Podcast nightmares and how to avoid them

It’s the spookiest time of the year as we celebrate Halloween.

But how do you make sure your podcast doesn’t turn into a horror story?

Here’s my spine tingling 5 podcast nightmares (all of which have happened to me) and how you can avoid them…

(Cue spooky music and sinister laughing)

Your guest cancels at the last minute.

Picture the scene, you’re feeling pretty smug because you’ve only gone and got the guest. I mean THE guest for your podcast.

You’ve been telling everybody that you’ve got this guest and promoting the heck out of it.

Then it’s the day of recording. And ping there’s an email in your inbox. It’s THE guest and they are cancelling. Not postponing. Cancelling.

It’s heartbreaking and it happened to me when I was recording my Cultural Quarter Of An Hour podcast. I won’t name names but it still stings and makes me cringe a bit thinking about it.

I had to retract all the promo I had done and say it wasn’t happening.

I also had to think on my feet very quickly to come up with an episode for that week because, well I’d put all my podcasting eggs in that one basket.

How can you avoid this scenario? Firstly, no matter how much you nurture a guest there will be times that they postpone or even cancel at the last minute. It sucks, but it happens. So you need to be prepared. This is why having a plan for your podcasts and always being at least 2 weeks ahead is a good idea.

But I know that’s not always possible. Especially if you’re doing current events, current affairs.

So the biggest lesson I would suggest is don’t count your podcast chickens before they’ve hatched.

Don’t talk up the guest until you’ve got them recorded. Then go for it! Lots.

Not Pressing Record.

I still get shivers thinking about the amount of times I have done this. And of course it’s normally when I’m up against it or even worse - have a guest.

At best it’s frustrating when it’s a solo episode. Especially when you’ve given it your all and you know you’ve been good, said some awesome things and put out some great knowledge. Having to do that again can be a challenge. I find I’m always thinking in the back of my mind that this version isn’t as good as the one I did without recording.

But sadly there’s absolutely nothing you can do apart from record the whole thing again. Or for the first time. You have to forget the other version happened. A bit like how runners who use Strava to record all their runs will say “if it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen”.

For me the worst time for this to happen is when you have a guest and you’ve done the interview, thanked them and said goodbye only to notice - whoops you’ve not hit record.

Your heart will sink. You might feel a little bit sick too.

Thankfully the times this has happened to me I’ve been lucky enough to have very understanding guests who’ve been happy for a re-record. I find the best way to ask them for a re-record is to be honest and say what happened. Of course you could suggest it was a technical failure (which it sort of is) in the hope they’ll be a bit kinder to you.

But the best way to make sure this doesn’t happen is to make pressing record part of your checklist before starting to talk.

My pre-talking checklist is as basic as pressing record, checking sound levels and if I have guests confirming their name and how they’d like to be introduced on the podcast.

I have this as a sticky note on my computer to remind me! And I’ve been doing this for 20 years!

Losing Your Train Of Thought And Having No Way Of Getting It Back...

There’s a couple of ways this happens.

First off, if I’m on my own recording a solo podcast it happens when I go off-piste (for want of a better phrase.) I end up down a cul de sac of nonsense with no way out.

And that leaves me with a messy edit. Actually it normally leaves me with such a messy edit I re-record it. Which is a waste of time and energy.

To avoid going off-piste it’s well worth taking the time to plan and map out your podcast episode.

Now I’m not talking about scripting word for word what you are going to say, but make some bullet points. Know what you want to get from each bullet point. Make sure there is a beginning, a middle and an end for all your points, not just the whole podcast.

Secondly, if I’m recording an interview this normally happens when I’ve stopped actively listening to my guest. This sort of thing is as close to unforgivable as it gets when you have a guest. It’s rude to not be paying attention to them and it shows every time.

But if you’re not listening to your guest it’s easy to lose where you are in the interview. It’s also hard to figure out if they’ve finished the point they were making.

If you find yourself getting distracted when you’re talking to a guest because you’re forming a question in your mind about something they’ve said then make notes. I always tell my guests I’ll be jotting things down while they’re talking. I make a joke and promise I’m not writing my shopping list. But it means I can keep my focus on them and have something to say when they are finished.

