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Podcasting 101: That sounds like science

Science | Researchers
Podcasting 101: That sounds like science

Science podcasts are trending globally, with an audience of millions tuning in across the world. From interviews to marketing to finding a good story, podcast producer Izzie Clarke shares her top tips on the things you should know when making or taking part in a science podcast.

Science podcasts are popular. In 2019, Nielsen recorded an all-time high of 57.5 million US households who had listened to one over the year. That’s a huge proportion of the American population and statistics show their popularity is still on the rise. Based on recent figures released in April 2020, Acast, a podcasting platform, also pointed to science and medicine as clear front runners in favored content

Having started my career as a physicist turned science radio producer, I now exclusively make science podcasts. What I find most exciting is hearing a researcher’s personal insight on their subject. For me, it’s about demystifying their work in an accessible way, revealing the stories that would not make the published study. In my opinion, if you have an authentic idea and people passionate enough to convey that message, then you will find your audience.

I previously produced popular science podcasts for The Naked Scientists and the Nature Podcast, where we would interview authors of the biggest research papers every week, transforming the most complex of reads into a thoroughly enjoyable listen. My latest series, The Supermassive Podcast, for the Royal Astronomical Society launched in January 2020 and we already have listeners as far apart as New Zealand and Brazil. Amongst podcasters, we are seeing that there is a loyal audience out there for this type of content.

If you are thinking about whether to embark on your own podcast adventure, or wondering how it all works, here are my top tips to bear in mind. 

Prepare your team

First up, the team. Some people are natural organizers and writers who make good producers. Others ask great questions and can talk for days – these tend to be presenters. Some are both. Decide what roles each person will have. Then, once your team is established, you can find yourself some guests who can talk about their subject with clarity and passion. 

Before you hit that record button, write a script. You need a precise beginning, middle and end. However, the rest of the episode can be bullet points - including any interview questions - because this helps your podcast sound natural and spontaneous. Be conscious of keeping your tone engaging whilst not patronizing your audience.

It is best to brief your guests about what you want to discuss with them and the key points you would like the listener to understand. Start with the broader topic and why it’s important, then explore the finer details as the conversation progresses. And don’t be afraid to interrupt, if there is something you don’t understand then it is likely your listeners will feel the same. Remember: it’s not live so if you feel you need to stop and start again, then you can, and should.

Produce your piece

When you are ready, you next need to record your episode. Audio quality is best obtained with professional external microphones. But these can be expensive. Alternatively, handheld recorders from Zoom, Tascam or similar have reliable in-built microphones; as do most smartphones.  

When recording, remember that location is important. Finding a silent room is the golden ticket to success. If you are taping next to a building site or in a chatty office, it is unlikely your listeners will stick around with a noisy end-product. Soft furnishings can help reduce echo in closed spaces; so the more pillows and sofas, the better.

Another thing to watch out for is microphone technique. Be careful not to hold the recording device too close to your mouth as that can distort the audio. Hold it about a hand span away and point it towards your chin to avoid “pops”. If you can’t be in the same room as your guest, you can ask them to record their side of the conversation on their own using a smartphone. 

As for editing your clips into a polished piece, there are various software depending on your level of editing skill. Audacity is free and best for beginners. Whereas, for those who have more challenging or creative ideas, you might want to explore trickier tools like Reaper or Adobe Audition. Regardless of the software, if you are new to audio editing then online tutorials from these software hosts as well as YouTube can help. 

Publish your episode

When you are ready, you need to get your piece out to the rest of the world. To do so, there are a range of podcast-hosting websites. SoundCloud and iTunes are free, for example, but that only keeps your podcast in one place. Platforms like Audioboom and Podbean will take your audio file and send it to multiple websites including iTunes, Spotify and Google Podcasts with the click of a button. This means you can cater to a variety of devices and listening habits without multiple uploads. 

Once your podcast is online, it is also your job to promote it. For social media, ‘audiograms’ are a great way to offer a sneak preview of your content. These short videos play an excerpt of your episode and help point potential listeners in the direction of your podcast. Also, think about generating a twitter account or a unique hashtag that your listeners can engage with. This helps to create an online community whilst also allowing you to keep track of specific content, such as conversations that you might want to include in a future episode. 

To sum up, you can succeed without the need to spend much money on recording equipment or editing software. Just be sure to always keep the listener in mind when planning an episode, or interviewing guests. Possessing these vital communication skills and bringing science to a range of audiences, whatever your role in the podcast team, will only benefit you as a researcher. Podcasts are flourishing in the world of Sci Comm, there has never been a better time to start.

This blog post is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). Views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Hindawi. The illustration is by Hindawi and is also CC-BY.

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