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How to Make a Podcast: Lessons from an NPR Producer

I’ve been marketing and building businesses for YEARS.

But podcasting? I’m still a total newbie.

Six months ago, I started Noah Kagan Presents and barely knew how to make a podcast. The audio was shit, the content was only OK, and I spoke way too damn fast.

After releasing a couple episodes of my show, I realized I needed outside help to make my podcast GREAT.

I decided to ask an expert to “coach” me on how to make a good podcast.

Bottom-line: The lessons I learned DRAMATICALLY increased the quality of my podcast.

The advice I learned wasn’t only about podcasts. If you’re looking to improve any type of content, the lessons I learned will help you improve.

BONUS: How to get 1,000,000 downloads on your podcast

Asking an expert

If I wanted to make my podcast great — and reach my goal of 100,000 downloads per episode — I had to ask a pro.

This isn’t just about podcasts either. Experts will help you in any area of your life.

For example, when I wanted to learn Hebrew, I got a tutor. Or, when I decided to learn more about Facebook Ads, I hired someone and learned their process.

Whatever it is you want to improve, you can find someone who’s already done it. Learn from the experts!

The BIG misconception is that you need to have lots of money. You don’t.

Here are three easy ways you can find experts and mentors for yourself:

  1. Go to meetups. People at the top of their field regularly attend events to share knowledge and learn. Use, Facebook Events, or Eventbrite
  2. Ask your friends if they know anyone in your field you should absolutely meet
  3. Network with VIPs

Here’s an exact script you can use to connect with someone:

Subject line: You = awesome 🙂


Been a BIG fan for a while.

Noticed you have [problem with your business you can help fix]. Wanted to take a stab. Here’s a [free design I did for your blog, 3 marketing tips to help you get more subscribers, etc.].

If you’re available, would love to pick your brain over a quick coffee or drink at your FAVORITE place.

If I say pretty, pretty, pretty please can I grab a spot on your cal this week? 🙂


Go find an expert to help you. Don’t sit around on your ass waiting for them to come to you.

When I wanted to make my podcast great, I realized almost every top podcast was made by NPR.

I started researching NPR producers, and reached out to about 5 people.

It took a while to find the right person. Persistence is key (in EVERYTHING). But I found a producer, Nick, who agreed to help me improve a few episodes start with “My biggest rich asshole moment.”

Nick kicked my ass. He tore my work to shreds. I hadn’t realized just how much I needed help until I saw the edits he made to my episode outline.

The edits didn’t stop there.

Check out some of the feedback Nick gave me after listening to what I thought was a final edit of the episode:

He picked up on so many subtle points that I would have totally missed and really showed me how to make a podcast.

I even picked up on insider tips it would have taken me years to learn:

Nick showed me how to make a good podcast. With the feedback I received from Nick, I’ve been able to continue to improve and learn the art of podcasting.

This can apply to your business, too.

When you learn from an expert, the value compounds over time.

Nick’s 3 main tips don’t just apply to podcasting, they apply to any type of content — or any type of communication.

How to make a podcast: 3 takeaways from an NPR expert

1. CUT the fat

The meat is most important.

Most content is surrounded by fluff. 95% of content online clickbait or unhelpful. Create the 1% of content which changes people’s lives.

In order to create EPIC content, you have to be ruthless with your editing. Cut the unessential.

The most important place to cut the fat is the opening. No matter what content you’re producing, you only have a few seconds to grab someone’s attention.

If your podcast doesn’t promise something valuable right at the start, people won’t listen.

Notice how my podcast opening has changed over time.

My very first episode with Tim Ferriss:

This episode:

You’ll notice this episode has an immediate hook to draw the listener.

The same goes for a blog post, Facebook post, YouTube video, or any type of content. Promise epic value right at the start and deliver.

The intro of any content should:

To be successful, you have to grab the audience early and make them want to stick around.

Advanced podcast tips: How to get 1,000,000 downloads on a podcast

2. Use signposts

Telling the listener EXACTLY why they should keep listening: Signposts are an incredible way to keep the momentum going.

You can use signposts in a few ways:

  • To recap what we’ve covered so far in the story this far
  • To raise new questions in the middle of your story
  • To tease what’s coming up next

For example, check out the finished version of my “My biggest rich asshole moment.”

In the first minute, you can hear the following signposts:

  • What’s the story? “I’m going to talk about my biggest rich asshole moment”
  • Clear statement about the overriding podcast theme: “It’s not so much about being rich (or an asshole), but how do you make big decisions in your life?”
  • Stating the benefit: “Learn from my mistakes and how to make big decisions easier”
  • Loop back to the story: “This all happened when I needed to replace my old Mini Cooper…”

These signposts showed the listener the episode was worth investing time to listen.

Your audience will ALWAYS benefit from guidance.

No matter what content you’re creating, ensure you NEVER leave your audience wondering WTF you’re trying to say. At all times they should know what’s happening, why, and what’s coming up.

Don’t let your listeners or readers start drifting off. Keep them engaged with clear signposts.

3. Have a clear narrative

Why are NPR podcasts so popular?

Narrative, narrative, narrative.

A great narrative will keep listeners interested in your content. Most stories are flat: This happened, then something else happened, and that’s how we ended up here. The end.

Booooring. 😴

You need to inject life into a story to make it worth listening, reading, or watching.

