It's important to practice using your equipment, create a test episode, and get initial feedback on that episode. Shows like Joe Rogan Experience and Ira Glass' This American Life took 10 years to become great. Making a hit show takes a lot of time. So practicing before launching is a great way to work out all those initial kinks so that your audience doesn't have to put up with them. Here's why it's good to make a practice episode.
Practice Planning an Episode
Figuring out what goes into a show can take a lot of work. Is it going to be scripted or non-scripted. Is there research that needs to be done or an interview? What topics will be covered and how do you change topics naturally? If you're planning out a trial run, test episode, there will be a lot less pressure and you get to just do it for experimental sake.
When first starting a podcast it's sometimes hard to picture how the show will look a year from now. And there's this pressure to figure it all out before episode one. That pressure somewhat goes away when you're just making a test episode. You don't have to plan how it'll sound a year from now, you're just testing the flow, pacing, topics, and style here, to see how it sounds and how it feels.
After you make a test episode you'll know more about what felt right or wrong and what areas you'd rather focus on or not.
Practice Using Your Equipment
If you're first getting into podcasting there's a lot to learn about your equipment. How to address the mic, what level to record at, whether background noises are heard, how to mix and edit the show. It's important to start out episode 1 with something impressive, good, and somewhat surprising. Unless you're a podcasting veteran, it's really hard to have your first episode be good.
The more you have command over your equipment the better your show will be. Which means the better your audience will appreciate it. A practice, test episode, that isn't going to be published publicly is a great place to practice with. By the time you do this, your first actual episode will already be much improved.
Practice Making an Episode
After recording the show, now it's time to edit it all together, and mix it. This is where you need a digital audio workstation like Audacity to do all your edits. You'll start asking yourself questions like "Am I breathing too loud? Should I edit out the ums? What's that weird hum? Do I really need to talk about my breakfast?" These are all questions that come up only after you record and are editing the show. It's great to get these out of the way in the test show and not feel the pressure of whether or not mouth noises makes your show sound bad. Sort it out now and you won't have to stress about it in later episodes.
It's also good to get through the pain of learning new software. The first time you use an editor can be overwhelming and may take a lot of studying to figure out what to do. If you know you are only working on a test episode, it's more fun and less stressful to do it all right. You're experimenting and learning still.
Now that your test episode is all done, listen to it. Ask yourself "is this a show I would listen to?" If it doesn't scratch your own itch, who's will it scratch? It's really important that you feel like the show is good and worth listening to. It kind of goes without saying, but you have to listen to your own show especially when just starting out.
You want to train your ears to find lulls, boring parts, and things to edit. To do this, you can listen to a lot of podcasts, take notes from other podcasters by reading articles like this, and learn what makes a good podcast.
Send to Friends and Family for Feedback
The moment has arrived. You've given birth to something new. A podcast. Congratulations. But now you need to find out if your baby is ugly. This is hard and scary, but that also makes it exciting and brave.
Send your show as an mp3 or a link to the mp3 somewhere to at least 10 friends and family members. Get them to answer some or all of the following:
- On a scale from 1-10 how likely are you to tell a friend about this podcast?
- On a scale from 1-10 how much do you anticipate the next episode?
- What is something memorable you took away from this show?
- If you were to change one thing to improve the show, what would it be?
Questions more direct like this give you much more valuable feedback compared to "what do you think?" You almost never get good answers with "what do you think?"
When people answer the first two questions, you have to decode the answers. 1-6 means they didn't like it at all. 7-8 means they are just being nice and you can ignore those answers. 9-10 means they really did like the show. This is called a NPS survey and it plays an important role in getting valuable feedback. You want to follow up with the 1-6 responses to understand why. Maybe they didn't listen all the way through, at what point did they turn it off, or skip parts? Why? Ask them all this stuff, it's ok, they are friends and family and you're just learning, so you know you're not great yet but want to be. Then with the 9s and 10s you can ask them what parts were great, and why they loved it so you can make sure to keep doing that.
Hearing people tell you what they remembered about the episode is always interesting. Many times you'll hear someone say something that isn't even in your show, like they mis-heard a name or place. But it's the memorable stuff that people take away from the show that really is helpful because that's the lasting impression you're leaving on people. So you can check if that's how you want to be remembered by.
Getting this kind of feedback from friends and family goes a long way to improving your show even before you make episode 1. When big podcast studios make a new podcast, they do a lot of listener testing. First they test the idea with a bunch of people, sometimes even polling their audience of thousands to determine interest. Then they make a pilot episode (often very short like 5 minutes long) to hear how it may sound and again ask for feedback from people. Then they go on to make the full show with all the added feedback they have a better direction on where they want the show to go.