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Fading into the Background: Why Conformity Mutes Your Voice in Podcasting

I started podcasting in 2011.

One of the first guests on my new show was Julie Newmar (Catwoman in the 1966 Batman series). A few minutes before the interview, she called me with an important question that needed to be answered before we recorded our conversation. The question was:

"What is a podcast?"

Back then, I could use the limited popularity of podcasts to help me book big-name guests. I would write a pitch email explaining the advantages of podcasts over radio. For example - consumers could listen to the interview 24/7.

Plus, my episodes were getting new downloads regularly.

⏩⏩⏩⏩ Fast forward 11 years later...

I'm at the 2022 Podcast Movement Conference.

Podcast popularity has exploded, and I'm in a session showing new data about what listeners love and hate about podcasts today.

They hate: The overwhelming number of podcasts to sort through.

They love: The potential to dive deeper into topics (despite the huge selection).

If you're thinking about launching a podcast in your industry and wondering how to stand out, that insight is very telling. Here are some other "very telling" insights from that session:

They hate:

  • Episodes that are too long (useless banter, takes too long to get to the point)

  • Too many ads, and the same ads appearing in every episode

  • Quality issues (audio level and clarity variations)

They love:

  • How podcasts can make them feel smarter and make them better-informed

  • How podcasts are easy to listen to - in the car, gym, work, etc.

  • The voices that share unique perspectives and knowledge

Podcasters and businesses didn't have insights like these in 2011.

By the way, another key takeaway from that session was how business podcasts were one of the more popular podcast categories among listeners.

Creating a Podcast That Modern Consumers Love

Back when podcasting was a little more "fringe," listeners were a little more forgiving about production quality. Part of its original appeal was its amateur rogue broadcasting style. We also didn't have all of the tools we have today to make a podcast sound like a highly-produced show.

Jay Acunzo talks podcasting on LinkedIn

One of the best things you can do to stand out is not fall into the trap of doing the typical things other people do in their podcasts. It requires breaking from something human beings do when it comes to trying new ideas or technologies:

  • We copy what other people do. It's safe.

  • We can then tell ourselves we're "doing it like it's done."

The problem is - you're not creating this podcast for you.

You're hopefully creating it for your consumers who would love for you to do something different.

Whether you're in a crowded podcast space or not, you can almost bet most of the podcasts that you're sharing a space with do these things:

At the beginning, they will:

  • Start the show without any kind of produced opening/introduction - they just jump right in.

  • Start the show with an immediate clip from an interview (this can confuse a new listener)

  • Start the show with a high-quality open, followed by a host using a much lower-quality microphone.

  • Start the show with a predictable set of words and phrases - Hello everyone, welcome to, I am your host _______, today I'm really excited to talk about, etc.

It's not uncommon for people to sound like they're reading when they do this, and some make the mistake of spending two minutes introducing themselves, their business, their website, etc. (while the guest and the listener sit and listen).

There are so many ways you can be different..

For Example: Atlassian is a company that creates products for software developers, project managers and teams. When they decided to launch a podcast, what do you think they chose to do?

Take a guess and expand this to find out.

They could've just interviewed guests in software development and project management. But they probably thought it wouldn't stand out or be engaging enough to be "a show.".

Aside from theme creativity, there are other things you can do to stand out. For example, to start your show, you could:

  • Produce a quality opening/intro that is catchy, concise, memorable and makes the show's theme or focus clear to the listener.

  • Put some creativity into it. Just because it's "a business podcast" doesn't mean it has to sound stiff. Again, you're creating a show.

  • Tell listeners some of the critical topics you will discuss throughout the episode.

  • Maximize quality by researching affordable microphones, editing tools and software options that are within your budget, like the SamsonQ2U microphone, audacity for recording/editing, Streamyard or RIverside FM for video, Descript for post-production, Libsyn for hosting, etc.

During the show:

  • Hone your interview skills. Anyone can "follow a list" and ask predictable questions.

💡 For reference, I have a friend who is often asked to be on podcasts. He said he may reduce accepting invitations due to the lack of original questions.

He said, "Instead of always being asked, 'How did you get started,' I wish someone would ask, 'Why did you get started?'"

  • Make interviews conversational, let answers inspire questions, and think about more profound and thought-provoking questions that could generate takeaways.

  • Ask yourself what else you could add to your show to make it stand out or make it more engaging. Bumpers, unique segments, quizzes, fun facts or something that keeps people anticipating or guessing something in every episode.

⌚ Respect the listener's time

Editing is more than removing "ums" and "uhs," and I would actually suggest you keep some of those so you don't sound too polished and inhuman.

Focus more on editing by:

  • Cutting anything that throws an engaging conversation off for too long

  • Cutting additional words, sentences or phrases that aren't needed - getting to the point faster

  • Cutting long pauses, repeated words, and stops/starts on the guest side to help them sound even better.

  • Normalizing levels and ensuring the listener can keep the whole show at the same volume throughout each episode.

During the Podcast Movement session about what people love and hate about podcasting, their research showed that the "sweet spot" for most shows was between 20-50 minutes.

However, don't cut up a quality, engaging conversation or segment just to keep a show in that range. Be a reasonable judge of time and quality.

