Jeff has completed 10 marathons, three 50k ultramarathons, about a dozen half-marathons, and two 200-mile team relay races. The Strengths Finder assessment labeled him as an Achiever.
Yeah, he's that guy – the one who gets up at the crack of dawn and gets things done. So I asked him for his advice on how to keep up with your podcasting and make your production process more efficient while still maintaining episode quality.
Jeff's "Interview-Format" Episode Production Process
I've interviewed over 175 guests on The 5 AM Miracle and my process has changed a bit over the last few years. Originally, I booked guests by pitching people I admired, crossing my fingers that they'd accept, and then bantering back-and-forth over email to find a time for the interview. I researched them ahead of time and would try to ask questions that I thought interviewers were supposed to ask (although I'm still not sure what that looks like).
Today, I have a guest application on a Google Form (see example from RED Podcast here) to filter the requests that come in multiple times a day. I choose to bring on guests who inspire me and could add a lot of value to my audience. I also try to include as much diversity as possible, meaning I mix up topics, areas of expertise, gender, background, and any other factor that will help provide more perspectives than just my own.
I use Acuity Scheduling to book my guests, which helps immensely with making the administrative side of podcasting a lot easier. I limit which days and times of day I conduct interviews so I can batch multiple interviews and save time.
I write out 8-10 questions for the guest a few days before the interview. I email the questions to the guest in case they want to prepare ahead of time. Most guests don't review the questions, but the ones who do appreciate the heads up on the topics I plan to cover. A few guests made major corrections to the topics I sent, which helped to save us both time and ensure a higher-quality conversation.
Since my first interview, I've held to the philosophy that less is more, meaning that less editing equates to more value for the audience and more time for me. I only edit out major mistakes, incoherent babble, and long pauses. Other than that, I leave in the "uhs," "ums," "ahs," and any crazy rants or tangents my guests embark upon, and I've never had a complaint about the editing of my interviews.
To help with editing, I type out notes in Evernote as my guests are talking, jotting down any keywords or areas to come back to later in post-production. Many of my guests think I'm a good listener, but I'm really just a good notetaker.
Jeff's "Solo-Format" Episode Production Process
My solo episodes are produced very differently than my interviews. Rather than let the guests do the heavy lifting by providing the content, I choose topics to discuss that have recently inspired me (and it's a lot more work on my end).
In the beginning of the podcast I discussed specific content I believed would establish a foundation for my show, focusing on the core topics of healthy habits, personal development, and rockin' productivity. As the show evolved, I began to discuss seemingly random topics, usually choosing anything I thought was personally interesting and that I could discuss for 20-30 minutes without boring listeners or wasting their time.
Today, my solo episodes are highly structured and more intentional. I only choose topics I believe will add value to the majority of my listeners, and I frequently ask them via email and social media which topics they want me to dive into next. I don't script every word, but I often script out 50% or more of the content.
I always write out the introduction, conclusion, and every major transition word-for-word. The core content generally consists of bullet points, but I often write out quite a bit in this section as well. I also include every outline that I record from as a downloadable PDF in the show notes for every episode.
Editing solo episodes is much harder and takes longer. I listen to every word and cut out a lot of my nonsense and blatant errors. It's amazing how much better a solo episode sounds when you simply edit out the weak parts, leaving only your best nuggets and well-recorded segments. Despite my errors, I still try to leave in as much as possible because I want my audience to hear me for who I am, as opposed to sounding overly-polished.
How can podcasters be more consistent/efficient with their podcast production?
Producing a podcast is a LOT of work. Seriously, a lot. New podcasters don't know this. Experienced podcasters don't admit it. It's no joke.
Having said that, I focus on scheduling enough time every week to produce my weekly show, and I'm constantly looking for ways to cut corners and make the process more efficient.
As for scheduling, I know that every episode takes 6 to 10 hours to complete from start to finish. From planning, pitching guests, and scripting, to interviews, recording, and post-production, it's a lengthy process with lots of moving parts. I also outsource nothing. Everything is under my roof and I handle it all. Mistake? Probably, but I'm a control freak and I can ensure that every episode is produced at my bar if I handle it myself.
The real key to reducing your workload is to cut any part of it that doesn't significantly enhance the final product and the results you want from your show. For example, I cut multiple segments from my show because they were taking too much prep time and I wanted to focus only on the core content that delivered the promise I made with the episode's title. I also shortened my interviews from 45 minutes to 25 minutes on average, also practicing the art of getting to the core value quickly in the conversation while minimizing banter.
If you can delegate work (e.g. episode notes, editing, marketing, etc.), then do it. Anything that can automate or systematize your workflow will make it more likely that you continue podcasting for years to come.
Thoughts on podcast burnout...
Burnout is a real thing and I ended up in the Emergency Room because of it.
As I said above, podcasting is a lot of work, and it's even more work when you commit to a specific production schedule on top of trying to build the rest of your business, raise a family, and go the gym occasionally.
A few years ago in the spring, I was podcasting every week, recording an audiobook, negotiating a contract for my next book, conducting multiple speaking engagements, launching a new online course, and planning more projects to tackle in the coming weeks. Stress began to mount and it eventually came to a head late one night when I thought I was having a heart attack.
I was only 32 at the time, so this freaked me out in a big way. My wife called an ambulance and off I went to the hospital. I was diagnosed with an esophageal spasm, which is common in young men who are otherwise healthy. The cause was undoubtably stress, and the cure was to chill out.
I changed my workflow, reduced the number of projects I was working on, and then intelligently changed to producing my podcast once every two weeks when my daughter was born a year later. The key to keeping my productivity up and my stress down has been a relentless focus on saying no to just about everything. When in doubt, turn down requests, invitations, and even your own ideas in order to stay focused on the few things that matter most.
Why do you think your podcast is so popular?
I wish I knew the exact reason my show has done well, but my best guess is that I do my best to bring energy and enthusiasm to every episode.
My content varies, my guests are not always fantastic, and I often babble during solo episodes for far too long. What has worked well is to stay in my zone, meaning I speak about content that inspires me, I investigate topics I'm curious about, and I interview guests who have interesting content to share. If I'm not interested in the content, it's very obvious, so I try to only speak about content that fires me up and brings a dose of joy to my listeners each week.
On the technical side, my podcast has high-quality audio with a focused and scripted outline. I don't want to waste my listeners' time, so the episodes are short, punchy, and I get to the point quickly. If my ideal listeners can get a dose of enthusiasm while gleaning a few new ideas on how to live better during their commutes to work, I've done my job.
On the marketing side of things, being interviewed on other podcasts has been the single greatest strategy to help attract new listeners. When you get the chance to share your message with potentially thousands of new people in your niche, it makes a big difference in how fast you can scale your numbers.
I think part of the reason my show has done well is because I haven't quit yet. Most podcasters don't survive past their fifth episodes, so for me to still be podcasting for over six years and 340 episodes, I'm a rare breed in the podcasting world. Consistently releasing high-quality audio every Monday morning that is full of energy, enthusiasm, and value is something my listeners have come to expect from me, and I'm happy to oblige.