To make a narrative interesting, there are three key elements:

  1. A story arc: This is how your story develops throughout the content. To keep it interesting, you need to deliver the story in a surprising way — not just linear A to Z
  2. Conflict: Every great story is based on some conflict. The story often unfolds as the protagonist learns how to deal with the conflict. For example, in “My biggest rich asshole moment” the underlying conflict was between what I thought would make me happy (an expensive sports car)… and what actually made me happy (my Miata)
  3. Signposts: Regularly tell your listeners why they should keep listening to your content. Don’t let them get lost. Signposts tell listeners what’s coming up, recap sections, and raise questions

Think of creating content like a sales job. Every second you’re selling the story to your audience and giving them a reason to listen.

If you want to know how to make a podcast — or what you can learn from finding an expert to help grow your business, check out the podcast below.

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18 responses to “How to Make a Podcast: Lessons from an NPR Producer”

May 24, 2018 at 7:26 am

Hi Noah,
Very interesting stuff.
My question is, why should the number of downloads be the main metric of the podcast success?
I say, ditch the NPR formula and edit nothing.
Be more like your friend Tim: Opt for authenticity and you will be rewarded.

“signposts”: how silly… It is like speaking to kids with attention deficiency.
The analogy with the TV user changing channels is misleading.
Think your podcast as an alternative to reading a book, or reading an industry magazine, or hanging out with one’s friends.

I love your show. It is like an unrefined, shorter and lighter version of a younger Tim’s show.
You surely have a unique way. Do not change it 🙂

Joel Widmer
August 9, 2017 at 5:46 pm

This was so good it left me wanting the entire unedited podcast! But overall loved the principles and going to apply them to my podcast.

August 2, 2017 at 9:47 am

Loved the episode and took copious notes. I know Nick knows his shit and appreciate NPR get podcasts in the top 10 but, personally, I often enjoy the long form and the imperfection and authenticity that goes with it. I’m biased because mine is long form without much edit. Nick’s advice runs kinda counter to Ferriss’s advice on starting a podcast. Tim says not to edit the main or as little as possible for personal compliance. I’m wondering if Nick thinks there are exceptions to this intense editing philosophy?

July 13, 2017 at 9:16 am

Great episode. My favourite so far.

I’d suggest trying some music or some kind of audio bed behind your voice (at least for the intro, possibly at other points throughout too).

That’s what they do on all the story-driven NPR shows and it sounds classy as ****

Leon Sandoval
July 6, 2017 at 9:55 am

LOVE this and wish I had discovered it a few weeks ago, just before I launched my podcast! ?

Question- is there any advantage in your opinion to simply posting the entire transcript of the show? Obviously, formatting a short summary above the fold would be best, but to go along with Tim Ferris’s philosophy of long-form content, is it advisable to just publish a 10,000+ word transcript on the blog?

Alberto Carranza
July 4, 2017 at 1:47 pm

Hey Noah, loving the podcast. It’s great that at the very end of each episode you challenge us to some cool stuff, well I Ch- Ch- Challenge you to ask this question at the end of one episode: What is your favorite sexual position?, you know, because of “what the hell?”. Have a nice one.

July 1, 2017 at 6:54 pm

This was awesome! I’m a loyal fan to several NPR podcasts, and they’re just…BETTER than almost any other podcast.

Cool to hear Nick’s suggestions on all of these (and even rip apart the episode I was on). Went back and re-listened to this one just to take notes.

Epic 🙂

June 30, 2017 at 4:39 pm

This episode was great! I love how it transfers over to video and blogging as well. I love listening to the podcasts in my car as I drive but I can’t write down any notes so thanks for also creating this in a blog format so I can get the information down in my notes!

Nick O'Neill
June 30, 2017 at 2:33 pm


1. The email from you was in my spam … no good!
2. I <3 you
3. This podcast was sooo much better than at the beginning!
4. Soo much good insight in this episode.
5. Looking forward to more in the future!

June 30, 2017 at 12:16 pm

How much time did you spend in post-production editing this episode vs. your other shows? Are you committed to actively editing your shows going forward?

Noah Kagan
June 30, 2017 at 4:49 pm

I do all the editing and JPD or new Jason take my edits and make them a reality.

Shows are taking around 5 x the length of the show to edit + the 2x from the audio editor.

I enjoy doing the editing so far…

July 3, 2017 at 9:02 pm

Thanks for the reply. This episode has so many great tips.

How has your approach to interviewing and gathering good tape changed as a result of Nick’s suggestions?

June 30, 2017 at 9:33 am

I totally agree with what he says about starting at the beginning to make stuff relatable and vulnerable and interesting and all these things, but I also think that in many cases this is counterproductive. It does make sense in a TAL-like podcast where they tell some neighborhood story. Sure, in this case I wanna know how it all got started and all. But with Tim Ferriss’ podcast for example, I think this stuff makes it close to unlistenable because there I don’t care about the guest’s life story, I just want to know about their expertise and what from that I can use.
So I’d use that method with caution.

Susan Finch
June 29, 2017 at 10:38 am

OHHH thank you for this. It was shared on She Podcasts on Facebook and I was hooked with her share. GREAT tips and reminders to not be lazy about this. Stay on point and tell those stories.

Doug Cunnington
June 29, 2017 at 9:59 am

Noah, great episode! I’ll be working on editing more—editing HARD. It’s easy to just publish something long, but publishing a highlight reel will me way more impressive.

Editing hrs down to mins means it has to be the very best parts. I’m publishing so much average work and need to change it. Thanks for the kick in the ass!

Andy Iskandar
June 28, 2017 at 8:51 am

Hi Noah, brilliant! But where’s the 2nd takeaway?

Carsten Legaard
June 28, 2017 at 8:49 am

Looking very much forward to learn no. 2 😀

June 28, 2017 at 8:27 am

Hey Noah, are you playing yourself at 1.5x speed!?

Just kidding 😉

Awesome podcast thanks for sharing!

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