On Podcasting

Back in January I started recording audio versions of articles from my main site. I called it a podcast, but I’m not sure it’s what people think of when they use the term. A little over a month ago I started recording actual podcasts – conversations with other people. I wanted to jot down my thoughts on the experience and some of the lessons I’ve learned in the process. That’s what this is.

The first proper podcast was a conversation with two colleagues. Everyone was still in lockdown, so we did it on Skype. That was my first mistake. I used Skype’s inbuilt recording function and used that for my audio. The quality was beyond terrible. A significant amount of time was spent repairing it, but it remained terrible. In hindsight, I should’ve tested the software ahead of time.

Listening back to the recording, two things stood out. The first is that Skype ‘ducked’ overlapping audio. For those familiar with audio processing, this is similar to using a sidechained gate or compressor. For those unfamiliar, this means it turns down someone’s microphone when another participant speaks over the top of them. While this might help create clarity in the moment and remove unwanted background noise, it means that you lose whatever the other person was saying.

The second thing that stood out was how behaviours that work in conversation sound out of place when recorded. Verbal encouragement in casual conversation, like “yeah,” “uh-huh,” and “okay,” are simply annoying in a podcast. They distract from the speaker and quickly become irritating.

Both of those experiences teach the same lesson: say what you’re going to say, then shut up.

There’s one more lesson I learned from that first podcast: be better prepared. Whether you’re referring to questions asked or segues between topics, be prepared. Nobody wants to hear you fumble around for words, or force a square-shaped segue into a circle-shaped conversation.

My second proper podcast was a one-on-one interview. Again, it was through video-conferencing software – Zoom. I planned to use OBS Studio to record everything live, giving me better audio. It only partially worked. Despite my earlier problems, I neglected to test out the software beforehand. I fumbled around trying to fix things at the start of the interview, wasting my counterpart’s time. In the end, only the audio was recorded. I thought I was recording video, but that turned out to be wrong. Fortunately, the audio was all I needed. I’m still uncomfortable being on camera, so I’m doing audio only for now. The audio’s quality was as good as it was during the conversation. I couldn’t ask for more.

I was also better prepared with my questions. I dedicated time to thinking about the interview and brainstorming questions. I thought I had some pretty good ones. I even practised how I’d segue to other topics. Overall, I think it went about as well as it could have. I didn’t get to all of my questions, but that’s okay. It’s fodder for a potential follow-up interview.

Then the third podcast happened. This actually went pretty well, for the most part. There’s some issues with the audio, largely a result of my unfamiliarity with new equipment. However, some bad habits crept back in. Primarily, my use of “yeah” and “uh-huh,” etcetera ad nauseam. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it remains a frustrating backslide.

What really bothered me, was me. There’s a point in the podcast where I ask a poorly formed question. If that wasn’t bad enough, I compounded the issue by not clarifying my position. Then, to top it all off, I started saying things I don’t really believe. I was digging the hole deeper by asking follow-up questions that I knew the answer to. My mind was on one page, but the words coming out of my mouth were on another. It wasn’t fair on my participants or my audience.

Listening back to it was sickening, literally – I felt physically ill. It was brutal and humiliating tough love that I’d brought upon myself. It was sobering and shameful. I wanted to cut it out of the episode. Shit, if I could’ve done it cleanly I would have. But there was no tidy way to do it, so it stayed in.

In the episode’s intro I added a warning. Saying that I derailed the conversation from timestamp-A to timestamp-B, so that people could skip it. As someone pointed out to me later, that’s probably just going to encourage them to check it out. Anyway, better to learn those lessons early than perpetuate them into the future.

On the whole, I think podcasting is going to be a positive experience. I hope it’ll make me a better listener, a better speaker and a better thinker. I hope people enjoy it, that they get something out of it, and that I can do it better in the future.

~ The Critical Self

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