Cracking the Hit Podcast CODE using the Gimlet Academy

Episode 6 – Full transcript

How do you grab people’s attention from the first word and can I keep you listening to this episode.


  1. Matthew Luhn (bio)
  2. The Best Story Wins book
  3. Gimlet Academy podcast
  4. Descript audio editor

Full transcript

This week, how I’ve found a new approach to make a podcast.

How I realized podcasting has changed in the days of the influencers and how I’m probably doing it wrong.

I found a way to repair mistakes automatically when you mess up your podcast voice recording and what do you think of my show idea? Will it be a hit? I’d love to know your thoughts.

Hello and welcome to can I make a hit podcast last year? I almost quit podcasting for good after several failed attempts, but I decided to give it one more go. I want to answer the question once and for all can someone with a full time job still produce a podcast from that home computer, which becomes a hit and rivals the quality of the big production companies.

I’m documenting that journey as I go along and sharing what I learn with you. Don’t forget to subscribe wherever you listen to this and on Instagram and Twitter at @hitpodcast2020 that’s @hitpodcast2020.

Hello and welcome to the latest episode then of Can I Make a Hit Podcast and it has been a really interesting week this week. I was talking last time about the book by Matthew Luhn about the importance of story, and also I mentioned about Gimlet, the production company that was bought by Spotify.

And how they have managed to make these podcasts, which are listened to by millions and millions of people and about how they use the power of story to grab people in and to the whole psychology is that it actually hooks you in with the story because he wants to know what’s coming up next. So I’d mentioned the fact that I had seen this Gimlet Academy podcast, but I haven’t really listened to it in full and this week I decided to go through it and I got absolutely hooked to it. So I want to run through in a few moments time, some of the key lessons that I learned, but really have a listen to it. Just go to Spotify. It’s completely free. You don’t have to sign up to anything and listen to the Gimlet Academy podcast cause there’s so much interesting stuff in there.

Now I know most podcasters are going to be making interview based shows because they are by far the easiest ones to do, but if we want to make a hit, is it worth us actually just sucking it up, making a series, putting in a lot of work and putting out six episodes that people love rather than a hundred episodes that get lost in the noise and no one ever listens to.

Anyway? I want to talk about that in just a couple of seconds, but first of all, I just wanted to mention a couple of other things that I’ve noticed this week.

The first one is actually a psychology one again, and when I was in radio, you’d use to use the word YOU all the time. So you would say like, as you may find, this is happening or one of the things that you’ll experience when you’re going out in the streets today . So we used to use that phrase to make it feel like we were involving them like it was. They were in the room with you and you were trying to involve them in the story.

But when I started looking at influencers and modern social media marketing, it actually seems to be the other way. Instead of talking about YOU and trying to relate to the audience, it’s all about ME. So influencers almost begrudgingly share this stuff on there and they always seem to sigh at the start of their videos.

They have this sort of almost begrudging acceptance of the fact that you’re going to want to see into their life and yet these people are being followed by millions of people. So what is it about that? Is it the feeling of voyeurism? Is it because we kind of want a piece of their life? Is it because we believe if we follow them, we will be able to work at how to live that ideal, probably fantasy life, that they’re portraying on Instagram or on Twitter or wherever else. Why is it that it’s now all about ME and yet it works.

I think one of the things about using the word you is that there’s an element of authority about it. When I was on the radio, you kind of have this elevated position because you were talking to tens of thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of people, and you were kind of seen with an element of like this is someone that you can trust.

And I think if you use YOU when you’re starting out as a podcast, it makes it sound like your some kind of guru. It’s like you’re lecturing down to someone. Whereas if you go, “I” learnt this, I experienced it. There’s an element of people feeling that your like them. There’s not a sort of hierarchy in there of you looking down on them.

So I think I have something to learn from that as well. So instead of saying you when it comes across as being some kind of guru, it’s actually talking about just me. What I’m learning, what I’m experiencing and you can pick from that what you like and whether you feel you can relate to that.

Another thing I wanted to talk about was repairing mistakes automatically. Now, you know what it’s like, you sit down and you start recording your voice and make some fluff ups. I’m doing it right now and I’m having to edit them out and sometimes you record something and then you listen back to it and you’ve done the whole programand it just doesn’t sound right and you want to change a word.

