8 Lessons I Learned Failing My First Podcast

Photo by Tommy Lopez on Pexels.com

Running a podcast is not easy, even though it sounds pretty straight forward. If you don’t have a plan going in, you’re not likely to get beyond one or two episodes, and you aren’t likely going to get many listeners. These are the lessons I learned by failing my first podcast.

  1. Write a script
  2. Don’t rush
  3. Get out of your head.
  4. Experiment with topics
  5. Stick to a single niche
  6. Have guest hosts
  7. You don’t have to be an expert in editing.
  8. Learn to fail gracefully

There are a whole set of steps you have to take to produce your first podcast successfully. I spent hours backtracking and trying to launch a somewhat professional-sounding podcast. The most important thing to start with is figuring out what you will talk about ahead of time.

Write a “Script”

As with everything in life, having a plan going in is always a good idea. Especially if you are like me and really suck at shooting from the hip. My first attempt at trying my hand as a podcaster was a complete and utter failure. Mostly because I rushed headlong into it, even roped my oldest son into co-hosting with me and helping me learn to edit. (I’m pretty sure he hated every minute of it, but I needed a guinea pig, and I knew he would be a good sounding board.)

See, here I am, rushing things already. Let’s back up. Writing a script is a good way to get back on track if you get ahead of yourself. I do three things when working on an episode.

  1. Take notes
  2. Write an outline
  3. Make a slide presentation.

Take Notes

I usually start by jotting down things I think would be interesting to talk about. I write down questions I frequently run into, in forums and on social media. Or simply questions I may need to answer myself, and I wanted to share what I learn.

I try to stick to topics I have a little bit of experience in, but let’s face it, I’m not an expert. While I have learned so much over the last year, I still have a ton more to learn. I mostly focus on personal experience and my own journey into the writing world.

I like learning from others’ experiences and trying out their suggestions. Some things work, others don’t. But it makes for great inspiration when the time comes to think of topics. It also makes me feel like I can talk about each technique from a more personal perspective.

Make An Outline

The next thing I do for writing my script is outlining. I try to focus on 4 or 5 main points, then expand on each point. As someone who spent most of her life suppressing the urge to speak her mind, it isn’t easy to judge how much is too much. Oversharing has always been viewed as bad form in the circles I grew up in.

I have been told I ramble on more than one occasion, and I am often urged to get to the point. Having an outline is an excellent way to keep me moving in the right direction and reduces the tangents slightly or any awkward attempts at humor.

Make a Slide Presentation

After I have outlined it, I use it to make slides. I know I could use my outline and read it off from there, but taking the extra step of making slides helps get a feel for the message you are sharing; I also like to use it as a first draft.

After I take the time to make the slides, I let them sit a day. Then go back over it, and do a few dry reads out loud to get a feel. Often, I have to tweak it because it doesn’t sound right to the ear.

This leads me back into the rushing part. One of the hardest lessons I have learned in all this is taking my time and not rushing the process. In my experience, cutting corners leads to anxiety and stage fright. Which is something I really try to avoid at all costs.

Don’t Rush

One of the top mistakes I made the first time around, which I talk about in my podcast The Writers Corner, is that I had a bit of inspiration and jumped in without a plan. I had no clue what I was doing. I used what my 16-year-old could remember from a class he took (and failed) as a freshman. (He hated the teacher.)

The next was not taking the time to actually come up with a solid idea, instead of just winging it. I learn by doing, which means I tend to jump into a project without much thought or planning, and it usually ends up poorly executed. Each failure is a lesson, though. Fortunately, I’ve learned not to give up on things once I set my mind to it. I knew I had to figure out what I had to do to get back on track. Here’s what it boiled down to.

  • Research what I was doing wrong
  • Use Online courses and YouTube

Do Some Research

I learned pretty quickly to keep an audience; you had to be interesting. It was a blow to the ego to learn I wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t really think I would be an instant sensation, but no one was listening because I didn’t really have a message of my own to share.

I started to do some research. I took some classes, started trying to learn about what I was doing wrong. Since I had no audience at this point, I had no one who would give me real feedback. Podcasting added another complex layer to my journey to build Th3 Record. I needed to learn more if I could actually catch my audiences’ attention enough; they want to tune in each week.

Online Courses, and Scouring YouTube

I read a lot of tips online—literally hours of reading and online courses. My writing buddy is awesome and led me to some great online courses and Youtube videos. I spent 2 months learning the basics of audio editing, creating show notes, and recording technique.

I spent a month outlining and creating scripts for episodes, and I even went so far as setting up my first Livestream. Scheduled for every Sunday at 11 am. (I will get more into that later.) I had a plan, and I was ready to execute it. Except I didn’t consider one thing, I started having panic attacks when I tried to record my first episode. I had no clue why.

Get Out of My Head

It honestly was baffling to me. Why would I all of a sudden not be able to record an episode without my anxiety shooting through the roof when I had no problems the first time around? I repeatedly tried, each time getting more frustrated and angry with myself for not getting past the intro on my own. I was an emotional wreck over it.

By this point, I had been on a few episodes of a friend’s show, The First Shot with Nick Brannigan, and had no trouble talking and sharing my thoughts. So the questions became,

  • What was different?
  • How do I get past it?

What Changed?

Well, that part was reasonably simple to figure out. I was terrified people would find me uninteresting. I was relatively confident as a writer, but not so much as a public speaker. My failed first attempt seemed to trigger some stagefright without me realizing it. Now the trick seemed to be finding a way to get past it.

How Do I Get Past It?

This was the tricky part. Honestly, I didn’t really have a plan. I just kept trying. Each time I seemed to get a little bit further before I turned off the recording. I tried at least 6 or 7 different times, with different topics hoping that each one would maybe break through the barrier. While I was making slow progress, I still wasn’t succeeding in getting through a full episode.

