Finding great teachers is a big part of learning anything.
But for most people, the top experts are off limits.
They’re only available to the few who can afford to fork out for their services, or a select who have spent years working their way up in the industry have the privilege of meeting and working with them.
So what if I told you that in 12-24 months you could be speaking to any teacher or expert you wanted?
That you could create your own education, build your own curriculum and learn from the best in the world.
You’d probably be interested.
And you’d probably say I was crazy.
But in the last 18 months since launching the MetaLearn Podcast, that’s exactly what I’ve done.
The internet has made it possible for you or me to reach the type of people who were previously off limits, armed with nothing more than an email client, Skype, some call recording software and a microphone – all for under $100.
At the time of writing (January 2018) the MetaLearn podcast has reached 100+ episodes and a fast growing audience in 140+ countries.
Guests interviewed include:
- Successful entrepreneurs like marketing hall-of-famer Seth Godin, Sumo founder Noah Kagan, and Memrise Founder Ed Cooke
- Top academics like Harvard Psychologist Ellen Langer, Professor Barry Schwartz and University of Michigan Richard Nisbett
- Top bloggers in the learning space including Farnam Street’s Shane Parrish, Scott Young and Kalid Azad of Better Explained
- Wired Editor and Technologist Kevin Kelly, world class Blues Pianist Paddy Milner and acclaimed TED Speaker Julian Treasure
When I started I had no experience interviewing people.
I had no experience with audio and podcasting.
And I had no experience reaching out to high profile individuals.
But I figured it out and you can too.
And to help you on your way, this post is my seven-step roadmap that will take you from a beginner with no idea, to learning from the best in the world in a matter of months instead of decades.
1) Choose Your Niche - How to Focus Your Podcast
Any learning project needs to have a focus, and starting a podcast is no different.
You need to pick something that you’re genuinely interested in so that you’ll be able to get through the inevitable ups and downs along the way.
If the main goal of the project is to learn as much as possible, you can be as broad or narrow as you want.
But, if your intention is to build an audience and business around this project, it’s wise to start with a niche that’s narrow enough to get people’s attention.
With MetaLearn, I knew I wanted to focus on the themes of learning and teaching, but I also wanted to explore broader areas of interest such as technology, entrepreneurship and philosophy.
I also knew that I wanted to create courses in the future and build a business around the project.
By creating a container that was focused enough to grow an audience but broad enough to satisfy my own interests, I was able to find a balance that worked for me.
The key here is not to spend too much time or energy worrying about this at the start.
Consider it and start off with a plan, in the knowledge that it could well change 5 episodes into the process!
Pro Tip 1
If you’re having trouble deciding what you want to learn about through podcasting, then grab a blank sheet of paper and write down as many ideas as possible.
Externalising your thoughts in the physical world can really help because one or two will usually stand out as clear winners – so pick one and get started!
2) Schedule Your First Episodes – How To Reach Out To Guests
Once you’ve decided what niche to focus on, it’s time to start reaching out to people and scheduling your first interviews.
The goal at the start is just to get things moving…even if that means grabbing your roommate and doing an episode right then and there.
And in fact, that’s exactly what I did. I’d been thinking about starting a podcast for over a year before I actually recorded my first episode.
And when I finally did start, I grabbed my roommate Josh, who happened to be interesting and well spoken enough to make the first episode work well.
Obviously don’t do this if your roommate is an inarticulate idiot who has nothing to do with your niche, but you get the picture…
While you want to interview people who you can learn from, don’t be too ambitious at the start.
It’s unlikely you’ll get the biggest name in your field to speak to you in your first few episodes when you’re starting out and have no audience.
All the same there is one rule and one rule only when it comes to reaching out to people, whether you’ve done one episode or one hundred, whether you have an audience of a hundred or or a hundred thousand.
Add value to them.
Even if you’re just getting started and have no audience to give them exposure to, asking someone for an interview is a compliment.
You’re telling them that they’re worth speaking to and creating a piece of content that will allow them to showcase their expertise.
For many people, that’s more than enough to get them on the show.
Obviously, as you move towards the big hitters, audience numbers and previous guests do matter.
But to get started with, don’t worry about all that.
