“Listen to a podcast. Write a summary. Can’t be that hard, can it? Seems pretty straightforward to me.”
–Person who has never written show notes in their life
Writing well is HARD. It takes practice, refinement, and an iron core that can withstand the most brutal of edits. I have spent many moons working on my writing craft, from middle school writing workshops to a college degree in Comparative Literature. With all of that training, I still find show notes tricky little beasts but have picked up some tools along the way that make them a little easier.
I’ll share some of these plus the things I wish I had done in the beginning that would have saved me ~so~ much time.
“To be prepared is half the victory.” — Miguel de Cervantes
Jumping into a new podcast without any sort of preparation is a terrible idea and you are only giving yourself more work to do later on. I did not do this for my first show and bungled my way along for far too long. I now see the error of my ways and hope to save you from such disgrace.
The prep here is getting familiar with your new show, its host, and the voice of their brand. The sooner you can do this, the faster your edits will go and the quicker you will fall into a rhythm with your composition.
If I’m jumping in after a podcast has been going awhile, I read the last three show notes as a sort of creative brief. Clearly your client was happy with how these notes were written in terms of style and detail so it’s a quick and easy way to peek inside their head and get a sense of their expectations.
I also poke around on the website to get a feel for their voice. Are their blogs formal or more stream-of-thought informal? Do they use slang? Metaphors? Do they write in third or first person? All of these details are readily available through their website and should directly impact your writing style.
It seems obvious but you should take the time to listen to the podcast before you start writing, at least for the first few episodes. The show notes should reflect the personality of the hosts and actually hearing them speak will give you a good sense of how to write for them.
Show Notes Organization
“Without geography, you’re nowhere.” — Jimmy Buffett
Everybody organizes himself or herself differently. The important thing is to figure out, in advance of writing the notes, the theme and purpose behind the episode. This should be the driving force of your writing. If you find yourself with a sentence that has nothing to do with the theme of the episode, then you have gotten off track and need to revisit your notes.
A golden nugget of information that explicitly tells you what the client wants to see pulled from the podcast is the title. If they provide you with the title, then you have been handed a lovely roadmap to guide your writing.
If you can get a transcript of the episode, I am a huge advocate for reading through it and highlighting important phrases or ideas that are presented during the show. I actually download transcripts into Microsoft Word and have a color-coded/format system:
Red = important information
Bolded text = quote material
Blue = something to link to in the resources section
Green = sponsors
This way I can quickly skim through the notes as I’m composing and review only what is relevant. But everybody is their own rainbow so don’t take my method as gospel. Figure out what works for you but DO figure it out. Don’t just wing it.
Without a transcript it’s a little trickier as it involves taking notes while listening to the podcast. Sadly, there is no shortcut for this method. It’s just a matter of listening carefully and pausing the audio to write down key information points or quotes. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
“Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.” —Henry David Thoreau
The hardest thing about show notes is they need to be short. I try to keep all my summaries to 150-175 words and that is broken up into no more than three short paragraphs (four if needed for mobile readability). Why? Because the goal of the notes are not to convey every bit of information talked about in the podcast. The goal is to influence your reader to hit play and tune in! If you write a novel, there is no reason for them to listen to the podcast.
I follow this very basic structure in my summaries which helps keep the word count down and prevents me from spilling the beans on content.
Paragraph 1 – Guest Strengths: The listener wants to know why on Earth they should trust this person’s knowledge. Who are they? What kind of impact and importance do they wield in their field? What IS their field? Why should I bother spending 30-45mins listening to them? Slam this out in 4 sentences max.
Paragraph 2 – Guest Applicability: Tie their strengths to the topic at hand. It’s all well and good to be an organizational guru as outlined in paragraph 1, but how does that relate to a show geared towards social media professionals? This is where you bring it together. 3 sentences max.
Paragraph 3 (if needed) – Show Teaser: ONE sentence wrap-up that gives a hint of what’s to come.
Any quotes in your show notes should be brief one-liners that stand out as surprising and counter-intuitive. Again, the goal is to turn your reader into a listener. Surprising them with short quotes that give curiously conflicting information is another way to pull them into the fold.
So there you have it—that wraps up my tips and tricks on podcasts. Armed with the proper preparation and organization, your composition should be much easier and your notes more compelling.