Podcasting: PART TWO 17 Podcast Programming Pointers
Oct 07 2014
NOTE: This is the second post in a two-part article.Click here to read part one.
Last week, we talked about how the podcasting field has grown and changed. We said that we like the idea of thinking of a podcast as “plain, clear talk.”
This week, we’ll present some tips to help reach that goal, so that your podcast content will be plain and clear to listeners, as clear as its audio quality should be.
First things first … “Content is King.” That’s been said forever about websites. It’s should also be your first concern in podcasting. So what’s the most important thing in podcasting content?
1. Have a goal. On any sort of project, a clear objective makes it easier to be productive. It’s especially important in podcasting. Unlike some projects, on a podcast you could just open your mouth and start talking. About anything. But unless you’re a fabulous raconteur, you it’s too easy to wander verbally all over the place. You’ll appeal to no particular audience, and probably won’t communicate your point very efficiently. That is, if you have a point. So rule number one is, have a point.
2. Be unique. If you can’t be unique, at least be special. In short, give your listeners a reason for listening. If they’re heard it before, why hear it again? (Our apologies if you’ve heard this before.)
3. Be meaningful. Meaningful to your listeners, that is. If your goal is to discuss the life of an obscure Namib Desert beetle, it may be specific and unique, but how many people care? How do you know if it’s relevant? Easy – identify the benefits it provides to others. You’ll soon be marketing your podcast, and in marketing, “customer benefit” is what it’s all about. If the subject is beneficial to people, it will almost automatically be interesting … if you also follow the rest of these principles.
4. Be meaningful, part 2. But even that isn’t enough if it isn’t interesting … for your listeners and for you. As in choosing other VO genres to specialize in, when choosing a podcasting subject, focus on something you really enjoy talking about. It should be no surprise that the common voice-over advice to “be yourself” applies not only to how you speak, it also applies to what you speak about. After all, didn’t your English teacher advise you to “write about what you know”? If you’re enthused, chances are there’s an audience that will be enthusiastic, too. It will also be so much easier to source your subject matter (you already know a lot about it), and lining up future topics won’t seem like drudgery.
5. Direct your focus. “But,” you say, “that’s easy to say. But I’m not planning to do a podcast just for the sake of podcasting. I’m in a certain field, that’s what I know, that’s what I need to promote, and that’s my topic. Thing is, there are dozens of podcasts in my field already.” You’re in a common situation. Sometimes you can elbow your way into a crowded podcast niche by means of promotion, name awareness, your scintillating personality, or the quality of your content, etc. But usually the resolution to this situation is simply to shift the focus a bit. If your topic must be beer, and everyone is already reviewing beers (by the way, everyone is), concentrate on American beers, or how to brew beer, or the history of beer, or even stories shared over beers.
6. Avoid clichés. That’s all we’ll say on this. To say more would be so cliché.
7. Interviewing a guest? Do your homework. We’ve all seen parodies of interviewers with trite questions. Make a list of them and – don’t ask them. They not only bore your listeners, they hurt your interview. You’ve probably seen the condescending manner a film or TV star might assume when asked trite questions that they’ve answered countless times before. Ask stock questions, you’ll get short, stock answers. Your guest is donating their time, and may not need the publicity nearly as much as you need them. Make them feel like their time is being converted into something of real value to your listeners. Answer the basic questions yourself, by doing a bit of research. Your interviewee will be impressed. Ask questions that research hasn’t answered, and questions that the research suggests.
8. Explain insider references and avoid in-jokes. Some in your audience may not recognize industry references mentioned by you and your guests. Nobody likes to feel left out. Pause and explain the abbreviation, event, or name, etc., so that all listeners can stay up to speed. And if a bit of humor is understandable only by an inner circle, either avoid it or explain it. (The exception might be a joke that’s so inside that ONLY insiders will realize it’s a joke, and for everyone else it will have a legitimate meaning. The best sort of in-joke is the sort that is funny on two levels – one for insiders, and another that everyone will get.)
9. Avoid annoying habits. Uh, well, yeah, that’s the way the mop, … y’know … flops? Say none of those (including the “uptalk” inflection), or anything of the sort, more than once a week. If you’re searching for a word, simply pause for a second and collect it.
10. Talk just long enough. How long should a podcast be? Make your all your episodes roughly the same length. That might be five minutes, or 30. 10-20 minutes is typical. But don’t indulge in insider small-talk just to fill out the time. Better to be a little short. (As the Show Biz saying goes, “Leave ‘em wanting more.”) If your podcast is typically 10 minutes and you have 20 minutes of good content (and if your subject matter isn’t current events), consider making it a two-parter.
11. Develop a topic calendar. Even if, for timely content, you must record your episodes near their publication dates, you should have a schedule of topics and even outlines well into the future. Before you launch, wait till you’ve got several dynamite episodes ready to go. A nice side benefit of splitting a show is that you’ll be a week further ahead in planning your calendar.
12. Use notes. You don’t have to script it, but do have notes that will be clear to you and easy to follow.
13. Use a short intro. It can be a bit of music (be sure you have the right to use it), or an elaborate production. Or it can simply be you with a welcoming message. It should not be long. Write yourself a 15-second intro that explains to new listeners what your podcast is about, short and sweet so it will be over before regular listeners have a chance to be bored.
14. Use the “inverted triangle.” That is, put your most important news first. This is the standard approach in newspapers, for a couple reasons. One, if the story doesn’t fit the available space, the editor can simply chop it off where necessary. But, more to the point in podcasting, not everyone has time or the interest to stay on till the end. If you’ve done an interview and the best stuff happened to come towards the end, get out the chopper. Cut, cut, cut, or re-order the conversation if you can.
15. Speak to one person. Instead of addressing “all you people out there,” say “you.” And have a particular person in mind. Hopefully you can pick someone you know personally who has the same mindset as your audience. Over time, this sense of speaking one-to-one will become natural and you’ll naturally adopt this personal manner, no “imagining” required.
16. Have confidence. No episode will be perfect. But if you’ve done well and presented worthwhile content, only you will know what you forgot or could have said better. Simply learn from it, and move on.
17. Be on schedule. If you can’t produce worthwhile content on a weekly basis (or simply don’t have the time), then do it bi-weekly, or even monthly. The more important factor is regularity. If your audience has to constantly check to see if there’s anything new, they’ll soon get out of the habit. (Although a psychologist might tell you that the hardest habits to break are those giving intermittent reinforcement, that’s not quite the case here. Or the reinforcement has to be really, really good.)<.p>
And who knows. It turns out the wings of the Stenocara beetle in Africa’s Namib Desert inspired a new surface used in the testing of paints and adhesives. There’s pretty much an online audience for anything, if you do it right.