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.
The last nine years of podcasting are filled with memorable experiences, including conducting interviews, meeting people, building relationships and much more. However, when I take a step back, there is actually one podcast that counts as its own amazing, fun and memorable experience:
The Peggy Carter Podcast.
It only lasted for two seasons of Agent Carter, but I’m so pleased that we got them both.
The Random Decision
I came up with the idea to produce an Agent Carter show while producing the Assembly of Geeks podcast. Before this moment, I never thought about spin-off podcasts or doing a show exclusively focused on one television series. However, it was hard to ignore how excited we were to discuss any news surrounding Agent Carter on our current podcast.
At one point, I thought we could dedicate a segment to our Agent Carter reactions, but I thought that would take away from the free-flowing variety of Assembly of Geeks. So, I decided to host and produce a standalone podcast. Then, I had to figure out how to piece it together.
Picking the Co-hosts
I knew I wanted to be a host on this show, and it only made sense to ask AoG co-hosts Tricia Barr and Jeff McGee if they would be interested in being part of it. However, time was an issue for them, and that meant I needed to expand my co-host search.
Fortunately, I was already talking to Lauren Galloway and Amy Hypnarowski about getting involved with Assembly of Geeks, and it turned out they were both very interested Agent Carter. It all fell into place, and we had instant chemistry.
I knew the theme needed an old school secret agent vibe, and I found the perfect opening theme track on Pond5. Then, I started to think about the intro and bumpers. At first, I considered the sound of Peggy going into the office and pulling a file (which would contain the breakdown of the day's episode), but that would be tough to convey with audio sounds.
Then I started to think in old school and 1940s radio terms. At one point, Amy joked about us dressing up in 1940s clothes and turning it into a radio production of that time.
That idea jump-started my concept - The opening theme would transition to the sound of a tuning radio. Then, an old-school radio announcer would set the stage through a dramatic read.
I was lucky to find voiceover artistRon Chavis to be the newsman. His first words were always, "This is SSR radio."
As I wrote his first script, I knew I wanted his last line to be something over-dramatic. So, he closed with a dire warning about Peggy's mission by saying, "If she fails, the consequences could be severe...both for her...and the world as we know it."
When I was writing the intro for the second episode, I struggled to come up with a line that had an equally cool and cheese-tastic ring to it. Then it hit me - the "world as we know it line" should be the close for every episode's introduction.
If it wasn't broken, why try to fix it? That closing line became very synonymous with the show.
Audio: The Peggy Carter Podcast Season Premiere Episode
Along with the fun introduction, each "break" in the podcast featured 1940s music (including tracks heard in the series) and 1940s radio commercials.
The Hayley Atwell Interview
It wasn't long into the first season that we learned that some writers from Agent Carter were listening to the show. The download stats were solid as the podcast grew into something unexpectedly great.
Yet, there wasn't a guarantee that Agent Carter would get renewed for a second season. When the renewal came, I started to think about starting our second season with a special guest.
In May of 2015, I made plans to attend a comic convention in Houston. Hayley Atwell was a guest, and she was the main reason for my attendance. Having conducted several convention interviews, I wondered if it was possible to talk to Hayley while I was there. Thanks to Lauren's social media connections with people at Marvel, she was able to find out who I should contact about this idea.
It was the Executive Director of Television Communications.
When I reached out, I learned Marvel wasn't in control of Hayley's schedule at the convention. So, any interviews would have to be controlled by their staff. However, I was told that Marvel did not have any problems with her being on the show.
I knew it was too late to organize something like that, and I asked if we could arrange something after the convention. He asked me to touch base with him when the new season went into production in the fall.
At the convention, I paid for an autograph and photo op with Hayley. While she was signing my picture, I asked if she'd heard of our Peggy Carter show.
She looked up, thought for a second and said, "Yes! In fact, I've listened to it in my trailer." She said she loved the amount of enthusiasm we had for the show.
That was an unforgettable moment.
Before I reached out to Marvel about an interview with her, I wanted to establish some rapport and demonstrate my professional approach to interviews. So, I booked an interview with Clark Gregg for the Assembly of Geeks Podcast, and we had a fantastic discussion about a variety of topics.
As production of Agent Carter was close to wrapping, I reached out and booked the interview with Hayley. I learned that she would talk to me from her trailer during a break. I would have a 15-minute window.
That day, I couldn't think of anything else. I wasn't nervous about interviewing her, it just needed to go smoothly. After all, this interview took six months to book, and the call was coming from a trailer on set. It was a tight window, and rescheduling may not be possible if something went wrong.
Finally, it was time to record the interview.
Then, we got delayed.
That wasn't surprising since she was on a production set, and it meant I was going to have to wait a little longer. A couple more delays came and went, and they told me would call when they're ready.
This extra time allowed me to calm my nerves and wait for everything to fall into place. The phone rang, and it was time to make this happen.
I was already a bit worried about this.
Luckily, she was able to put on a headset. Once plugged in, she came through loud and clear.
She was a wonderful guest. She was totally engaged in our conversation, and we had a great 15-minute talk about Season One, the extended story of her character and the themes of Season Two.
Everything came together and worked out perfectly.
Even though I wouldn't upload the interview for another month, I decided to promote it on Twitter. It ended up being the perfect time to share it.
Hayley retweeted it, and later that day, she decided not return to Twitter. Our interview was the last thing she shared on her account before leaving social media.
It was almost fitting since everything about this podcast experience was about good decisions and timing:
I also have that unforgettable interview with the star of the show.
Talking about conceptual creativity, engaging content and pop culture.