Reach out to as many people as you need to over email and book your first three interviews into your calendar get ready for them.
Pro Tip 2
Add a line in your email about why you think that person would be a good fit for your podcast.
Keep the email short and to the point and make the request clear e.g. tell them it’s a brief 30-minute interview over Skype so they know what to expect.
3) Get The Gear You Need – Don’t Get Fancy Too Soon
The gear you need depends on the type of podcast you’re producing – and in particular if the interviews you’re doing are in person or over Skype.
If you’re just getting started I strongly recommend starting with Skype interviews – it’s easier to organise for you and the guest and you need less equipment to get good quality recordings.
All you need to start with is Skype, some call recording software (eCamm for Mac or Pamela for PC) and a pair of standard ear-buds that come with every smartphone (the microphone on these is surprisingly good).
If you want to, you can throw in a starter USB microphone but you certainly don’t have to. I started with the Blue Yeti, and still use it for my Skype interviews.
The key is not to get hung up on equipment – there are so many people who never end up starting because they spend too much time deliberating over equipment reviews.
Just buy a tried and tested product like the Yeti if you want to buy a microphone and get started. You can always improve as you go along.
Most instructional posts spend a long time going through the pros and cons of equipment. I’ve been there and I know it doesn’t matter. So don’t be fancy, get what’s absolutely necessary and move on to the next step!
Pro Tip 3
Send your guest a message in advance asking them to use a pair of ear buds for the interview - almost everyone has them and it can really boost the audio quality massively compared to a standard computer microphone.
4) Come up with a Name, Logo and Jingle – Create Your Brand
The brand of your podcast is important enough to spend a little time on but not so important to get hung up on.
The more you want this project to become a business, the more important this is at the start, because it can be hard (although not impossible to change along the way)
The amount of projects that have never launched because people spent too long thinking about the name, or playing with the logo is shockingly huge…and it’s basically just another form of procrastination.
The key to branding your show is simply to ask: What qualities do I want people to associate my podcast with?
Once you’ve answered that, the rest should follow relatively easily.
For the name, just keep it simple. If you’re struggling, you could always go with the “Your Name Podcast” or the “Your Niche Podcast”
For the logo, go to Fiverr or 99 Designs and create a brief of what you’re looking for. Then pick your favourite design and roll with that.
For the Jingle, go to Pond5 and pick something you like that fits your brand and evokes the type of emotions that you need to.
For MetaLearn, I typed terms like “learning” and “brain” into the search bar and found a track called neural network that felt like a perfect fit.
Again, the key here is not to procrastinate and jeopardise you actually getting this off the ground.
Obviously, if you want to build a business around this, the name and logo are a little more important…but not important enough to stop you getting started!
Pro Tip 4
If you’re struggling with the brand, ask yourself what the podcast would be like if it was a person.
Fun and outgoing? Smart and sophisticated?
Then pick a name, logo and jingle that match these qualities.
5) Record Your Episodes – Interviewing Guests
Once you’ve got the basics of your brand down, it’s time to record those interviews.
There’s nothing stopping you from doing these before, but there’s usually a gap between scheduling the interviews and doing them, during which you can get on with the brand.
What I’ve learned from all the interviews I’ve done in the past two years is that the key to any good interview is preparation.
If your guest has written a book that’s relevant to your discussion, read it.
If they’ve done other interviews on podcasts or on YouTube, check those out too.
Go to their website, read their bio and check out their work.
Then start to draft some sample questions in a document.
Ask yourself what you actually want to learn from these people, because the best questions come from a place of genuine curiosity.
I’ve found it helps to organise the questions in terms of themes and have them in a document in front of you during the interview in the first few episodes.
This allows you to focus on actually listening to what they’re saying and improvise rather than worrying about what to ask them next.
You may find during the interview that the conversation goes off in a completely different direction than you expected.
This can be great, provided that it’s still relevant to what you wanted to discuss. Use your prepared questions as a plan to work off, rather than a rigid structure that can’t be changed.
Sometimes, the best conversations are the ones that go a little off-piste so be flexible and willing to adapt on the fly.
Pro Tip 5
Make sure everything is working ahead of your first interview – you don’t want any mishaps.
