The decision to start a podcast is one thing, but developing the right concept is another. Obviously you want to talk about something you're naturally passionate about, because that passion will come through to the audience.
However, I tell people to think about a few other important aspects of the show. For one thing, you need to make sure your show can generate around 45 topics a year. This is true if you're planning to produce a weekly show. If you brainstorm and can't get past 20 topics in any way, shape or form...it might not be the right concept.
Make sure the concept lends itself to a good format (segments, interviews, round table discussion, etc) and figure out ways to showcase engaging content through it.
Finally, make sure you can easily explain what it's about and why people will want to listen every week.
Have you ever listened to a podcast and thought:
OMG! This is sooo long!
Are they ever going to get to the point?
Are they ever going to get to today's topic?
Sheesh! I may need to fast forward because this isn't interesting.
These are reactions that take place due to the podcaster forgetting about a very important element to their show - YOU. Instead, they got caught up in a conversation, concept or segment, and they forgot to consider how much value it brought to the listener.
The hosts should always think of a listener as the other person in the conversation. Otherwise, they might feel less like they are in the conversation and more like their eavesdropping on one. This is an important concept in podcasting that is similar to a qualifier the late Gene Siskel applied when watching a movie. He would ask himself:
"Is this film more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch?"
When I was hired to improve the radio fundraising drives at the Dallas/Fort Worth Public Radio Station, I applied this principle to our live on-air breaks. Sometimes that would mean changing something as simple as saying, "Good morning". If two people open their live segment saying "good morning" to one another (which was common), without the acknowledgement of the listener, there is an immediate disconnect. It's another reason why pledge breaks can be so irritating to listeners. It sounds like two people interrupted your favorite show to beg for money. Instead, it should sound like two like-minded people that want to discuss the importance of giving with you.
It can happen on podcasts as well. The hosts are having so much fun talking, that they'll veer off topic and sound unfocused. They simply forget they're doing a show for a listener, and it becomes all about them and their fun.
The same can happen when you're forced to listen to a segment that sounds weird or unengaging. The problem is that the host thought it was brilliant, and that was enough for it to be on the podcast. They got so caught up in how great it was to them, and they forgot to determine why the listener would like it.
If you ask people why they love certain podcasts so much, you'll often hear them say it's because they love the hosts. Many times they'll go as far as to say they feel like they're hanging out with them as they laugh, learn and talk. That's how you want your listener to feel.
When you produce podcasts and remember your listener at all times, you'll find that it can improve the quality of your show.
Your audience knows when they're valued and ignored.
As many people know, I am a BIG proponent of podcast editing. In the first episode of Content Call, I loved how Chris Brogan's wife beautifully coined the process as "good manners". You should call it that because taking the time to edit a podcast means you care about respecting the listener's time. As I've said before, you can do some of the editing before the show starts recording by:
For the last 3 years, I've set the flagship show at Assembly of Geeks to run about an hour. However, there have been times when the recording session went 90 or more minutes. That means I have to work harder in editing, but I've cut 25+ total minutes off in post production in order to get it a lot closer to that 60 minute threshold.
It can be done.
How? Well, most people see editing as just cutting out the "uhs" and "ums" throughout the recording. Yes, you can do that...but you can also do so much more.
Cut out the stutters and stops/starts.
Podcasts are generally the flow of natural conversation, and not all of us are professional speakers. So, there are going to be times where someone stutters or starts a sentence, stops and then starts over. Cut that and tighten those moments into one fluid sentence. There are also times where someone takes a longer than usual pause before saying something, and you can tighten that as well.
Cut the rambles and less important comments
We've all been in conversations where one person has so much to say that we get antsy. We get that way because they dominate the conversation that we don't feel part of it anymore. Remember, the listener is part of your conversation...only you can't hear them speak. So, don't make them zone out or feel antsy. Listen to some of the longer commentaries during your conversation and find places to tighten it. In the end, they might say the exact same thing, only in fewer words. Or, they might just say the most important stuff. Here's an example:
Let's say you're listening to someone talk about the new Wonder Woman movie and they say:
"I thought it was easily the best superhero movie I've seen in awhile. I think Gal Gadot proves she was the perfect choice to play her because you fully believe she IS Wonder Woman from beginning to end. Which is such a relief because so many people questioned her casting, but I knew all along she could pull it off because I've seen her in several other movies. Fast and Furious being one of them. Love that movie. She is the embodiment of what we love so much about heroes, especially Wonder Woman. She stands for what she believes in...she's brave, courageous, intelligent, and she's a badass. It reminded me a lot of this girl that I went to college with. She was beautiful, but she also wasn't afraid to stand up for what she believed in. I think she could totally cosplay as Wonder Woman. After all the attempts to bring Wonder Woman to the screen...it's almost been worth the wait considering what we got. I want to go see it again."
We can cut a few things and turn it into this:
"I thought it was easily the best superhero movie I've seen in awhile. I think Gal Gadot proves she was the perfect choice to play her because you fully believe she IS Wonder Woman from beginning to end. She is the embodiment of what we love so much about heroes, especially Wonder Woman. She stands for what she believes in...she's brave, courageous, intelligent, and she's a badass. After all the attempts to bring Wonder Woman to the screen...it's almost been worth the wait considering what we got. I want to go see it again."
I've edited my co-hosts, as well as myself this way. The beauty of pre-recorded podcasting is that it's not live. So, you can record the natural flow of friendly conversation, then edit it for an audience.
Remove an entire conversation
If you have to pick several topics for your show, occasionally some will generate little in the way of engaging conversation. When that happens, don't be afraid to cut the whole thing out. I've done it.
As I mentioned, our flagship podcast episodes have run about 60 minutes. However, this past week, I attempted to tighten it a little more. I tried a new format that put the most recent episode of The Geek Directive at 40 minutes. It featured six topic discussions, a fictional story and the usual open/close/bumper/break/production.
If you incorporate these approaches to editing into your podcast, you'll be amazed at how it all adds up. After you're done, you will have effectively made better use of your listener's time, and you would've demonstrated good manners.
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.