It started happening a few years ago. Seemingly out of nowhere, everyone everywhere was talking about podcasts.
But starting a podcast isn’t as easy as listening to one.
sounds obvious, but as podcast popularity
has entered the mainstream
common for dinner conversations and business meetings alike to be peppered wi
I have an idea for a podcast.”
While many of those dinner conversations never got past dessert, quite a few of them made it to the recording studio. In fact, it’s estimated that there are 700,000 podcasts out there. However, a study last year found that, of over half a million podcasts it analyzed, few made it past the seventh episode.
So, why did we think we could be the exception?
Most of our staff listen to podcasts, so coming up with a format and idea that worked was a combination of everyone’s interests, expertise and efforts. And that’s what The Science of Storytelling podcast is about: getting people with experience in a room, picking their brains and hitting “record.”
Podcasting isn’t a closed book. Sure, some podcasts have seasons and others have arcs, but generally speaking, they’re ever-evolving. Here are six things I’ve learned from creating a podcast that I wish I’d known before going in:
1. It needs to be sustainable.
There are always circumstances you can’t mitigate, but the easiest way to avoid the podfade is to have an idea that’s both strong and sustainable. It also needs to be amenable to change, which means the topic has to be broad enough while still holding niche interest to listeners. As the saying goes, if you try to be everything to everyone, you’ll end up being nothing to no one.
With this in mind, we chose a topic that everyone can connect with: stories. No matter who we had on the show or what direction we wanted to take the podcast in future seasons, we had a flexible topic to anchor our conversations on. A lot of my business revolves around the face-to-face — hearing stories from brands and consumers and then turning those stories into compelling content for clients. But I wanted to move those conversations from the boardroom into a more casual setting. Choosing the right topic let me do this with any contact who had a great story to tell.
2. Good content triumphs all.
The Dropout was a Silicon Valley story through and through, but that’s not why it succeeded. It told a captivating story in a digestible, binge-worthy package.
It’s okay to be a little inside baseball; palpable passion can fill in a lot of blanks. But when it comes to storytelling, the story should take precedent. Take branded podcasts, for example. Gimlet, one of the most notable names in the podcast game, has produced podcasts with big brands like McAfee and Gatorade, but that’s not what draws listeners in. They listen to Hackable? for a deep dive on information security and to The Secret to Victory for interviews with Peyton Manning and Serena Williams. Every good podcast has an ad or two, but the entire podcast can’t be an ad.
3. It’s okay to make it awkward.
Real life isn’t The West Wing, and as much as I’d appreciate it, Aaron Sorkin isn’t scripting my daily conversations. Conversations are filled with stutters, stammers, interruptions and awkward silences. When recording, it’s okay to embrace that — especially the silence.
Have you ever heard of the pregnant pause? In journalism and interviews, it’s kind of like playing “question chicken.” Didn’t get the answer you were hoping for? Just wait. The urge to fill empty space can be overpowering, but if you let the conversation breathe, you’d be surprised what comes out of it. You can always edit out the extra space later.
4. Find guests with the gift of gab.
A good speaker is someone who can deliver a speech without using cue cards or reciting the company mantra line for line. But a good talker? They’re someone you can just talk to. Sure, there are boundaries — you don’t want to invite someone who’ll say something incendiary or offensive. But when it comes to a good podcast interview, outspokenness is currency, and the right level of salaciousness makes us all richer.
When looking for the “right” guest, try to find someone who can freely share their opinion without fear of repercussions. For us, this often meant connecting with people on the creative side of a publication rather than the sales side. You’ll get a good idea of what they’ll be like on the podcast by reviewing their social media profiles. If they’re personable and opinionated online, chances are they will be when you turn on the mic, too.
5. Sometimes the best stuff happens before you say ‘go.’
Something changes when you say “go.” People sit up straighter, code-switch and overthink what they’re about to say. The sooner you formalize an interview, the sooner everyone stiffens up. Now, I’m not saying you record someone without their consent, but I am saying there’s value in keeping a conversation casual. You can have your list of questions and they can have their talking points, but the small talk before and after can be just as valuable of a listening experience.
6. Know your audience.
Your podcast can’t just be for you. You need an audience, and you want it to be the right one. In my day-to-day, I forge connections between brands and consumers. On my podcast, I want to build audience relationships along those same lines.
When you start a podcast, you’re probably doing it to reach like-minded people. Keep that audience top of mind and you can cast a wide net. Then, as your idea evolves and grows, you can shape it as you go. The best advice is simply to get started, so the next time someone brings up starting a podcast, you’ll be ready to hit “play.”