And of course I plan what I want to talk about with my guests ahead of time so I don’t lose my train of thought when asking them questions.

A Guest Who Really Doesn’t Want To Be There…

I know in theory this makes no sense, why would a guest agree to come on and then act as though they would rather spend a night in a haunted mansion than talk to you? (Bringing it back to the halloween theme!)

But it does and that can be down to a number of things

Nerves: I’ve seen and had so many guests who in “real life” can and will talk the hind legs off a donkey about their subject. But put them in front of a microphone and that all disappears because they are petrified.

This is where your pre interview chat comes in. Both the informal chat you have ahead of the recording and also the chat you have before you hit record.

For me I tend to remind the guests about what we are going to talk about, ask them if there’s any areas they want to avoid and reassure them it is a pre-record and that I will edit mistakes out.

I do this at every opportunity I have to talk with them so they know how it works.

If we’re using tech they’re not sure of again I will do a trial run so they know what to do. This takes away a few more nerves.

They’re having a bad day: We all have those days. The ones where nothing goes right, more work gets dropped from a great height on your lap, the cat goes to the toilet on your lovely carpet and the children redecorate the walls with their own masterpieces. And it’s only 11am. And now you are having to do the podcast interview you agreed to in a moment of weakness 2 months ago.

OK so that’s a bit of an exaggeration but you get the picture. There’s not much you can do to stop their bad day from happening, but a bit of warming up will help you no end here.

When you’ve called them up, before you hit record, check how they are. You can also check if they’re still ok to go ahead with the interview (although this may trigger a postponement so be prepared for that). But also read the room, if they just want to get going - crack on with the interview. Be prepared for the first couple of questions to be your warm up questions and pay attention to the next bit...

They are difficult: Sometimes a guest is just a difficult person. It’s who they are and it’s not your fault so first of all don’t beat yourself up about it.

If you’re not getting anywhere with them you can always front it out and tell them it sounds like they don’t want to be here and if that’s the case then do they want to continue the conversation. Yes you might sound a bit uppity, but this is your podcast. You want it to sound the best it can and it doesn’t matter how big a guest might be if they’re not playing ball they don’t have an automatic right to be on your podcast.

Otherwise you can suck it up, carry on with your questions and see what you get out of them.

When you listen back you might be surprised with what you got. In the moment it’s very easy to heap a load of self criticism on yourself. Alternatively you might listen back and feel it’s not good enough to go out. That’s allowed. Just because you recorded the interview it doesn’t mean you owe the interviewee an airing. If I do an interview and choose not to use it (and it’s not always because the interviewee was difficult) I do try and let the guest know it’s not being used. It’s up to you if you say “it’s because you were a pain in the backside” or not. If you do maybe don’t say it’s because you’re a pain in the backside.

Don’t waste the interview though. You can turn it in to content by using it as the basis of a blog, using quotes on social media or a LinkedIn article if that’s your thing. That way the guest doesn’t feel as though their time was wasted. And neither is yours.

Deleting Your Recording Instead Of Saving It.

This is similar to not pressing start which is how I began. But there’s a few ways you can delete your work.

You can do the interview - maybe it’s a half hour interview with a guest in their art gallery (yes that’s me again). And after this cracking interview where you’ve got everything and more instead of hitting save you press delete.

Now this was in the days of face to face, so this guest saw my face fall in front of them. And I had no choice but to say I have fat fingers and pressed delete. Thankfully it was somebody I knew well enough so they simply laughed at me and we went again.

Since that day (only 3 years ago) I have taken so much extra time when it comes to pressing save. And not tried to do anything else while saving my work.

I recommend you do the same!

You also have the opportunity to lose your work when you are editing. I am so paranoid about losing the audio that I never edit on the original recording. I always make a copy and use that for the edit. That way if it’s all gone a bit squiffy I always have the original to just start again with. It’s got me out of a few holes when I’ve been a bit cut heavy or mucked about with the sound settings.

Also some audio editors are what’s known as “destructive” editors. That means if you make changes, save those changes and then close the project down you will never be able to get back those bits you removed.

So again it would make sense to always make a copy. Or two. So you have the original as a back-up in a worst case scenario.

Remember - don't have nightmares....