I ended my first podcast and started a new one for several reasons. For one, I wanted the opportunity to get a fresh start. While there were plenty of successes in that first show, I made some mistakes that I could not go back and fix. So, I wanted the chance to launch a new podcast and do some things right from day one.
Many of the mistakes I made were the result of jumping into podcasting too quickly. I could've avoided some problems just by doing more research and investing more time into planning. Nonetheless, I'm now able to pass these lessons on to fellow podcasters and clients. Here are some of the things I did wrong:
I didn't spend enough time on the concept
I guess you could say I made developing a concept harder (or maybe easier) that it should've been. On the upside, I understood that I couldn't pick a theme that would quickly limit the amount of topics I could discuss. The downside is I overcompensated. Instead of just talking about movies and/or TV shows...I opened it up to critique music, commercials and anything else I could squeeze into the content. I thought I could have listeners take an active role in those discussions. I would call it - The Critic Show.
I spent 3.5 years producing content for the Dallas/Fort Worth NPR affiliate, and everything we did at that station was audience-driven. I wanted to infuse that principle into my first show by pushing for audience participation. Little did I know how hard it was to grow audience and get them to participate in the program. Most people would rather just listen, so you need to have a large audience to get frequent participation from different people.
I shouldn't have uploaded my first episode
I've heard Cliff Ravenscraft advise people to record your first few episodes, but don't upload them. Instead, upload maybe episode 7 or 10 as the first one you present to the public.
You're likely going to make so many adjustments as you record those first few episodes, it could sound like a completely different show by the time your get to that 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th show.
This was true for me. I knew I wanted to have celebrity guests on, but I didn't think I'd be able to book them regularly. However, after my first six shows, I booked six guests. My guest for the seventh episode was Mayim Bialik of The Big Bang Theory. Suddenly, my "critic" show had become a tv/film interview program.
My format was all over the map
It's hard to believe I actually launched a show where I was the only one that talked almost the entire time. In my defense, I didn't really know how I could get a co-host.
My first show was a mix of commentary and audio skits. I soon asked myself, "What is the audience getting out of this? What's the reason they will keep coming back?" After thinking about that, I added a news/reviews segment.
Later, I understood the value of other voices and found ways to incorporate more people into the show. Over time, I realized that the interview was usually the segment that most people cared about more than anything. It was the only part of the show that stayed consistent throughout the two year run.
I changed the title of the show
Even though I heard experts strongly discourage people from doing it, I had to change the name of the show after the first year. By then, I had interviewed several guests, and I built different segments around each discussion to fit an episode theme. Plus, there was just something uncomfortable sending an interview request to be on the CRITIC show.
So, I came up with a creative way to announce that the new title would be Beyond the Screens. Lana Parrilla of Once Upon a Time was my guest. So, the opening of the show featured a "storytime" segment in which the narrator talked about a queen that declared The Critic Show will henceforth be known as Beyond the Screens...
And her people rejoiced.
I needed more frequency
A new episode of The Critic Show/Beyond the Screens ran the 15th and end of every month. I started to second guess that schedule after attending my first big social media/content conference in San Diego. I went into a podcast session focused on rules and tips you could apply to any podcast. One of those tips was this:
If you can...release a show on a WEEKLY basis (via the same day each week). Doing so increases the odds of gaining subscribers because they can count on your content to come out on a consistent basis. In other words, you become part of their routine.
Honestly, it took time to book those interviews. So, a few days rest was really good after all the work that went into them. However, the concept made sense to me. It was a key factor in deciding to end the show and start a new one.
My theme was still too broad
Despite changing the name and settling on a movie/television spotlight show, my concept was still too broad. Audience numbers would fluctuate because one day I would have a guest on who was known for doing something in the 1980s, and the next time it might be someone who's involved in something today. It wasn't a bad concept, I just worried that I was making it harder to grow a consistent audience. The hosting service I chose back then wasn't able to give me the most in-depth information on my downloads and stats. So, I was left to ponder and worry.
In September of 2013, I launched the Assembly of Geeks podcast with two co-hosts, an established format, and a targeted weekly schedule. In two years, the format and schedule have been pretty consistent. Not to mention, mistakes have been minimal. So, the way I look at it now is that there would be no Assembly of Geeks success without The Critic Show failures.