Well, there’s a new editor out there, which it’s not cheap because they’re certainly free editors out there. This does cost quite a bit of money called Descript and it works like a word processor and it makes a transcript of what you’re saying, which is exactly what I’m doing right now by the way, and then you can edit the words in order to edit the sound.

So instead of trying to find what the words were in your sound waves, which is a traditional way of editing, you can literally find the words on the screen and cut a bit out automatically. The other thing they’ve got is this feature called Overdub and this is a beta feature which I’m actually having a session with one of the people from that team next week to see whether it works for me and I’ve recorded about 15 minutes of my voice in order to see whether it actually works.

But what it does is it uses your voice and recreates it. Little bit scary perhaps, but it should in theory use a recreation, a simulation of your voice to repair that sound. I am going to be really interested to see how well that works, and of course, I will share that with you as well.

So that’s a couple of things, but let’s get to the Gimlet Academy podcast because I just think this is really interesting stuff and then I want to share with you my idea that came out of following those steps. I was listening to the reading, Matthew Luhns book about story, and then I started listening to the Gimlet Academy podcast and I started to realize the importance and power of story. And the point they make in that series is that story is actually addictive.

When I start telling a story, so if I say something like I woke up this morning. And I went to the window. And outside the window was a sound of a bird singing.

Now, if I just stop there, there’s an element of well, what, what was happening with that bird? What was about to happen next? Which you don’t get with a fact-based podcast, but if you start to tell a story, people get hooked into it because they want to know what the next step is and they talk about this in the Gimlet Academy podcast, and you can see why it’s so addictive.

I actually sat down and I listened to gosh what was it, an hour and a half to two hours, two and a quarter hours of a podcast from Gimlet about the Alabama democratic party!

Now I’m not even in the United States and I was absolutely hooked to this three episode series about what was going on down there because it was a great story and you can’t help but get hooked in when you listen to this to see how you could turn that and develop something at home, rather than trying to pump something out every week into podcast, which has an equal level of quality than something that these well off production houses are doing.

So how do they do it?

I made a bunch of notes, seriously, just listened to their podcast to get more of this, but I’ll just try and run through a couple of them.

The first one is the idea. You need to think about the “so what!”

Why would people actually give a damn about what you’re doing? What they say is think about it a bit like a library. History is a topic. So don’t say I want to make a podcast about “history”. For each episode, you want to talk about a book within that section. So is it the history of the second world war on the 4th of July 1943. Or is it a particular incident that happened? Or if you’re talking about “nuns”, is the example they give, what about nuns? What is it? Is it what time do they get up in the morning and why? So it’s something specific that you have to have.

The next thing is you need a character. You need a guest. They emphasize this that in order to make it addictive, it can’t just be you talking.

They talk about avoiding important stories because unless it the actual topic entertains and informs, no one’s going to listen. It needs to “entertain”, and this is the thing they really emphasize .

Only do it. If you personally give a damn about the story, I was going to insert another word there. If you’re not motivated by it personally, then you’re not going to follow through on it.

So the idea needs the “so what?!?!” sorted.

It needs a character or more.

It needs to be a specific topic rather than just a general thing.

It needs to be entertaining and it can be important.

It needs to have a good pitch and you need to give a damn about it yourself.

The next bit is story and structuring the whole thing and thinking about how you can make a story.

So what is a story? It’s a sequence of actions rather than just listing some facts. So it is like…

I got up this morning.

I went to the window.

It feels weird to stop there after those bits. A good story must build up to a point. It actually has to have some end point because if it just peters out then you feel like you’ve been left “short changed”.

Vivid compelling details. It needs a description of how the guest or you felt in that moment and it ideally needs to build up to an emotion and have emotions in there. You can hear that through the sound of someone’s voice.

In order to book guests, they give a whole bunch of techniques on this and I’m going to have to try this when I make my podcast. So I will cover that stuff then.

You need to get “good tape”. Now “good tape” just means in terms of getting good content that you can then turn into something. You need to have an interview aim when you do an interview, so what is the main point you’re trying to get from it?

