The World of Science Podcasts and Why You Should Start Your Own
Podcasts are a great way for scientists to communicate their research with a broad audience. Science podcasting is relatively low-cost and can reach audiences anywhere in the world, as well as making science more accessible for people who might not have the time or resources to attend lectures or events.
Beyond public outreach, podcasts can also be used as a way for scientists in a field to easily share information with each other and build an online community. Students, too, value being able to access podcasted lecture content on demand.
It’s no surprise then, that science podcasting is booming. According to a 2019 survey, the number of science podcasts has grown exponentially in the past decade, a trend that shows little sign of slowing.
The same survey revealed that two thirds of science podcasts are hosted by scientists, and three quarters of shows are aimed at a general audience. So if you do decide to launch your own series, you’re in good company.
While this is good news on one hand–it shows there is a huge appetite for science podcasts–it does mean that you will have to work a bit harder to stand out from the crowd.
Getting started: first do your research to find your niche
The golden rule for any media outfit is to know your audience. Who are they and what interests them? Sure, you can produce a show all about things that YOU like, but doing so will limit your ability to engage and retain listeners. And unless you really like the sound of your own voice, you’ll want to grow your audience.
Next, look at the competition. Is there a gap that you could fill? Looking again at that survey, there are lots of science podcasts covering general science, but fewer focusing on specific science subject areas, and fewer still on specific niches.
So think about what you could add, or what need you could address. Then do your research and find out what your target audience wants to hear about (rather than only what you, the scientist, thinks they ought to know about).
Choose a Name for Your Podcast
Take time to find the right name for your podcast. You want to make sure that you find something that will be both memorable and catchy.
Defining your niche will help you think about what words would be most appropriate and what kind of tone or feeling you want your podcast to have. Think about how these words might look in text on social media or on a website. Bat some words and phrases around with the help of a thesaurus if you need inspiration.
Consider for example, More or Less, a BBC radio show and podcast about statistics. It’s name is memorable and a clever play on words, which reflects the informal tone of the programme.
Decide on a format
Magazine or documentary, monologue or interview, solo host or co-host? Formats might sound formulaic, but they have two key advantages: they provide consistency for your listeners and they provide predictability for you. And knowing exactly what you need to produce and when during each production cycle will allow you to run a successful podcast in addition to everything else you have to do as a scientist.
You will also need to decide how long each episode will be. A common length is about 20-30 minutes, although some professionally produced podcasts such as RadioLab last for an hour.
Equipment you will need for your science podcast
Great, so you’ve decided to go for it and got a name and format for your show! Here’s what you’ll need next:
1. A good microphone
Sound quality is hugely important, not only because it makes for a better experience for your listeners, but also because it boosts your credibility. This means getting a decent microphone–one that will pick up your voice well and not distort it too much.
If you are recording in a quiet area, then condenser microphones are ideal. They are more sensitive than dynamic mics, which means they pick up finer details in your voice. You don’t have to break the bank: you can get a broadcast-quality mic like a Blue Yeti (the ones we use at SciConnect) for around £100.
You’ll want one with a USB plug so that you can record directly onto your computer in preparation for the next stage: editing.
2. Audio editing software
Audio editing software is to sound editing what word processors are to text editing. You can cut, copy and paste with ease. There are many options out there, but two of the most popular are Audacity and GarageBand.
Audacity is free and open-source software for both recording and editing audio and has a simple, user-friendly interface. It has fewer features than paid-for professional apps such as Adobe Audition or Pro Tools, but still plenty to meet most podcasters’ needs.
If you are a Mac user, then you’ll likely already have Garage Band, a music creation application that comes with all Macs. It can also be used for creating podcasts.
Planning your shows
An editorial calendar for a podcast is essential to keep up with the episodes, to plan out when you’ll publish updates and new episodes, and to decide what topics you want to cover. It’s also important for your podcast’s growth and sustainability because it will help you stay consistent and grow your audience.
It also helps you look ahead in terms of the resources you will need—for example, studio guests, pre-recorded interviews and so on. A content calendar can be made in many ways: free digital tools such as Trello, Google Docs or Google Sheets all work well. You can go for the old-school option of writing down your ideas on paper or a whiteboard, but this means things can get easily lost and are hard to share with other members of your team.
But again, keep it simple. We’ve thrown together a deliberately rudimentary content calendar here by way of an example-–feel free to copy and modify it as you see fit.
Another benefit of a content calendar is that it helps to coordinate your social media campaigns to publicise your podcast.
How to get people interested in your science podcasts
Once you know who you want to reach, it’s time to start building your following. There are many ways that you can do this:
Social media is a powerful tool for publicity, but it can be tricky to get the right message across. Hashtags are an excellent way to increase the visibility of your podcast and engage with other relevant users.
Again, you need to know who your audience are and where they hang out. An invaluable source of information is the Pew Research Foundation, which produces regular reports about the demographics of internet use.
For example, if you want to reach scientists, then Twitter is your best bet. Older, general audiences like Facebook–science Facebook groups that allow you to post about your podcast are also a good place to start. Younger demographics use the fast-growing app TikTok.
Email lists are a great way to promote your podcast. It allows you to target the people who are interested in your content and send them updates on new episodes.
The first step is to create a website for your podcast and collect email addresses from your audience. This is especially helpful if you’re trying to grow your audience in the long run, because it means you’ll have an easy way of contacting them again when you release new episodes or other content. You can then use these lists to reach out with newsletters about new episodes.
Want to know more? We can help
Starting a science podcast is easier than it has ever been, but if you would like training in how to polish your production and maximise your impact, get in touch for details of our online and face-to-face courses in science podcast production.