What’s in a Podcast?

with Colum Cronin, Senior International Officer and Podcast Host.

Podcasts have exploded in popularity lately and everyone from Michelle Obama to David McWilliams is starting their own podcast. They are incredible way to share meaningful discussions and capture great content. Recently I’ve had a lot of questions come in from folks asking how they can go about starting a podcast so I thought I would interview an expert on the subject, my former colleague Colum Cronin.

Colum is the Senior International Officer at DCU and he has been working in the higher education sector for over 15 years. With experience and expertise across student support, recruitment, international affairs and programme development, Colum is deeply passionate about elevating student voices and empowering cross cultural collaboration.

I had the pleasure of working with Colum on Dublin in December, a programme he developed to support and connect international students while campuses are closed for holiday periods. Dublin in December has inspired similar models to be rolled out in a number of institutions around the world. Colum also developed and managed a Study Abroad programme which was voted the best in the world.

Colum is an extremely active creator on social media; he co-hosts the Adventures in Advising podcast and is one of the anchor hosts for Broncos Europe TV. You can find him on Twitter @ColumFromCork.

Q. Tell me about the podcasts that you’re currently involved in.

I’m currently involved in two podcasts, one of which is a podcast called Adventures in Advising. I co-host that podcast with Matt Markin and it’s focused on what in America they call academic advising. We don’t really have academic advising in the same way in Ireland or in the U.K. There are advisors, but they’re not academic advisors like they are in the US. That’s because the American higher ed system is so different. Students work with their academic advisor very often on choosing courses, but academic advising is so much more than that. On our podcast we talk to advisors and people involved across the board in higher ed. People involved in student support, student affairs, residential life and faculty members. The podcast came about because we felt there was a chance to share stories and talk about ideas and best practices. We wanted to amplify voices that sometimes don’t get heard. That was our aim and now we are on Episode 15 of Adventures in Advising. Our podcast comes out the first Monday of every month and there is usually an episode every two weeks.

The other podcast I am involved in is the Broncos Europe podcast, which has really taken off in the last few months. That’s much more frequent. It’s almost daily, but it tends to be a lot shorter. It’s talking to players, coaches, various members of the Denver media, fans and sharing stories around the Denver Broncos football team that play NFL American Football. We are a group of European fans who set up a fan group which has been going for three years. The podcast started during lockdown in Ireland around March when we had enough time to really dedicate to it. The podcast is a spin-off of the video interviews we do.

Q. What initially sparked your interest in podcasting?

I’ve always loved stories, being Irish, we’re a nation of storytellers. I’ve always been looking for new ways to tell stories. Working in higher ed, I always looked at video as a way of telling stories and had utilized video interviews and Zoom for a long time, even before lockdown. The idea of a podcast came about last year. I had been producing my own video interviews for probably three, four or five years at that point. Then I started working with Matt on a series of videos and we realized that there were stories for advisers that  needed a longer format than video to delve into topics because most of the videos would have been kind of short, maybe maximum 10 minutes. The podcast is a much longer format, some of the interviews run to an hour because you can take the time to explore topics. With the Broncos Europe podcast, we recognized that there were a lot of people who wanted to hear the interviews that we were conducting, but they wanted to listen while they commuted or were out driving.

Q. Why do you think podcasts are so popular right now?

Everything in the world seems to have sped up. We’re all busier this year than last year. Philip Zimbardo, a psychology professor, has done studies around this. People are trying to fit more things in and a podcast is a great way to multitask. If you’re commuting to work, out for a walk, doing dishes, cooking, or even cleaning the apartment then a podcast can be on in the background. You can learn from a podcast while completing mundane tasks.

Podcasts are very accessible and you can find them everywhere on different platforms now. You don’t even have to download a podcast to listen to it, you can just stream it. There are also podcasts on every kind of topic and people are drawn to what they’re interested in.

Q. What exactly is involved in starting a podcast?

A podcast is not something you can start overnight and I have a LinkedIn post about this. If you want to do it properly then you have to put some consideration into it and recognize that it’s a lot of continuous work. You could probably record something on your phone but the sound quality is not going to be great and people will notice.

