How to create a podcast
This is an introductory guide for government departments who are thinking of introducing a podcast into their channel mix.
A podcast is an audio recording of a discussion on a specific topic that can be listened to using an app, or online on a website. They come in a variety of formats, and exist on every topic imaginable. According to Ofcom, around 7.1 million people in the UK listened to podcasts in 2019. That’s 1 in 8 people tuning in to listen to a podcast every week.
On this page
- Deciding whether to start a podcast
- Planning your podcast
- Recording and editing
- Publishing your podcast
- Launching your podcast and growing your audience
- Evaluating your podcast
- Further inspiration
Deciding whether to start a podcast
Consider the user need
There are things you need to think about before you decide to start a podcast:
- Have you defined your audience?
- Will your audience listen to a podcast?
- Do you know what your audience needs, and wants, to hear about?
You need to think about the unique point of view your podcast could offer: what can listeners hear from your podcast that they can’t hear anywhere else? Will they respond to the information in a podcast format – is it the most appropriate way of communicating with them?
Set meaningful objectives
Clarify why you want to start a podcast and define how it fits within your wider communications plan: set meaningful, and measurable, objectives that explain how a podcast will help you to deliver on your goals. If you can’t link the idea for your podcast to a measurable communications objective, it probably isn’t the right time to start one.
That’s not to say that podcasts shouldn’t become part of your campaign channel mix. If your audience insight work reveals your target audience are avid consumers of podcasts, rather than setting up your own, why not pitch campaign spokespeople as guests to the podcasts your audience already listens to?
Tip: Create a diversity and inclusion-focused objective for your podcast by thinking about how to proactively unearth lesser heard voices, or underrepresented groups. This can be achieved by making equality or gender balance commitments that inform the guests you invite to participate
Choose a format and how frequently you’ll publish
Once you have your objectives in place, it’s time to think about what format will work best for your podcast, and how often you will publish it.
Do more research into the types of podcasts your target audience likes. This will help you to identify potentially popular formats that you could borrow from, or – alternatively – spot a gap in the conversation that your podcast could fill.
In addition to your own research, these questions can help you to decide which format to choose:
- Will you have a regular host who interviews 1 or more guests for each episode? Or will you have different hosts or even co-hosts?
- Will your podcast follow an ‘in conversation’ format, or will you introduce regular segments – such as quizzes or challenges?
- Will you use recorded vox pops or other content to ‘play’ to your guests to ask for reactions?
- How long do you want each episode to last? Or rather – how long do you think your audience will engage for?
You don’t have to publish a podcast every month. You can do it every 2 to 3 months if that supports your goals, but you should be consistent about the dates you publish your podcast. Get into a rhythm.
Tip: Having too many guests in conversation can be confusing for your audience, who can’t always tell people’s voices apart. You can always include vox-pops and then have guests to respond to them as a way of getting more voices in.
It’s important to make your podcast accessible so everyone can access your content. To do this, you need to think about:
- providing a text transcript of the audio
- publishing your podcast on media players that are accessible on different devices, that do no autoplay content
- making sure the website you use to promote the podcast is accessible
Did you know? Podcasts are considered an audio format, however, YouTube was the most commonly used service among those who listen to podcasts weekly in 2019, according to Ofcom.
Secure the right resource and tools
Once you have chosen the format for your podcast, and decided how frequently you’d like to publish it, you’ll be ready to make informed estimates about the time your team needs to invest to make each episode happen. And whether you have enough people, with enough time, to commit to a regular podcast.
You should also have a clearer picture of the purpose of the podcast and how it will support your objectives, and be ready to engage budget holders and decision-makers in conversation about the kit you’ll need to buy.
In reality, podcasts are a resource-intensive medium that requires a range of specialist skills and kit to produce. They can be easy to set up, but difficult to maintain. Before launching any new channel, you need to make sure you have the right capability and tools to ensure it is managed effectively. Podcasts are no different.
Use this podcast proposal template (OTD, 2 pages, 16KB) to help shape the content and approach for your first episode.
Key skills and capabilities
You will need a multidisciplinary team with a range of knowledge and experience to create podcasts. Here’s an initial list of the key skills needed:
- technical skills including audio recording and editing
- project management skills to coordinate the production schedule
- understanding of accessibility and how to create inclusive content
- editorial/journalism skills to identify newsworthy topics
- communicating and influencing skills to source and recruit guests
- effective hosting and interview skills to drive the conversation with guests
Typically, responsibilities are shared between different members of the team. Here’s an overview of the primary roles and responsibilities:
- project manager: creates and manages the project plan and is responsible for ensuring delivery milestones are met; reaches out to guests to invite them to participate and diary management; works with third party press offices to approve guest content
- production manager: ensures the kit and technology is set up correctly and has been tested before each recording; oversees audio recording including sound quality; all post-production including sound quality adjustments, edits and any re-records; generating final transcript and uploading final audio file to the podcast platform
- host: researches and secures buy-in for the topic and guests; develops interview questions and key talking points; hosts the recording and drives the conversation; sub-edits a written transcript to inform the post-production edits needed to create the final audio file.
