Throughout my career, I've always embraced the value of continued learning. No matter how much experience you have, there's never a reason to think you've learned enough. I especially love learning opportunities that expand into other areas of work.
For example, I took Robert McKee's Story Seminar over 15 years ago. Back then, it was about learning screenwriting and storytelling. I had no idea that storytelling would later become a vital part of my content marketing strategies.
In 2007, I entered a brand new world - audio and radio production. I spent 3.5 years writing and producing live and pre-recorded content for KERA 90.1's (The North Texas NPR affiliate) on-air fundraising drives. As a podcast host and producer, I continue to use many of the content values I gained from my Public Radio work experience.
Here are some examples:
Make the listener part of your conversations
During a long pledge break, there would generally be 2-3 people talking and asking for donations. I made it a priority for talent to approach their break as if they were speaking to ONE person.
Don't speak to the entire listening audience...just one person. As they talked, they needed to act like the listener was in the room or just always listening.
During a pledge break, talent can establish the listener as part of the conversation by greeting them. If talent starts the break by only greeting one another, it creates an instant disconnect.
Another way to keep the listener engaged was not to suddenly veer off topic and get into a conversational groove about other subjects. When that happens, the listener feels like their eavesdropping on a conversation instead of being part of it.
Keep this in mind while podcasting. Conduct your conversations as if the listener is there with you. When it comes to your discussions, conduct them in a way that respect's a listener's time.
After all, the goal is for them to listen and subscribe, right? Good! Then make them feel important. Let them know that everything you do is with them in mind.
Planning ahead makes a big difference
Before I started my work at the station, many breaks involved a lot of spontaneous talking and conversational improvising. For the listener, this could make a four-minute break feel like eight minutes. That means an eight-minute break could be unbearable as talent would be filling the time with some unfocused talk.
Another issue with a loosely-formatted break is that improvisation created unintentional statements that were counter-productive. For example, the goal was to raise money for the station and its mission.
However, it wasn't uncommon for talent to make off-the-cuff pitches using words like, "support us." Even though they didn't mean for it to sound negative, it came off like the talent (not the station) needed financial support.
Creating a podcast with a focused format is never going to hurt your show, and your listeners can tell you took the time to care. You should also take your audience-centered strategy a step further by optimizing your editing process.
Approach interviews with preparation and conversation
I really want to wave this flag because most podcasters fail to maximize the potential of their interviews. Too many follow an inflexible Q&A list of questions that make interviews sound one-dimensional. Others improvise and ask the same predictable questions that listeners and guests hear all of the time.
I was fortunate to produce content around Fresh Air with Terry Gross, The Diane Rehm Show and Think with Krys Boyd. Listen to a improvised podcast interview with typical questions that start with, "What was it like.." and "How did you get started...", then compare them with the conversations heard on those public radio shows.
Listeners value their approach to interviews. I know this because I witnessed people all over the country giving money to support those shows.
Here are two significant factors in the gap between good and bad/mediocre interviews:
1. Following a question list with no listening-based follow-ups or adjustments vs. asking questions, listening and building a value-filled discussion
2. Making it obvious you didn't prepare (no research, didn't read an author's book, no insights on what your audience would want to know, etc.) vs. showcasing your professional preparation and making sure the listener gets value and/or takeaways while listening.
My first point was about audience, but you could actually make the argument that all of these points are rooted in the listener experience:
1. As you talk, don't forget the listener should be a valuable part of every conversation
2. Structure a format for your show that optimizes your offerings and respects the listener's time
3. Prep for an interview by conducting research, reading a book and/or listening to previous interviews
4. Use your question list as a flexible guide and not as a strict set of talking points
If you want subscribers, these production values will go a long way. Don't forget that many shows on Public Radio are also podcasts.
Plus, Public Radio programs have to provide enough value to inspire people to support them with their money. In the podcast space, you don't have to be raking in big bucks on Patreon to know your value. However, you need to ask yourself if your episodes provide the listener with value and takeaways that give them a reason to come back.
Make your NPR stand for Necessary Podcast Resource.