Make a plan about what you want your podcast to be, the topic you’re focusing on and why are you doing it. The why behind starting a podcast is the biggest factor. When you’re sitting down to edit, conducting interviews or planning interviews and dealing with technical issues then it’s going to be that why behind the podcast that gets you through it. 

Figure out what you need in terms of physical equipment because having a microphone makes an enormous difference to the sound quality. Having decent headphones and a proper location to record so that you know your sound levels is important but also the recording platforms. What are you going to use to record? Zoom is fine but the sound quality from a zoom recording isn’t fantastic. Consider the hosting side of things. How are you going to host your podcast and get it out there? You could just upload it to YouTube but people aren’t going to want to go to YouTube for your podcast. There are lots of different options and it depends on what people want and how much they are willing to pay. You’re going to have to think about all this and do some serious testing. When we went to record Adventures in Advising it was our third time recording before we were able to get something usable because we were dealing with feedback and technical glitches. We tried out several different interview platforms before we settled on what we’re using now so there was a lot of try and see. Even the equipment, I’ve upgraded it as time has gone on and you can hear the quality. When you’re uploading a podcast to the hosting platform you’re going to need a podcast description, artwork, episode descriptions, descriptions of who you’re interviewing, insert the relevant links and then promote your podcast. It’s not as simple as sitting down, recording a voice memo and throwing it up online. I really enjoy it but it is a commitment and there will be technical aspects, really mundane aspects. You might get to chat to some really interesting people but putting that interview together afterwards will take a lot of work.

Q. How do you convince guests to come onto your podcast and be interviewed?

Go back to the motivation behind starting the podcast and if you know what your motivation is then it’s a lot easier to convince somebody else to take the time to speak to you. You’re gonna have to pitch it. Why should they speak to you? If you know the why then you’ll find that people will be willing to speak to you. Sometimes people won’t be, recognize that that’s okay too because there are a number of reasons why people don’t like appearing on podcasts. Just tell them why you’re doing the podcast and what appearing on the podcast will mean. It can help to amplify their voice or share their story to a different audience or to a broader audience.

Q. What are three tips you’d give someone thinking of starting up their own podcast?

First make the plan and understand your motivation for starting the podcast. 

Second, invest money into the interview platform and the hosting platform. It will make life so much easier for you and it will help your podcast reach a much broader audience. It’s not huge money but it’s going to be a monthly commitment.

Third, get a microphone. I’m not saying that you need to go out and spend hundreds of euro on a top quality mic straight away or have an incredible setup that’s not necessary when starting a podcast, but get a decent mic. If you’re interested enough to start the podcast then make the investment in it.

Q. What are some of your favourite podcasts?

There’s quite a few really excellent podcasts that for me are the gold standard on podcasting. I enjoy true crime broadcasting and investigative journalism and season two of In the Dark is absolutely phenomenal. A podcast that was so good that it led to the case being heard in the U.S Supreme Court. I don’t want to say too much more about it because people should go and listen to it, but that’s how good the investigative reporting was on this podcast. Season three of Serial was brilliant as well. The Canadian Broadcasting Company CBC has a series called Uncover and each season deals with a different story and they are really excellent. There’s also somebody I know in the UK who hosts another higher ed podcast called Free Food, Free Drinks and they’re doing some really interesting things. Gangster Capitalism, again a fascinating podcast.

Q. What is the secret to having a successful podcast?

Starting a podcast can be really rewarding but it will take consistent work. If you put out podcasts sporadically it’s very difficult to maintain your audience because they don’t know when to expect the next episode. All of a sudden it’s like where did that go and why did that stop? I’m not of the Homer Simpson school of thought that just because it’s not easy doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. You don’t have to be a tech genius but it will take time. Editing is not fun, it’s somewhat laborious and tedious but when your podcast fits and flows effortlessly, that’s really rewarding. There are so many podcast options out there for people and they want to listen to a podcast that’s consistent and well-constructed.

There’s no point in starting a podcast if nobody knows about it. Use social media to promote your podcast. People are going to want to interact with you if they know you have a good podcast. They’re going to want to comment, ask follow-up questions and provide you with ideas. You’ll get wonderful ideas from your listeners, ideas for topics or guests. Sometimes people get in touch and don’t necessarily want to speak on the podcast but they have great ideas for topics. Engage with your listeners.