistake, I just sweep my finger across the iPad to mark the spot that needs an edit. I’ve read that you can get even fancier with Adobe Audition, and somehow flag the spots in the recording requiring editing, but I currently use Audacity, which is free.
My biggest fear with my method is that I won’t catch one of these mistakes during editing, and both versions will end up in the published podcast. It is a rational fear, arising from the fact that I have heard it occur in podcasts that I listen to. I won’t mention any names, but I recently listened to my favorite show on podcasting, and even though the host is an editing expert who recently gave a presentation on editing at a certain podcasting summit, even he committed this error. The point is that it can happen to anyone.
I get how it happens. The host records, say, an hour-long show, and then takes an hour or two to edit it. He just listened to the entire show while he edited it, so why take yet another hour to listen to the final product?
The reason is that it you don’t take that final listen, you’ll miss some mistakes.
I teach all the attorneys who work for me to get their legal briefs to the point that they think they are finished and ready for filing with the court, and then read them out loud for one final edit. In all cases, the attorneys protest and say that final read is not necessary, arguing that they are accustomed to editing documents on the screen. In all cases I have converted them by taking a document they perceived to be a final version with no typos, and reading it out loud to them. Without exception, we not only find errors, but it reveals sentences that could be written more clearly. I now smile as I walk down the hall of my office, and hear the attorneys reading their briefs out loud.
The podcasting equivalent of that is to listen to the final product. I once edited an episode, published it, and then took a listen to see that everything had uploaded properly. To my shock and embarrassment, it turned out that the entire episode consisted of about 30 seconds from the end of the podcast. I still don’t know how I managed that, but I surmise that when I went to export the podcast, I had a portion of the episode highlighted from editing, and somehow told the editing program to export only the highlighted portion. You’d think the file size or something would have tipped me off, but it all escaped me. No harm done; I just saved the entire file and uploaded it again, but I’m glad I caught the error.
2. Make the sound level consistent.
One of my biggest pet peeves as a listener is the wildly differing sound levels on many podcasts. (You no doubt have experienced this when watching television, where the commercials are so much louder.) The biggest offender normally occurs right at the beginning of the show. The professionally recorded intro and the music come in really loud, so I turn down my player, only to have the host come in with such a soft voice that I have to turn it back up.
Make sure the gain on your mic brings you up to the same level as your intro, and run your show through a leveler if you are not using adequate compression during the recording. The easiest way to accomplish this is to simply save your recording as a .wav file, and then drag and drop it into Levelator, which is a free program.
3. Make sure your music is appropriate for the topic.
I must have missed the memo, but apparently it was decreed that all podcasts have to use rap or heavy metal music for their intros. The listener is assaulted with the equivalent of Ozzie Osborne screaming “I’m gonna make you bleed” from Welcome to the Jungle, followed by the host saying, “Welcome to this episode of Crochet Today.”
I think what the hosts are going for is to create immediate energy, but it has the opposite effect since the host will seldom match the energy level created by the intro (nor would they want to). It makes the host sound like he or she is not up to the energy level of the show.
4. Show energy and enthusiasm.
Speaking of energy; show some! You don’t have to sound like an AM radio disc jockey from the 70’s, but neither do you have to suck the life out of the room. Show enthusiasm for your topic, and it will be contagious. Dave Jackson, host of the School of Podcasting podcast, suggests that you adopt the energy level of the aforementioned 70’s disc jockey, and then come down a little from that when you record.
5. Don’t sound like you are reading.
What is the stereotype of a boring speech? Someone who walks to the lectern (incidentally, a podium is something you stand ON; a lectern is where you rest your notes) and reads the speech.
This is one I struggle with. I want my notes to be detailed enough that I don’t struggle for words, but I find that the more detailed I make them, the more I sound like I am reading.
Keep your outline as brief as possible, and that will force you to speak instead of just reading. Also, use your hands while recording. We all gesture with our hands while talking – some obviously more than others – and when you allow yourself to gesture while recording, it makes the speech sound more natural.
6. Use a pop filter.
Popping into the mic is really annoying. If you edit your podcast using speakers, it may not be as apparent, but it is far more so through headphones. Be kind to your listeners. There is no reason to assault them with popping when it is so easily fixed with a $7 pop filter.
I don’t like the big round ones you hang in front of the mic, because I have to look around them to see my notes and the control board. I just use one of those foam-rubber windscreens you can put over the mic, and then I speak across the mic instead of directly into it.
7. Use transitions.
We all know that articles are much easier to read and absorb when lots of headings are used, but we forget to use “headings” in our podcasts and instead present them as one continuous block of spoken text.
If you utilize different segments in your podcast, then have some very short intros created. Like headings, these intros make it easier to follow the show. Visualize your listener as someone who is leaving the room occasionally. Even if the listener is consuming your show via ear buds during a jog, the reality is that the listener’s mind will wander. Those short intros provide a roadmap for the listener when their focus returns.
If your podcast does not have different defined segments, a simple transitional sound between topics will provide greater structure and ease of listening.
8. Don’t abuse the listener’s time.
I view podcasts as a way to beam information into my mind, and I want the process to be as efficient as possible. Indeed, I generally listen to podcasts at double speed on Stitcher. Another podcast player – Overcast – will even take out the pauses in order to shorten the playback time.
The listener came to your podcast to learn about a specific topic, so be sure to stay on that topic and keep anything else to a minimum. From my own experience, I understand that the process involves a trade. Before Pandora, Spotify, and Slacker (or podcasts), when people would listen to music radio stations in their cars, they understood that commercials were a necessary evil. So it is with podcasts. Listeners will tolerate some self-promotion from the host, so long as it kept short.
Also, if you are offering a podcast that is worth returning to, then you need to keep in mind that you’ll have both new and returning listeners. Don’t repeat your mission statement in every podcast. Most shows will talk about what they are seeking to accomplish in the first episode, and thereafter the summary should be kept to a minimum.
The same is true of your intro. I listen to an Interent marketing podcast, and the first time I heard it I was very impressed that the host had created a professionally recorded song that explains the purpose of the show. I was also impressed the second and third time I heard that song. But having heard that song 30 times, now I just cringe. When deciding which podcast to listen to, I find myself rejecting that one because I’ll have to sit through the theme song again.
Television shows long ago recognized the annoyance of long opening songs. M*A*S*H started with a 48 second intro, whereas the intro to Modern Family is just 11 seconds. We all know that attention spans have grown ever shorter with the Internet, but few appreciate just how short. Studies show that just a two-second delay in loading a website can reduce visits by 50%. It only makes sense that a long intro will turn away listeners.
9. Talk only to one person.
Podcasting is far more personal and intimate than blogging. You are talking into the listener’s ear, who hears your voice and inflections, and comes to know you much better than he could ever know you from only your writing. Don’t sacrifice that major benefit of podcasting by talking as though you are giving a speech to a group. When addressing the listener, address him or her as “you”, as in “Here is what YOU need to know to win YOUR personal injury action”, as opposed to “Here is what everyone needs to know to win their personal injury actions.” And along that same line . . .
10. Create an image in your mind of exactly who you are addressing.
Create an avatar of that one person to whom you are speaking. Some podcasters go so far as to name the avatar, and then all decisions about topics and how best to explain them are decided by what would be best for that avatar. If you create a very well defined avatar (let’s call him John), you’ll be more inclined to keep to the purpose of your show. If you are a bankruptcy attorney, and John is someone who would listening to your podcast in search of bankruptcy information, then you won’t waste his time talking about the fun you are having with your new iPhone.