Outside of these roles, there are also colleagues responsible for developing content to help promote each podcast episode, including blog posts, social media and newsletter content.
It’s worth noting that those are the roles people are required to play when creating a podcast – they are not full-time podcasters! Many people across government will have the relevant transferable skills to take on these roles with support and training.
Tip: Choose your host(s) wisely: if they’re uncomfortable your guests will be too. People who are curious, respectful, empathetic and confident public speakers make great podcast hosts. Know someone who is great at chairing meetings or events? They could be a great host for your podcast!
Hardware and software
The kit and software you need to produce podcasts has become more affordable in recent years. Here’s an overview of the type of equipment and software you will need access to:
- microphones: you’ll need one microphone for each person on the podcast. “Dynamics mics” are better suited for podcast recording, but condenser mics will work as well. See options such as Podmic and NT1-a with Rode, AKG, Bluemic, to name a few
- an external audio recorder (such as a Zoom H6 recorder) and an SD memory card: this will be where your audio will be recorded onto. You can record directly onto an SD card in most audio recorders, or use it to record directly into your audio editing software.
- over-ear headphones: these will allow the production manager to listen to the audio being recorded without external interruption and pick up any sound issues.
- XLR cables: these connect the microphones to your external audio recorder.
- SD cards: you’ll need a good-sized SD card, minimum 64GB, to allow for long recording sessions.
- microphone stands: these hold your microphone in front of your guests.
And here are some software options that enable you to record and edit audio footage:
- Audacity (free – macOS, Windows, Linux)
- Ocenaudio (free – macOS, Windows, Linux)
- Adobe Audition Creative Cloud (paid-for – macOS, Windows)
- Acoustica 6 (paid-for – macOS, Windows)
- Fission (paid-for – macOS)
You should discuss which tool you have permission to use with your IT department.
Planning your podcast
Developing topics and identifying guests
You should research what your audience is interested in, and consider how to align that with what you have to say. Podcasts work best when there is a genuine discussion or debate around a topic – they will not perform if they are being used as a corporate ‘megaphone’.
Inviting a mix of guests with different professional backgrounds and areas of interest will help to make conversation engaging. You don’t want to have guests who will offer exactly the same information or point of view, after all – guests saying “I agree with what they said” won’t make for an interesting listen.
For example, if you’re hosting a podcast about careers in Civil Service you would want to showcase a range of different perspectives, and career paths. That might include someone who recently joined via the Fast Stream, or as an apprentice, someone with a long career in Civil Service and someone who joined after a career break.
Keeping your topics grounded in current affairs is another great way to help engage your audience. Calendar hooks and awareness days are another opportunity to link your content to a wider conversation. Take this example from the Government Digital Service Podcast, which was produced for International Women’s Day 2020 and where guests talked about gender equality.
It’s OK to launch without being perfect. You can evolve and grow as you discover what works for you, your team and your audience. But do plan ahead: schedule a planning session to come up with ideas for the next 3 or 4 episodes.
Tip: Make sure you include a mix of time-sensitive AND evergreen topics in your editorial plan – that means if one of your ideas falls through at short notice, you will have a list of alternative ideas ‘ready to go’.
Build lots of contingency into your project plans and reach out to guests early. Getting people to agree to participate is often easier than you think. But getting time in people’s diaries where they can all take part in what can sometimes be an hour-long conversation is often really challenging!
Use this podcast production plan template (ODS, 1 page, 16KB) to help manage activity.
Your actual recording will always end up being longer than the edited final product – no one needs to hear the preamble chatter, or what you each had for breakfast after all. If you’re aiming for a 30 to 45 minute end product, allow between 1 hour to 1.5 hours of recording time with your guests. That will give you flexibility if there are technical issues or someone is running late, without needing to cut the conversation short prematurely.
Tip: Book the recording session in people’s diaries for longer than you think you will need. People love getting time back or being released “early”.
Tip: Agree sign off processes with your guests and your department up front. You’ll likely need sign off from guests’ communications teams as well, so make sure you speak to them about what they need to review, and how long they’ll need at the start of the project.
Recording and editing
Recording your podcast
You probably won’t be lucky enough to record in a soundproof studio, but that’s OK. Smaller spaces work better for recording audio – preferably with carpet or curtains – as the sound echoes less. Try setting up your equipment in different potential spaces and record some test audio to check the acoustics before settling on your final recording location.
Let colleagues know you will be recording via email in advance, and put signs up around your recording space to remind colleagues to keep it down when you’re in session.
When your guests join you, don’t jump straight into your questions – spend some time chatting first and making sure everyone is comfortable. Get them a glass of water or a coffee. Ask them where they travelled from that morning. This gives everyone the chance to settle their nerves before the recording starts and helps to build rapport.
It can also help to remind your guests that nothing is going out ‘live’ and that the host isn’t there to trip them up, but to help facilitate a friendly and interesting conversation.
Tip: Make your podcast recording session a safe and inclusive space. Why not introduce your pronouns when you introduce yourself to your guests? Not sure how to pronounce someone’s name correctly? Ask them if you’re saying it right. These are 2 simple things that signal to your guests that you will be respectful of how they prefer to be referred to.
