Advice for podcast guests

Podcast episodes take the form of a friendly one-on-one conversation. Don’t think of it like a conference presentation. Think of it more like an informal interview with a journalist — but one where you can decide what to talk about. You can choose the topic and we agree the questions in advance.

We’ll have the conversation over the internet using Zoom (or another platform if you prefer). It will be recorded, then edited and later published as an episode of the podcast.

The majority of our audience divides into three groups:

  • People who work at the science-policy interface: advisors, officials, a few politicians.
  • Academics who study science for policy specifically.
  • Academics in any field, especially early-career researchers, who are interested in understanding more about how their work might influence policy.

At the time of writing, we average about 500-750 listeners per episode, but this really varies depending on topic and time of year. So it’s a fairly niche audience, but that’s OK — it’s also a fairly niche topic!

We cover a wide range of topics on the podcast. The best way to get a feel for it is to look through our list of previous episodes.

The two main rules are that the topic needs to be related to science advice somehow (obviously), and something you can speak about with authority. But both of these can be flexibly interpreted. People who are interested in science advice might also be interested in science communication, science diplomacy, policymaking, philosophy of science, science and politics, and many other linked topics. Don’t feel too constrained. If you find it interesting, and it’s linked to science for policy, it’s probably OK.

Following these guidelines, most episodes fall into one of three categories:

There is also a fourth category of episode which we publish occasionally, but it’s much harder to pull off:

There are three things we definitely don’t do:

  • Pure self-promotion. That is, you can’t come on our podcast and just talk about how interesting and important you are, or your organisation is. Find a better way to package it! Is there an unusual challenge that your organisation has faced in the science advice world? Is there a reason why its structure or history are interesting?
  • Pure science. There are plenty of podcasts where you can talk about purely scientific issues, but this isn’t one of them. Even if your area is highly policy-relevant, we don’t want to hear only about the science itself — we want to hear about your experiences or insights on how that science should influence policy.
  • Policy for science. The podcast is not about how science is governed or funded. It’s about how scientific evidence influences policy.

The final podcast episode will be 30–45 minutes long. But the recording process will take 60–90 minutes. This allows time for us to get set up, warm up, troubleshoot any last-minute technical issues, and record the actual interview.

  • A computer, either Windows or Mac. Desktop or laptop computers are both OK, but you can’t do this from your phone, and tablets are not ideal.
  • A quiet room. It doesn’t need to be silent and soundproofed like a studio — just somewhere free from obvious background noises and where you can be sure you won’t be interrupted while we’re recording. Your office or bedroom will be fine. (And if you do have access to a studio, for instance at your university or government office, that would be fantastic.)
  • A stable internet connection. Your home or office broadband is fine. 4G or 3G is not fine.
  • Headphones or earphones which connect to your computer. You must wear these, or it won’t work. Large headphones, the kind that fit over your head, are best. If this is completely impossible, then the little earphones that came with your phone will be OK, as long as your computer has a matching port.
  • A microphone. For most people this is built into the headphones, but you can use a separate one if you like. Your computer’s own built-in mic is less good because the sound quality is much lower.

The style of the podcast is a natural, free-flowing conversation, so we don’t really edit content unless you ask us to, or unless we accidentally go way over time.  Occasionally, if our conversation is very twisty and turny, we might rearrange som eof the questions and answers to make a more coherent structure for the listener. Other than that, we will mostly edit just for audio quality (‘mastering’), and to cut out long pauses, speech mistakes, technical errors and unexpected noises.

Yes, absolutely. It works best if we can have a quick chat a few days before the recording to agree a topic and a rough outline of what you’d like to cover, so we have a shared understanding. We will then draft some bullet points which we can both refer to as a guide during the conversation. Don’t write yourself a full script, though — it’s supposed to be an informal conversation, not a formal presentation where you read from your notes.

Also, remember that the conversation is recorded, not live. It doesn’t matter if you need to stop and think, or want to have a second try at answering a question. We can edit all that out afterwards. If you’re uncomfortable with anything, we can easily re-record that part, or just cut it if you prefer!

This isn’t a journalistic interview, and we want you to be happy with how you come across. Not only do we agree the questions with you in advance, but during or immediately after the recording, if there’s anything you said that you regret or would rather not include, no problem — we will simply re-record that part, or cut it.

Once the recording process is over and we have edited the interview into its final episode format (usually a few days after recording), you can’t make further changes, but that is more for time than content reasons.

We have three secret weapons to keep things running smoothly:

  1. We will do a quick technical check with you in advance to make sure everything works.
  2. If there is an unexpected distraction while we’re recording, we can edit it out afterwards.
  3. To insulate against a poor network connection, we will record the conversation at both ends. So we’ll ask you to record your end of the conversation on your computer, and send us the audio file afterwards. That way, even if the quality of the call is poor, we still have a good quality recording of each side of the conversation and we can edit the two together.

Normally at least a few weeks, often a month or two if there are already several recorded episodes in the queue.

We are also quite careful with our programming: we like to prioritise very current topics, we don’t like to publish multiple episodes in a row on similar subjects, and we try to maintain a reasonable gender and geographical balance across multiple episodes. For all these reasons, the delay between recording and publishing might be longer than you’d expect.

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