The popularity of podcasting continues to grow, with 24 percent of Americans 12 and older saying they listened to a podcast in the last month—a 3 percent jump from last year, according to surveys by Edison Research in 2017. That means 67 million Americans are tuning into podcasts each month.
Psychologists who use this medium say podcasting is not only an effective way of exposing the public to the science of human behavior, but it's also deeply satisfying. "We can't get over the fact that our podcast is so popular," says Robert Duke, PhD, who co-hosts the "Two Guys on Your Head" podcast with Art Markman, PhD, both psychology professors at the University of Texas at Austin. "It's a lot of fun to have an interesting conversation on the air with a colleague about an engaging topic."
"Two Guys on Your Head" is a seven-and-a-half minute show that is downloaded about 800,000 times a month, and the topics range from why most people feel younger than they are to the psychology of hate. Markman and Duke started in 2013 after they were invited to speak on a local radio show about how to develop thinking skills that maximize success in work and school. The producer of the show was impressed, and asked them to create four more episodes. Now it's a weekly gig.
Although these podcasters seem to come across as effortlessly entertaining, informative and polished experts, they have honed the skills that garnered thousands of subscribers. Here are seven important lessons they and other psychologist podcasters have learned along the way to making a show successful:
1. Tune in
Start by listening to other podcasts to learn what you like and don't like. Reach out to podcasters who inspire you and ask them questions because "most podcasters will be happy to talk to you and give you some ideas," says David Van Nuys, PhD, a professor emeritus at Sonoma State University in California and host of the "Shrink Rap Radio" podcast since 2005. After listening to other podcasts, Van Nuys realized he wanted to focus on interviewing experts who would introduce listeners to a wide variety of psychology fields and topics. He's interviewed more than 500 experts, including a former APA president, a high-profile neuroscientist and a sex addiction specialist.
2. Find a niche
Podcasting is a crowded space, and it's important to find a brand or message that distinguishes your podcast from others, says Bedford Palmer, PhD, of Oakland, California, who co-hosts the "Naming It" podcast with LaMisha Hill, PhD, who directs the Multicultural Resource Center at the University of California, San Francisco. Their show focuses on the intersection of current events and social justice from the perspective of two black psychologists. They've covered topics such as post-election reactions after Donald Trump was elected president and representations of masculinity in the movie "Moonlight." "Our operating philosophy is calling out the elephant in the room, which means we speak up about issues that are going on and talk about things that may not be safe to discuss in other settings," Hill says.
3. Be consistent
Make sure to podcast regularly, whether it's weekly, every other week or monthly. "It has to be regular or people will stop subscribing and checking for new shows," says Ali Mattu, PhD, a psychology professor at Columbia University who co-hosted "Super Fantastic Nerd Hour" from 2013 to 2015. Mattu and his co-host, H.A. Conrad, a legal professional he met through a friend, were interested in how pop culture related to their specialties. They started each podcast with a discussion about a new television show, movie, comic book or video game, such as "Captain America." In that episode, they talked about different aspects of heroism (how it's defined, how people help others, why some people risk their lives for others). Next, during the "Infinite Crossover Chamber," they pitted their favorite characters against each other to see who would win, looking at who better upholds truth and justice, Captain America or Superman. The last few minutes were dedicated to sharing their top five recommendations for similar stories, such as movies, books or comics about heroism.
4. Carve out time
Be prepared to dedicate time to creating content regularly. Ellen Hendriksen, PhD, who hosts the "Savvy Psychologist" podcast and works at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, says it takes her about six to eight hours a week to do research, write a script, record the segment and edit the final recording. Van Nuys doesn't write the script before the podcast, but he still spends about 10 hours per week on podcasting. He is continually looking for new people to interview, reaching out to these experts, reading the books or articles written by upcoming guests and preparing interview questions. He also spends time editing the recording to take out distracting sounds.
5. Find an editor
While it's feasible to edit your own podcasts, finding an experienced producer to do this is valuable, says Markman. Rebecca McInroy, the producer of "Two Guys on Your Head," asks Markman and Duke questions during a 30-minute conversation. Then she distills the discussion into an engaging seven-and-a-half-minute segment. "A lot of universities have journalism departments with students and faculty who have expertise in producing shows," Markman says. Hendriksen's editor polishes each segment by adding music and deleting speech stumbles.
6. Understand the mechanics of podcasting
To help people find your podcast, create a website that describes who you are and provides links to the podcasts, Van Nuys says. His website describes his psychology background, lists contact information and says "Shrink Rap Radio" is "All the psychology you need to know and just enough to make you dangerous." Purchasing a good microphone is also critical. "There's no good way around that," Mattu says. "People have a low tolerance for bad audio quality." He uses the Blue Yeti Microphone, which costs about $130. After recording a segment, those who edit their own podcasts can add music and make other changes using such programs as Adobe Audition, GarageBand or Audacity, and then share the final product on iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play.
7. Consider getting a co-host
Podcasts, as opposed to YouTube videos or other visual media, rely on voice alone to capture someone's attention. For this reason, it can make for a better podcast when you have a partner, because people often like listening to an engaging dialogue between two people, Mattu says. Duke and Markman agree. "People underestimate the social and emotional aspect of a podcast," Duke says. "We sound like we are having a good time and like each other, and that makes us more interesting to listen to."
APA's own podcast, "Speaking of Psychology," highlights some of the latest, most important and relevant psychological research being conducted today. To listen, go to www.speakingofpsychology.org.
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