Eventually, my friend, Annika, gave me the idea to try recording a Livestream episode to see if that would work. Maybe talking to other people would make it easier since I seemed to be more comfortable in a group setting. I gave it some thought and figured it might work. So, I came up with a plan and committed to recording my first live episode.

Photo by Jakayla Toney on Unsplash

A Twisted Blessing

I was hopefully optimistic, but unfortunately, it only made my anxiety worse. About 15 minutes in, I had the mother of all anxiety attacks and calmed up. I had a poor connection, and things just went south from there. I ended the stream abruptly and decided to try recording where I left off once I calmed down. I determined to get through one episode, beyond caring about the quality of the recording.

A few days later, I forced myself to edit it. By forced, I mean I was expecting the absolute worst scenario and was dreading the moment. I was pleasantly surprised to find out it wasn’t that horrible. While I wasn’t great, I definitely didn’t sound as bad as my first go around. It turns out all I needed to do was get past the first episode. Once I finally realized my fear was all in my head, my biggest problem became coming up with things to talk about, to keep content flowing.

Play Around With Topics

I tend to get bored easily, one of my many flaws, so I know if I am getting bored, my audience probably is too. I hate repeating myself, so I try and cover as many different writing facets as I can.

Play around with notes and Ideas. Make a list, whatever works for you. Talk about whatever strikes your fancy; make sure it is in your niche. You don’t want to talk about bowling for one episode and baking the next. You will confuse your audience.

It’s okay to try something new, but keep it relevant to what your audience is there to listen to. You can talk about baking bowling ball cookies if you really wanted to, as a way to keep it relevant. If it entertains or informs, try it out. Whatever your booze-addled mind may come up with, go with it. Keep it fresh and fun!

Stick To A Single Niche

It is important to figure out what niche you want to be in. Since my niche is writing, I try to stick to only topics involving writing. If you have a broad enough topic, you should find an endless source of ideas.

Writing is relevant to so many areas in life, which means I can talk about anything from creative writing to how to send a professional email. I could literally pull from a well of ideas.

Exploring different areas of your niche will also help give you fresh ideas. Also, networking and talking to other creators in your niche can help give you ideas as well. It is always a good idea to network and collaborate.

Have Guest Hosts

While I have yet to have a guest host on The Writers Corner, I have been networking looking for a team of folks interested in collaborating, both in writing and podcasting.

I figured out it’s better to have multiple voices talking about a topic; it keeps your audience interested by having more than one perspective on any given topic. It also helps keep the ideas flowing, allowing your content to stay fresh and interesting.

Guest hosting and having guest hosts will also increase your networking circle. Allowing you the opportunity to build a team. Doing everything on your own is pretty limiting. There really aren’t enough hours in a day to do everything that is involved in producing a podcast. Building a team can help ease the workload.

Get The Basics

I had to take time out to really get to know the basics of audio editing. You don’t need an expensive program. In fact, I use Audacity. It is free and easy to use, and the quality is comparable to expensive software. It was also highly recommended, and many of the videos I watched suggested the program. Not only did I work on understanding how to do basic edits to my audio, but I also needed to learn ways to streamline the process.

I’m still figuring out the streamlined part, so it will have to be a topic for another day. What I have managed to get a handle on is:

  • Setting a recording schedule.
  • Creating an intro and outro.
  • Creating Show notes.

Setting A Schedule

The biggest thing I learn is to be consistent and have a set schedule—people like dependability and reliability. The Writers Corner airs every Tuesday. (I just wrapped up my first season.) I had to stop the live stream due to broken equipment. (My oldest broke my motherboard three weeks into recording season one, I talk about it in episode three.) I could still record, but I have been unable to stream for the last 3 months.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

My schedule didn’t change once I rounded up a back-up set up to get me through season one. I was recording episodes three weeks in advance. I still recorded Every Sunday at 11 am.

I figured I would get used to recording then, and it would still feel like I was staying on track, even though an element had been removed. Fortunately, I have finally managed to buy a new motherboard, and I will start live streaming my episodes again soon. Stay tuned for updates.

Creating Intros and Outros

I found it very helpful to create a separate file for the intro for each episode and my outro music. It made it easier to add them in each episode instead of creating new ones for each time.

It was effortless to find “free for commercial use” music, and most of the time, all you have to do is make sure to credit the artist. Usually, they will give you credits you can copy and paste into your show notes. I use Creative Commons. (Copyright laws are important to follow. It’s bad karma to steal from others.)

Making Show Notes

Making show notes isn’t super complicated. I usually give a few sentences about the topic for the episode and some of the points I will discuss. I don’t want to transcribe the whole episode, and I want them to be interested enough to want to listen.

Next, I tell them where they can find me. I make sure I add my social media tags and links to read more about my work or keep up to date on what I am working on. I also make sure to put my email and invite others to get in contact with me. I also encourage folks to reach out if they would like to appear on the show or be interested in working on a project together.

Learn To Fail Gracefully

The biggest lesson I learned from all this was, I had to learn to fail gracefully. Honestly, it was a huge blow to my ego, failing so publicly. Whether or not people saw it doesn’t matter, I was streaming live, and I felt very exposed and vulnerable. I struggle with allowing myself to be that way around people I don’t know.

I had to learn that showing folks the real me isn’t an all or nothing thing. It is okay to ease into something. It’s okay if a topic doesn’t work. Or if I stumble over my words. I am only human, and perfection is overrated. I will not be perfect at everything, or anything for that matter, if I am honest, and it’s okay because, at the end of the day, the only person I want to be is me.

Remember, going in with a plan and taking things one step at a time will save you heartache and undue stress.

Thanks for reading.