They talk about the “beats” of a story. So the key parts of a story as it moves on and about how you need to get the content that will help those beats move forward. If when you’re doing an interview, you don’t get them. You need to keep interviewing the person until you get those bits.

There was some final bits about interview prep as well, which were really good as well like how to break the ice, how to share something about yourself in order to get people to open up to.

Then they talk about editing and again I’m going to cover this when I actually make my Hit Podcast in detail, but they talk about the fact that you need to have a beginning, a middle and an end.

The beginning can be anything from like posing a question, but the most important thing is it needs to promise you’re going to get something interesting out of listening to the podcast.

I was talking about that before Mathew Luhn about the whole thing about the question, posing what you would get the value from it.

The middle is again, a sequence. Now, if you look at that, what they say they say about these beats and the beats are the building of the story. So one thing follows the next and builds on top of the next bet.

And they’re saying that you should have one of these roughly every 45 to 90 seconds, so in a 30 minute show that’s something like 26 beats. It’s got to build 26 times or in a 20 minute show 17 times.

With the ending its quite interesting. They don’t really overemphasize this. They say that the most important thing is to just round things up “gracefully”.

You shouldn’t really try and make some big grand point because it’s going to sound like you’re lecturing. You should let the audience come to that conclusion , but you should gently round up with some final emotion from the characters and let the audience feel satisfied that they’ve made their own decision.

So that’s an absolutely rapid run through the points that they make in that entire series. I seriously would listen to it if you can. “Gimlet Academy podcast” on Spotify.

Anyone can listen to it and it is really, really interesting.

So what I’m going to do is cover those individual points in more detail when I make my show and what I did was I started off with that first section about what should be a Hit Podcast. What should be the topic?

And want to come up with and I shared this on social media this week as well, so I don’t know whether you saw my post on that and what you thought about it. 100% of people said that they liked the idea, so let me run that by you now in fact.

So here’s the pitch and I will explain how I got to this in just a second using the Gimlet Academy podcast ideas. Here’s the pitch. See what you think.

When you get old will you gradually give up on life or will you get a second wind and live your later years like a kid again. We hear from people who refused to get old and share the secrets of staying young.

So that’s my pitch.

Do you like it?

Do you not?

The reason I was interested in this is because sadly, I am over 40, and one of the things I always wonder about is, well, what do you do for the second half of your life?

Whether you’re 10 years old, or whether you’re 60 years old, unless you’re actually on your final final few days, you’re still going to be getting older and you’ve still get more opportunity to do stuff. And I think that a lot of people just settle down and become really boring.

So I want to make something which is going to inspire not just me, but others.

The other thing that the Gimlet Academy podcast says is why should people listen?

Well, I want to make it funny. I want to have stories of being old in young situations.

So you know, are there any skateboarding 50 year olds when they first went to a skate park and the way that everyone looked at them. So I want to take the listener through the eyes of that person.

You know, it’s about putting you in that, and it’s about using that same principle that Matthew Luhn was saying in the book I was discussing. Is that when you have a character who goes through a journey, you as the listener cannot help but go on that journey with them, but emotionally within yourself.

So if you’re feeling like your getting to a bit of a tired state, you actually go through that transformation with them, So the whole thing should be quite inspiring.

I don’t know. What do you think? Do you like the idea? I’ve used the Gimlet Academy podcast ideas to come up with that idea and that concept? Do you think it worked?

So can we actually make this Gimlet style. NPR, This American Life, Serial style podcast that will rival those other companies?

I know there’s an awful lot in this week’s podcast about podcasting.

Thank you very much for listening. Do join me on social media at @hitpodcast2020 @hitpodcast2020 on Twitter and on Instagram. I’m updating there quite regularly.

If you are working on a project as well, I would love to hear about it, particularly if we can share this experience together. It would be fantastic to do that.

My bottom line principle and I’ve said this before is that there’s a lot of advice out there on the internet about how to make a hit podcast in the 2020s claiming that you can do it. I want to find out if it’s possible and if it is then in theory, there’s no reason why you and I can’t have one in the next year or two.

I will speak to you hopefully, very soon.

Published by Richard

25 years in the communications business. Former news editor, journalist, political public relations professional, social media content creator, and podcast host of

Leave a Reply