👀 Make it Easy to Find and Preview Your Content

As part of her Podcast Leverage System, Lyndsay Phillips encourages people to showcase episodes on their website as a "blog" and include:

  • An audio player

  • An embedded video

  • Interactive time stamps

  • Show notes demonstrating how the episode benefits the listener

"You want ways to entice the listener to read, skim, listen or watch to boost engagement and listens," she said.

🥰 Leave a Memorable and Meaningful Impression

If it's possible that consumers listen to other podcasts in your industry, you have to create reasons to add your show to their listening routines.

After you produce your episode, go back and listen to it as a member of your target audience.

Was there anything memorable?

  • Did you feel you got any answers, takeaways, or unique insights?

  • Did you feel like you got something so meaningful you have to come back and get more?

Those will be some critical questions to answer.

👍🏻 How to Become a Trusted Podcast Voice

You hear a lot about the importance of gaining trust with the consumer today. Well, new research is showing that podcasts are a great platform to earn it.

According to a new podcast study by Acast:

👉🏻 64% of consumers trust podcasters, and 60% trust YouTube personalities. This is a solid one-two trust punch, considering the rise of YouTube as a podcast listening and discovery platform.

👉🏻 A Vox Media study showed that 75% of consumers hold podcasters as a source of greater influence over social influencers and celebrities. Meanwhile, podcast listenership continues to increase.

Here are some ways to help build connections, trust, and influence with your audience.

Don't Talk to the Crowd. As you record an episode, it's easy for your mind to form words and phrases that speak to the masses - a broadcasting mindset.

Don't do that.

Instead of thinking about everyone listening, talk to that one person who is in the car, hanging out somewhere, at work or in the gym. After all, they've invited you into their life that day.

Feel free to ask questions as if you're actually in front of them. It's not uncommon for an engaged listener to talk back to the show or talk out loud.

Reddit discussion on talking back to podcasts

Give the listener a sense of belonging. Consider this - an Orbit Media study showed that while brands think consumers follow them on social media as a "soft subscribe" to their content, they had it wrong.

Why would your podcast be any different?

A way to build on this would be to focus on a community approach.

McKinsey and Company recently called a community focus the "big idea for 2020s marketing." Plus, Mark Schaefer shared a comprehensive guide to making it work in his book Belonging to the Brand.

Mark has also built a community through his blog and podcast, and many of those like-minded people talk in a discord community called RISE. They often collaborate on content. Earlier this year, I and other community members collaborated on writing The Most Amazing Marketing Book Ever.

Another community advocate, Kristin Quiroz Bayona, spoke at Podcast Movement on how entrepreneurs can create community through podcasting.

Her keys for creating that community included:

  1. View a podcast as a connection (not a transactional) opportunity.

  2. Leave the "perfect" versions of ourselves behind (it's a barrier to connection).

  3. Show quirks, sayings, and a sense of humor - that's gold.

  4. Share wins, struggles, and meaningful stories.

  5. Use email to deepen connections by sharing things you don't share on social media.

Create opportunities to meet in person. If you want a fantastic example of building a massive community through podcasting and the power of meetups, look no further than Lou Mongello of WDW Radio.

On his website, there are multiple ways to join the WDW Community and participate in events.

I've been able to attend events with my listeners, and it's a very rewarding experience. Not only does it allow you to meet face-to-face and learn the impact your podcast is making, but it also affords you meaningful time to thank them for making your show part of their day.

🎨 Dare to be more than a recording

So why is there so much repetition in the way podcasts sound? Well, one thing that has been true of podcasting during the "fringe" years and our current podcasting era is that anyone can record something and put it on the internet. So, several podcasts sound like that's all that went into the production.

As I mentioned before, people hear those examples and think, "That's how I should do it."

Think less about what you can do to "create a podcast" and do more to produce a show. Many people have figured out how to record and post audio and video content online.

This is even true when it comes to sharing clips on social media. On LinkedIn, for example, you'll find plenty of podcasters sharing interview clips or commentaries that look like this:

And don't get me wrong, some great conversations and insights are being shared out there today. But again, you see a lot of these.

What makes you stop and think you must watch or listen to one when there is so much repetition?

What if it looked like this:

This is definitely designed to stand out.

Developing a creative way to present your podcast can also provide creative ways to share clips from the show.

For example, since my podcast has a superhero theme (and I tend to think of pop culture tie-ins when talking about marketing), I created a trailer-style promo clip from my interview with Andy Crestodina that fits the theme.

🤔 It's not easy, but it could be a lot harder

I realize it can be challenging to think of new ways to create a podcast, but it would be a lot harder if everyone were striving to be unique - but they're not.

That gives you an advantage.

You could become a more prepared or conversational interviewer who asks thoughtful and unique questions.

You can put something extra into a format, theme or topic.

You can get your listeners involved in the conversation and content.

You can approach your job as a host to make impactful connections. As Kristin Quiroz Bayona said in her Podcast Movement session:

Quality Community = Quality Clients

This is true because even taking the time to elevate the quality of your show can make you stand out from those who don't do it.

Quality and creativity can be great partners in the development of your show.

Let me know if I can help you develop a show that stands out in the crowded podcast space.


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