Why I Started Scripting My Podcast Episodes
April 19, 2021
A few months ago, I started to write out long-form show notes to accompany some episodes of this podcast. Surprise, surprise: the quality went up and I've received some stellar feedback.
I've been lucky enough to speak on stages all over the world thanks to podcasting. From educating at Harvard University to delivering a TEDx and speaking at the biggest podcasting conferences on the planet.
But during all of that time, I haven't once scripted a talk.
Not once. Not even my TEDx.
But in January I began scripting my Monday podcast episodes.
If I can speak on some of the world's biggest stages without scripting, why did I start scripting my short-form podcast – especially after 1,300+ episodes?!
When I wrote my TEDx talk and actually, when I've written any talk in the past for any event that I've spoken at, I've always started with the outcome that I want to deliver.
With my TEDx it was “Choose Happiness, Choose Control”. That's my destination, the place that I'm taking the viewer or listener to.
And my process is to work backwards from that by, in my mind and then on Post-It Notes (all over the wall!), spending days and sometimes weeks thinking of the connective tissue between opening the talk and delivering the outcome.
I like to tell stories, so I tend to develop a salient point for each “beat” of my talk and then connect those with anecdotes and tales from my past in life or business so that I can take the viewer on a journey with me, painting a picture during every scene so that they relate and recall each point.
Then, my process is to simply get good at telling each of those stories individually and working hard on making the connective tissue between them work to the very best of its ability.
It's not scripting – in fact, if you look hard at my TEDx, I do waver off-topic a tad (which I couldn't have done with a script) but I knew my stories and my destination, plus my connective bridges between each story so well that unless I tell you where it is, you'll be hard pushed to find it.
I've spent years working on public speaking and have honed that technique over those years.
Podcasting has helped.
There's no pride to be had in “winging it”
When I started podcasting I had an interview podcast (you can still find it if you search for me in your podcast app) and, back in 2013, I had a bulletproof process where the guest would pretty much give me the talking points and the actionable takeaways for each episode.
It worked really well and my show notes were almost written for me. But, I'd still spend 20 minutes before each episode researching every guest so that I could take the guest to places that maybe they hadn't been for a while or that other podcast hosts weren't taking them.
Often, after the interview, my guest would tell me that they felt it was the best interview that they'd ever done – the one they enjoyed the most.
It was flattering but entirely down to my prep.
When I stopped my interview podcast in 2016 and went “solo”, I began winging it.
It was refreshing. After all, I'd been plying my trade for a long time and could (still can) wax lyrical about business, podcasting, startups and life in business all day long. I could produce episodes without ever running out of steam and without ever finding myself short on things to chat through.
The most preparation I ever did for an episode was a few bullet points (which I know so many hosts do, too, and it works fine) and it worked really well. I had a base framework but no script. That meant that, just like you're taught in media training, I could go through and make sure to hit the beats that I wanted to whilst also making sure to keep that open, fairly “un-edited” style that people like about me and my brand.
That hasn't changed – that's still what people value about how I deliver content.
In this growing podcasting world, though, I didn't think it was good enough. I wanted to keep my style and brand but “up my game” because you, the listener or viewer or reader consuming my content deserve more.
I started looking into what made great content truly great and it was clear that it's a mix of planning and delivery. That's it. How you plan something to be a great story or to deliver a genuine tale and then how you deliver it in your inimitable style is what gives you your edge, your brand and your own memorable content.
As I was looking into this deeper, I found that more and more podcasters were wearing the “I don't edit, and I wing it” attitude as a badge of honour but that those same podcasters were, in certain (more closed) circles, were complaining that their podcast was hitting a plateau and that they were wondering why podcasting wasn't working for them anymore.
It's rare that a TV show is completely ad-lib. It's rare that a complete musical performance is totally ad-lib. It's rare that the groom's wedding speech is completely ad-lib.
And there's a reason.
We can go off script for a little while, but digressing too much or talking because we think we're “naturally good at it” inevitably delivers sub-standard content that often requires heavy work in post-production and editing to make it sound “high quality and focused”.
As podcasters we usually feel that's enough: we can pat ourselves on the back and think we're amazing “talkers” – naturals at content.
As a podcaster who produces two episodes per week, a Monday longer-form episode about something I feel is useful to you as a podcaster and a Friday episode that is a question from my podcasting audience, I had an opportunity to experiment with what it feels like to deliver two weekly pieces of content that are prepared very differently.
My Friday episode is completely unscripted and totally “winged”.
Well, it's a question from the podcasters of the world and as such means that it's something that I could answer over a beer or at an event in the very same way that I can during an episode. It's my job, it's what I do and I see these episodes as one side of a conversation.
But the Monday episode, that's an opportunity to be more considered about how I talk and how I deliver podcasting education.
I have a chance with that to stand out more and really get under the skin of things.
Could I bullet that out and riff around it?
Sure, I've been doing this long enough.
Would it be the best for you?
My problem is, though, that for my Podcast Accelerator podcast I don't like editing the audio – I feel that it takes away from the conversational approach that attracts podcasters to my style of education.
I edit other podcasts. I'm not advocating for the “I never edit” badge of honour because I think that's a bit crazy, but for this show, the unedited conversational style is part of the podcast – it's built and designed in to the brand and the show.
Alongside this, I send an email to podcasters who use our platforms for their shows and to podcasters who have signed up to our general education email list about every Monday longer-form episode that I produce.
During late 2020 I noticed that once I'd recorded the episode I was writing the email and quality content, things I'd missed from the episode, were coming out in the writing – it surprised me because after 1,300+ episodes, countless speaking gigs and virtual events and a generally loquacious personality, I thought that I had my content nailed – why was this written content better than the episode it was based on?!
Because I was editing the audio after I'd recorded it, but I was doing that edit in the written word. That better, more focused content never made it back to the audio, though!
I was letting you down!
In order to get better, then, I had to move my editing out of the edit and into the preparation.
So I made one simple tweak. The email that I send to my audience about each longer-form episode… I started writing that first!
Simple and a stupid miss, right?! Right!
I can sit on it, edit it, focus it and then record it in such a way that still sounds natural and “off the cuff” but that delivers much higher quality content, quicker.
My email became my script.
It's a simple change but look, podcasting has gotten bigger and gets bigger every day.
The question I get asked the most is “How do I grow my audience?!” and the answer should always start with “Make better content”.
Are you wearing the “I don't edit” and “I don't plan” badges of honour?
If you are, take them off – your audience deserves better and you are more talented than that!
Your next steps
I teach podcasting a lot, and usually for free. So, here's what I'd recommend you do next:
- Watch my free podcasting tutorials on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/rebelbasemedia
- Learn how to launch your own podcast the right way, for free (plus a comprehensive download-and-keep crib sheet): https://www.podcastsuccessacademy.com
- Ask me anything at all about podcasting over on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/MrAsquith
P.S. you can start engaging with your listeners using AWeber. It's free, no credit card required: https://www.MarkAsquith.com/AWeber
This is The Podcast Accelerator, helping busy podcasters to grow their audience in specific, actionable ways.
I’m your host Mark Asquith, The British Podcast Guy and CEO and co-founder of Rebel Base Media, the podcast tech company that creates the Podcast Success Academy, Podcast Websites, Poductivity, Rebel Base Studios & Captivate.fm, the world’s only growth-oriented podcast host where you can get your first month of podcast hosting for just one dollar and transfer an existing podcast in, completely free.