Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, contests and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Skills & tools for shaping imperfect human conversation into a podcast episode

Here's how to splice stories together effectively into a successful podcast.

Skills & tools for shaping imperfect human conversation into a podcast episode. This illustration shows six puzzle pieces joining together to form a speaking mouth.
Advertisement

In my last staff job as a newsroom editorial trainer, I always knew we had a keeper when a new reporter came in with a list full of story ideas and then got straight onto the phone. Email interviews just aren’t enough.

I’ve conducted countless numbers of each of those kinds of interviews over the years in my career as a journalist, and some of them have been fun to listen back to as I transcribed the best lines to write up the interview. I once had a fun, laughter-filled conversation with the two co-creators of the Netflix show Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones. They confirmed the titles of the next season’s episodes along with what they’d be about, and then they teased me by refusing to say anything else about the new shows at all. I knew fans would enjoy it.

When I got back to my desk at the Daily Mirror, I wrote up the conversation up as a feature. It had a classic three-part structure: an introduction to the theme and interviewees, the interview write-up in the middle, then rounding off with a conclusion that whets the reader’s appetite for the next season of Black Mirror. But I was also tasked with turning the conversation into the first episode of the Daily Mirror’s new Black Mirror companion podcast, “Black Mirror Cracked.” And when I sat down to think about how the podcast episode would work, I realized that I would need to approach the interview in a very different way – and learned a great deal about editing audio along the way.

Here’s what every podcast creator needs to know before diving into their first episode.

 

The beginning and the ending

It’s important to build a frame around the podcast’s main content, to ease the listener out of the “real world” and into the experience of the episode. You can use these bookends on every episode in the series, to create a sense of continuity and help the listener feel comfortable. The opening line that felt most natural to me was: “Hello, and welcome to ‘Black Mirror Cracked’ – the podcast for all your Black Mirror needs. My name’s Suchandrika, and I’ll be your host.”

A podcast episode – unlike an article – is a space the listener enters and experiences for however long it lasts. Pressing “play” on a podcast with an introduction is like knocking on a door and being welcomed in. Whose voice is this? the listener asks. That’s why I chose to name myself as soon as possible, so the listener could get his or her bearings. This became the generic introduction and conclusion on the podcast in each episode. They’re bookends, and I recorded them together: the “hello and welcome,” and the “thanks for listening, goodbye.” Then, in the edit, I cut them apart and placed them at opposite ends of the podcast episode: the opening and closing credits. These could be recorded once and reused throughout the series.

I used these pieces of voiceover to remind the listener that they could interact with this podcast anytime, on social media, via email, or through rating and reviewing on Apple Podcasts. (That’s the major difference between podcasts and radio – thanks to reviews, listeners can make me hear them, too.)

So once you have the voiceover for the podcast series, now you need a unique introduction for each episode, because the theme and the guest need to be contextualized for the listener: episode bumpers. My “Black Mirror Cracked” episodes alternated between interviews with the showrunners and actors and in-depth recaps of the TV shows, so different kinds of introductions were needed. One type introduced the actor – including Wyatt Russell (son of Kurt and Goldie), British actor Douglas Hodge, and Australian actor Daniel Lapaine – with information about their other roles, as well as the one they play in Black Mirror (or, in Daniel’s case, two).

Advertisement

I recorded these episode bumpers after editing the interviews. I could then drop in a fun fact about an interviewee that I knew had made it onto the final edit. The more anticipation you can build in that introduction, the better, as more listeners will feel compelled to stick with the episode and, hopefully, the series.

The other type of episode bumper introduced my co-host(s) on the episode, who were usually my colleagues from the Daily Mirror newsroom who’d expressed a love for the Black Mirror episode up for discussion. The inclusion of their voices from the start let listeners know that this was a conversational podcast, rather than a one-on-one interview one. These episodes were more about unpacking the TV show than learning about what it was like to be on-set, as with the interviews.

Ask yourself: What should my listeners know right from the start? How can I best welcome them into the episode and the series as a whole?

 

Advertisement
Advertisement