October 21, 2021

How to Overcome Your Fears of Starting a Podcast

Lindsay Harris-Friel

Whether you’re a seasoned podcaster or getting ready to make your first episode, you’ve probably had to (or will) dance with your old friend, self-doubt. It can keep you from moving forward, and make podcasting less than a fun experience. Sometimes, fear can be a good thing, because it can make you double-check your work. It can also keep you frozen in one spot, second-guessing yourself.  How do we overcome fear, and prevent it from ruining our podcasts? Let’s take a look at some tactics. 

How big is the project? 

If the prospect of starting your podcast feels overwhelming, break it down into steps. Write down the tasks that need to be done, in order. Then, do them one at a time. Even if the tasks are as simple as “plug in the microphone,” this can help you feel like making a podcast is simply a system of manageable tasks. Dreaming big is great. I highly recommend it. Just dream big in detail, so that you can conquer each detail. 

Fear is often the result of a gap in knowledge. 

Ask yourself if you know your episode’s topic, inside and out. Do you have enough information? Sometimes fear comes from not knowing enough about what you’re trying to communicate.  Let’s say your podcast is about fruit pie recipes, and you don’t understand how to keep berry pies from becoming runny. You might feel scared to move forward with recording. The answer, obviously, is to do a little more research and find good data about fruit pectin. Good scripting practices, along with research, give you a solid foundation to rely on after you hit the record button. 

Do you feel prepared? Double-checking your preparations can help, but it can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes you will overthink your preparation, and that’ll keep you from moving forward. Use a checklist, like the ones we have in The Podcast Host Academy, or a resource like The Podcast Host Planner Journal. Even if you don’t feel ready, let the resource or checklist tell you when you’re ready. Once it’s all checked off, it’s go time. 

Do you know how to use all of the equipment and software that you’re using? This is where making an Episode Zero and/or a trailer helps. Make one episode, and familiarize yourself with the entire process. Then you can say to yourself, “that wasn’t so bad.” 

Will your podcast have consequences? 

What’s the worst thing that could happen if you record, edit, and publish an episode? Be honest. In reality, a new podcast might be downloaded ten times in the first week, if the producer has ten friends who like podcasts. Decide what’s the worst thing that can happen (Will your dog-walker quit if they hear your opinions?). Then, prepare for that possibility (start collecting resumes from dog-walkers). 

If there are real negative consequences of your podcast’s content, you need to think about what you’re doing and why. If you’re divulging secrets or giving out information without permission, you have a bigger problem than “is my mic plugged in?”  This is especially necessary with true crime podcasts. For example, the podcast S-Town was a huge hit, but the producers failed to get permission from the show’s subject, to divulge details of his private life. His family sued the producers.  This is far from the only example of a true crime podcast made without consideration of ethics or consequences. Make sure that you have permission from your interview guests to record them, and publish the recordings. Again, if someone would be hurt by the podcast you’re making, you might want to re-think your motivation. A little bit of ad revenue or fame isn’t worth it. 

How do you feel, physically?

When you sit down to record, or you hover your mouse cursor over the “publish” button, does your heart rate increase? Do you start an interview feeling tongue-tied, or with butterflies in your stomach? Anxiety and excitement have the same physical symptoms, caused by arousal. Arousal makes us more focused and helps us get up and go. Can you take these physical symptoms, if or when you experience them, and say, “I’m excited?” Re-framing anxiety as excitement can help us succeed. Additionally, mindfulness techniques (such as three deep breaths, noticing what your senses pick up) can help you focus. Let making a podcast be exciting!

Still scared? Feel the fear, and do it anyway.

Every time we make something new, it’s going to feel scary, because what we’re making hasn’t existed before. It would be great if every podcaster could have a cheerleading squad on standby, shouting, “Your ideas are terrific!” and “Sounds great!”  Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. Besides, cheerleaders can throw off your concentration. 

Once upon a time, I wrote a play that was performed in front of a live audience. It included a long monologue, spoken by a young actress, who was determined to get it right. When performance time came, she forgot all of her lines mid-way through the big speech. She was so completely lost, that her physical anxiety symptoms took over, and she couldn’t recover. Finally, she managed to mumble something that sounded vaguely like the last line of the monologue and slunk offstage. I ran backstage and found her crying, and apologizing to me for blowing it. I was sad for her, but told her, “nobody died, nobody was hurt, and now I’ve learned not to write monologues that long.” 

Sometimes you have to fail, fail big, learn from it, and try again differently. 

I heard Sarah Rhea Werner speak at Podcon 2 in a panel discussion about writing. Someone asked her about how she coped with fear. She said, “Fear is a very real thing, but don’t let it drive the bus.” You don’t have to fight fear to start your podcast. Use it to your advantage. Focus, double-check, research, and then let that excitement propel you forward. 

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