20 Ideas for a Great Podcast
February 2, 2006 at 12:00 PM
So I got a shiny new iPod for Christmas, and my previously held contempt for podcasts (who has the time?!) has melted away and been replaced by complete and total love. I'm actually quite amazed at how much I like them. Video podcasts when done well are probably my favorite, but audio ones are excellent too and are the topic of this post. Someday I may venture into podcast land myself, probably over on WorkHappy.net. So, while I'm still a relative podcast newbie and thinking about this, I want to jot down some notes about what I think works. Feel free (both of my readers) to add to the mix.
Stuff every podcaster should keep in mind:
- Podcasts should be short. 30min is actually too long. Unless it's just jam packed with goodness, life is too short and it requires too much attention. Keep it short. I'm thinking 15 min. I may fudge on that one, but honestly, unless you're interviewing Osama Bin Laden or Steve Jobs, 30min max.
- Don't take yourself seriously. Bless his heart, I love his blog, but our Duct Tape Marketing friend has this cheesy third party lead in to his podcasts where he calls himself (with a straight face) "America's most practical small business marketing expert." Love you John, but honestly, do I need to be prompted to think that?
- Be whimsical. Maybe this is the same as #2, but I've noticed something about the best podcasts... they're having fun, and it shows.
- Be Chunky. Make segments short, diverse and put an audio bumper between your segments. It can be music, a sound effect, some whimsical voice trick, whatever. This keeps it interesting. A single droning line of ramble can really make the eyes glaze over. You need variety, we're an MTV generation, like it or not. We like it fast, varied, pithy and fun.
- Don't Ramble, Be organized. This should seem obvious, but some podcasters just flip on the mic and ramble for 45 min. Horror! If you are interviewing, prepare the questions ahead of time. Send them to your guest so they can be coherent. Don't stick to it slavishly, but let it keep you from ad-hoc preparation on my time during the podcast. If you aren't interviewing, take the time to prepare exactly what you'll be talking about. Write down an agenda with talking point notes. Move quickly and coherently through them.
- Cram, cram, cram as much good stuff as you can into the time. Our minds move quicker than your mouth, so do you best to pack your podcast full of goodness and move quickly.
- Be regular, but only if you've got quality. I'd rather listen to an excellent quarterly podcast, than a mediocre one every week. Again: this isn't so much the case with something like a blog post where I can skim and move on, but with a podcast, you have my trust and full attention, use it wisely.
- Get decent audio! Seriously, the tin-can-and-string / Houston-to-Apollo-11 sound really kills things. A little effort and investment in a decent mic not only makes you sound better, but it's not as hard on the listener. When I listen very long to a poor audio quality podcast it gives me a headache, hurts my ears and wears me out. Make a pop screen, that helps too.
- Get a buddy. If you can, get someone with whom you can riff, someone who brings another layer of experience and expertise. It helps you be chunky. Two have an easier time that one keeping things moving, plus it's just usually more interesting.
- Make that buddy a member of the opposite sex. Not required of course, but there's something about the dynamic between a man and a woman. The best podcasts I listen to have a man and a woman.
- Have show notes on your blog. If you mention something, make a list of links to explore your topics in more depth.
- If you're doing interviews, don't be Charlie Rose. In other words, shut your stupid face and let your guest talk. That doesn't mean sit there and let them ramble. Provide regular engaging questions and keep things moving, but don't spend time trying to be smart yourself, be a master facilitator in helping your guest share great stuff.
- Don't interview Jason Fried. And I don't mean Jason specifically of course. I'm saying come up with someone fresh to interview. Jason has been interviewed by at least 5 podcasts I've listened to in the last couple months. I love Jason and I love listening to him riff as much as the next guy, but at some point we need to be more creative. There are many topics, interview subjects and approaches that have been done to death. I want something fresh.
- Try to be natural. I guess this is kind of a recurring theme, but don't try too hard to be stodgy and official. Don't be lazy and inane, but don't be stuffy either.
- Don't be scared to throw a show away. It happens. You get a crappy guest, you do a crappy job, your audio blows, whatever. My advice is to use podcasts to put your best foot forward. Because podcasts demand so much attention, they really need to be high caliber. If you write a mediocre blog post (for example: this one) your readers can skim, skip and move on. With a podcast, they're trusting you with very precious attention for that period of time. Treat it with the utmost respect. If in doubt, toss it.
- Do some editing. Take a note from NPR or other audio documentary style programs. You don't necessarily need to give us every single utterance made during a period of time. Just like you might prune a copy from a rambling blog post to tighten it up, tighten up your podcast. A little production work goes a long way toward making an excellent podcast.
- Use music. Music really softens a podcast up. I don't want an MP3 of your favorite songs, don't waste my time. But as an intro, a little background and as transition material, music can really polish things up.
- Verbally identify your podcast at the start of your podcast. Date, issue number, topic/guest, etc. We need this meta data to give it context. Someone may listen out of sequence or even years or decades later. Take a couple seconds to lay it out at the start.
- Put an iTunes (at least) and Odeo chicklet with appropriate linkage on your blog to make super easy for me to subscribe.
Well, I've just set the bar impossibly high for when/if I ever do this myself. Ok, let me say this: doing a good podcast is hard. It takes equipment, production, planning, and good editing. These things take time, effort and money. So let me add one final one to the mix.
- If you have something important/valuable to say, get something out there. It may not be perfect, but if you've got great content, some omissions from the above list are tolerable.
There, I'm covered.