When someone designs a website, a lot of work goes into producing the layout, navigation and copy in a way that engages the visitor. If one or all of those elements fail to engage someone who lands on the site, they can be gone before really getting to know you. I think you have to approach your podcast the exact same way. You have to care about making that first impression, or risk losing a potential listener.
As a podcast producer, I'm always thinking about how audiences (new and existing) will react to something they'll hear on my shows. When I listen to other podcasts for the first time, I get can a sense of how much they care about the way they present themselves. It's all about that first impression.
With that in mind, here are a list of podcaster habits I think will likely make a bad first impression.
There isn't an open to the show
If you're show starts off with just someone talking, I don't think it's a deal breaker. However, it does make your "show" seem like less of a show. Between free programs like Audacity, music/sound content hubs like Pond5 and affordable voiceover/production services on Fiverr, you should be able to produce an open for your program. If anything, it's a first impression element that signifies that you're serious about what you're offering to the audience.
The open drags or creates confusion
If someone reads your show description and wants to hear your commentary/discussion on a topic...don't keep them waiting. In other words, please don't attach an open that features music or a song that runs for an extended time. I've heard podcasts that open every show with nothing but a long music bed or a song. Don't do that! The listener wants to hear you, and if they tune in for the first time, don't make them feel like they accidentally got a radio station.
I've also heard podcasts that start with a bunch of clips from previous shows that are pieced together in what is supposed to be something that resembles an open. A lot of times there's no cohesion or flow to it, and the listener has no idea what they heard.
Keep your open simple. Give it music or flare, introduce the program and be done. If you currently have a long open that is 70, 90, 120+ seconds long...try to shorten it. Don't make new listeners wait forever to get to you, and don't make returning audiences have to get through that every week.
Do what it takes to make the sound quality as good as it can be. Doing so proves that you care about your listener and the quality of the show. Does it have to be NPR-style broadcast quality? No. The most important thing is being able to understand you as you speak. However, it boils down to the type of impression you want to make. It can be jarring to hear a high quality show open, followed by a host who is using the mic that is built into the computer. It just sounds bad.
If your new listener read that you were going to talk about summer movies, but you don't get to that discussion until 10-15 minutes later, that can be a problem. Again, this is a first impression. So, if someone wants to hear how you discuss summer movies, but you spend 10-15 minutes just shooting the breeze with the co-hosts for too long...you can lose that new listener.
I'm not saying to never spend some time letting listeners get to know you or learn something personal about you. There's value in that. However, there's also value in structuring the presentation in a way that doesn't waste time or become annoying.
It makes me a bit crazy when a show starts off with 2-3 people just laughing at each other or talking about random stuff as I wait for the content to really get started. You cannot forget the listener is there. Make them feel like they are part of the conversation and not eavesdropping on it. This perfectly leads us to the last first impression risk.
The hosts are trying to be something other than themselves
Look, I get it. It makes sense that if you listen to other podcast or radio shows, it can be easy to try to emulate them as you create your own program.
While it's easy to understand...just don't do that. Don't try to be like another podcaster or radio host. Also don't think you have to use overly excited or loud voices that overuse excessive amounts of broadcast diction (reporter/announcer-like fluctuation in the voice).
There are radio shows that have hosts that come on and talk about nothing, jabber on like they're killing time and laugh at each other. I've heard this happen on sports talk shows, and I turn it off because I don't want to hear that. I want to hear them talk sports. I've also never been a fan of a wacky morning show crew show, so it doesn't appeal to me in podcasts either. This is especially true if I find myself waiting to them discuss specific things promoted in their podcast description.
You don't have to be any of those things to "sound" like a show host. Just be yourself, remember who's listening, and show them you care enough to present them with something of value.
Granted, people's tastes in podcasts tend to vary somewhat. However, these are not only bad impression triggers for me. I've also heard other podcast listeners complain about them as well. At the end of the day, you don't really know how much time someone will give you to make that first impression...
The first words after the open?
The first indication of sound quality?
The length of time they have to wait before someone speaks?
Consider all of it as you develop the very first sounds a new listener will hear when they hit play for the first time.