Do a trial recording into free software like GarageBand for Mac or Audacity for PC and ask your guest if they can hear you OK at the start of the call.
6) Edit Your Work – Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Once you’ve recorded your interviews, it’s time to edit them down.
I strongly recommend you start off with a clear concept for your show and a target length that you stay consistent with for the first few episodes.
This helps to take the guesswork out of the editing process because you know how much you need to cut or keep.
This is something that I didn’t start off with but switched to after 10 episodes when I realised I needed that structure to stay consistent.
It can be very tempting to outsource the editing from the start, but I strongly recommend you do this for yourself.
By editing you become more familiar with your own speaking tendencies and blips and this allows you to correct them in future episodes.
But more importantly you get to listen to the episode back and process everything you discussed, which is an excellent review process.
It also helps you to listen to the show in the shoes of an audience member and start to get a feel for what’s interesting and what’s not.
Take the movie track from your Skype recording and split the movie tracks before converting them into MP3s (see image below)
Then import these tracks into your free editing software of choice - GarageBand for Mac or Audacity for PC - and start editing.
The key to this process is to focus on the big things – don’t worry too much about filler words like “ums” and “ahs” (like I did!) and just focus on removing chunks of the interview that are less interesting to cut the conversation down.
Then tack on a short intro to open the episode along with your jingle music and you’re ready to go.
You can also use a free service called Auphonic to automatically level your audio file and add tags to it before uploading.
Pro Tip 6
Most people don’t like the sound of their own voice when they hear it for the first time in a recording.
Don’t let this throw you off track – just edit for content and focus on getting the job done.
Whatever you produce at the start is going to be imperfect, so accept that ahead of time and commit to improving every episode.
7) Publishing and Sharing your Podcast
If you’re doing the hard work of contacting experts and learning from them, you may as well share your journey with others who are on the same path.
The key to this is the frame you set – don’t pretend to already be an expert if you’re not one.
There are teenagers who have produced hugely successful interview based podcasts that started off as learning projects.
They were genuinely interested in learning and that sincerity came through to their guests and audience.
Once you’ve got your edited audio files upload them to a hosting service of choice (I use Libsyn) and register your Podcast for the iTunes store.
If you’re struggling to do this, Google is your best friend for technical questions.
Tens of thousands of people have started podcasts and every question you can possibly have has already been answered online.
If your main goal is to learn, then don’t worry about your downloads and shares to start off with. Just focus on getting the podcast up and running.
For low hanging fruit, ask your guests to share your conversation with their audience if they have one and promote the podcast to your own friends on your social media channels.
Then start joining online communities and forums where your listeners hang out to get a feel for the space.
Don’t be the guy or girl who spams and self-promotes, but start paying attention to the conversation and provide answers where you can.
You may even get ideas for new guests in the process.
When I started MetaLearn, my focus was on learning as much as possible, and upgrading my own skills.
It was only after I had a few episodes under my belt that I even started to think about marketing more seriously.
The key is to find out where your audience hangs out and start getting your stuff in front of them – and that takes time, patience and a lot of trial and error.
Pro Tip 7
Ask your close friends and family members to leave reviews for you in the iTunes Store.
This will boost your ranking and give you a shot of getting on iTunes New and Noteworthy, which will give your podcast a big boost in terms of exposure.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet and interview inspiring people from all over the world through the MetaLearn Podcast – from esteemed psychologists and successful entrepreneurs, to prodigious polyglots and memory mavericks.
The process of speaking with these people and listening back to the conversations has taught me more in a short space of time than I could ever have imagined.
But none of this would have happened if I didn’t get started.
I designed this guide to take most of the guesswork out of the process for you, because 95% of research is procrastination.
I was thinking about starting a podcast a year before I actually recorded my first interview. And I could, and should have started sooner.
But the important thing is that I did start and since then, I haven’t stopped.
If you follow the steps in this guide, you may even avoid some of the mistakes I made and get to the top experts in your field faster…
You’ll learn a lot about the subject you’ve chosen to focus on and you’ll also learn a lot about yourself in the process.
And once you get started, you’ll realise that it’s not the speed of getting from A to B that matters – it’s the journey in between that counts.