Tip: Guests can often be nervous at the start but usually relax as the conversation goes on, so it can be a good idea to ask them to re-record their introductions and responses to an earlier question at the end, in order to help them sound at their most confident.
Recording podcasts remotely
Recording podcasts remotely obviously has its differences from doing it in-person. You don’t have as much control over the sound quality as you would in-person, and the editing process is different. Here’s what to keep in mind when recording remote podcasts.
Editing your podcast
The sign of a good podcast is one that sounds like a fluid, natural conversation to the listener. In reality, behind the scenes, a lot of editing work goes into shaping the full audio file into a seamless narrative and sound recording that makes up the final podcast.
Generating a transcript
Transcripts should be verbatim so they reflect what is being said – including mistakes, sentences that don’t flow as normal or repetitions or stumbles. It’s OK for the guests and hosts not to be ‘word perfect’, that’s part of podcasts’ charm – they are conversational in style.
There are different ways to generate transcripts. You could type it up manually – though this is time consuming. You could use a paid-for transcription service (but make sure that’s agreed by your Information Management team).
Transcripts can take a while to do, so factor that in to your timings. For example, a 45 minute conversation can take up to 3 hours or more to transcribe, and check.
Editing the content
Here are the steps you’ll need to follow in post-production to edit your podcast once you’ve generated your transcript:
- The host should read the transcript while listening to the audio recording to review the content, correct any transcription errors and start thinking about what sections will ‘make the cut’
- The written transcript acts as a ‘single source of truth’ to inform the technical edit of the recording – you should cut and move sections around within the transcript, and it means both the production manager and the host are working from the same base
- Once the content is agreed, import your audio into your editing software and start editing the audio file to reflect the edited transcript
- This can be a very rough edit, you’re just looking to get the content right. You can work on the sound quality and finer edits once content is signed off.
- Circulate the rough edit and a clean version of the transcript for feedback. Once you’ve captured any amends and finalised the content, you can start refining the sound quality.
- Cut out unwanted background noise, things like coughs or smacks of the tongue and long pauses. You want it to flow like a conversation so don’t cut out everything.
- Next add music to your podcast. There’s no wrong or right way to use music – you can have it playing throughout or just as intro and outros. You must ensure there’s a minimum of 20dB between the volume of the music and other audio/vocals for accessibility.
- You can then export your audio as a MP3 file. It’s always good to get someone else to listen to it for a final check before uploading it onto your hosting platform.
Tip: There are a lot of places you can find music – free ones include YouTube Audio Library or you can pay for a subscription from places like Epidemic Sounds.
Tip: It’s really important to wear headphones when you’re editing – most people will be listening to your podcast through headphones so you need to as well. If you don’t, your audio might be too loud or too quiet.
Publishing your podcast
There are many ways to publish a podcast. For example you can:
- upload the MP3 file directly to a website
- upload it to YouTube
- upload it to a podcast hosting service (some are free such as Podbean, Speaker, Anchor and Buzzsprout)
Tip: Your podcast must have an engaging description that tells people what they can expect because people will read what the podcast is about before they listen, so the copy for promoting your podcast is vital to get engagement.
Show notes are information about your podcast people can read before or after listening. They tell the audience what the show is about and are another great way to raise engagement and persuade potential listeners to tune in.
Show notes can list:
- a summary of the episode
- learning outcomes or take aways
- references to any books, articles, websites or resources mentioned
- links to guests’ biography and social media accounts
Show notes are not a substitute for a written transcript of the conversation: you need both.
Launching your podcast and growing your audience
People often choose to start on episode 1 and get to know the presenter or format. Think about having 3 or 4 episodes available when you launch to set the tone of your podcast. This will help create more engagement from the start.
You should also think about what other channels – such as blogs, social media and even your own network of connections – you will use it to raise awareness of your podcast, and drive people to listen to it.
Tip: For episode 1, share your story or the organisation’s story of why this podcast matters. What is your unique angle and the reason people will not get this content anywhere else? A high profile guest is also a helpful way to get a podcast off to a strong start.
Tip: Your host may feel nervous at the beginning to. Why not consider having a ‘friendly face’ on as an early guest, to help the host build confidence and get into their stride?
Evaluating your podcast
There is more to evaluating podcasts than downloads alone. The metrics you use to evaluate your podcast will depend on the objectives you set for yourself. Things you could explore in your evaluation include:
- audience growth: is the number of listeners increasing?
- audience location: where in the world are your listeners based?
- audience response to any calls to action featured in the podcast
- qualitative listener feedback in the form of star ratings or reviews
- whether people are listening for the duration of each episode, or are dropping off early
Want further inspiration?
Did you know that a number of departments and public sector organisations already produce podcasts – why not give them a listen for further inspiration?
- The Government Digital Service (GDS) Podcast
- Government Communication Service Podcast
- IMPACT20: the national conversation by the Inclusive Economy Partnership (IEP)
- The Defra Future Farming Podcast
This guide was developed in partnership with the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the Government Communication Service (GCS).
- Image credits:
- Government Digital Service (GDS) (1)
- GDS (2)
- GDS (3)