There are two reasons your podcasts fail to maintain an audience. First, nobody knows it’s there. That’s all to do with promotion and distribution - a topic for another day. But the second reason listeners are few in number is because they simply don’t hang around and that could be because, dare I say it, your podcast just might not be any good. Or maybe it has moments of brilliance, but they are lost beyond a point where people have been prepared to listen.
So here are a few quick rules to ensure your podcast is the best it can be:
1. Keep it short
Ten minutes is a good length to aim for, unless you really have a lot of ground to cover. I have produced half hour podcasts but these were extensive affairs, with many interviews wound into a documentary-style format. They tend to take a day or two to pull together. If it’s you talking to somebody else, then ten minutes is the maximum people will tolerate.
2. Get into the action straight away
Small-talk at the onset of a podcast can be very tiresome. If you are keeping it down to ten minutes, get to the point straight away. That means very little intro music before you open your mouth and kick off with something of substance, before getting round to introducing yourself.
3. Make sure there’s meat in the sandwich
I have a simple rule with a podcast: I have to learn something new myself. That means a bit of background research on the topic and a guarantee for the listener that they’ll come out the end with something they didn’t know before. If your podcast is simply a discussion expressing views your audience will already be across, then you are wasting their time and they won’t listen.
There’s nothing wrong with scripting your podcast, provided you’ve perfected the art of sounding like you’re not reading. Lots of podcasts fail on both counts – they are heavily scripted and the audience knows it, or they’re not scripted at all and verbal diarrhea ensures. The best approach is to work from dot points and practise the art of talking without wasting time and words.
5. Let your personality shine
Again, this requires practice. The old radio adage is that you’ve got it made once you can fake sincerity. Your really do need to overplay your personality for it to come across convincingly on a podcast (or on the radio). So, don’t hold back. Accentuate your persona, because that’ll have a big bearing on how long people listen.
6. Keep it regular
Just like radio shows, your podcast needs to become an appointment to listen. Try and release it at the same time every week – and, yes, it should be weekly. Any less than that and you are easily forgotten about.
7. Edit tightly
With a focus on keeping time down to ten minutes, edit out repetitive elements, or bits that don’t really say anything new. If you leave them in your audience’s mind will start wandering. So get shot of it.
8. Remove the gaps
There are some who say speech should be natural and free-flowing. They’d argued that hesitations and ‘ums and ahs’ are part of how we talk. That’s true, but it can be distracting. It can also cause an interviewee to feel the need to speak, even if they haven’t formed their answer perfectly. In my mind, it’s far better to tell your subject that you will edit out the pauses, so don’t worry about leaving gaps. If you are interviewing online it is really worth the effort of editing out the delay the internet creates between you asking a question and your guest responding.
9. Watch your levels
We’ve all heard them. The podcasts were the host sounds like he’s breathing down the microphone with guests who sound like they’re in the next room. However great your content is, it needs to sound good too – so make sure you have good quality mics and you and your guests are close to them. You really should be monitoring your sound levels and making sure each speaker is peaking at the same point. The dynamics of the room have a part to play here too – the deader the sound the better. Think small room with carpet and thick curtains, or go the whole hog and plaster the wall with foam soundproofing tiles.
10. Compress the buggery out of it
Audio purists will hate this one, but I think it’s important. Increasingly people listen on the move – in the car, on the train, in an aircraft. Background noise will destroy any quieter moments in your podcast, so you really need to boost the quieter bits and limit the dynamic range. It’ll give a bit of the AM radio sound (without the interference) but it will make it much easier for your audience to hear every word.
I’d like to think The Morning Call from the National Australia Bank meets all these criteria. I'm biased, of course, because it's something I present and produce, along with analysts from the bank, but it works well. And if it all sounds like too steep a learning curve, there’s another way forward. Outsource it. I can present your podcast, interview your subject matter experts, and you end up with a piece of regular, succinct, entertaining content that will make you the envy of your industry! I hope you spotted the gratuitous plug there. I tried to make it as obvious as possible. By the way, my phone number is 07502 465566.