Advice for podcasters from a broadcaster.
By Dave Farough
Radio is here to stay and continues to show great promise, especially in small markets. Radio is the industry I started in, first on-air and then as a manager of talent behind the scenes. So creating compelling audio is in my DNA. For me, podcasting is now like radio was in the 80s and 90s – fearless, experimental, and driven by passion, not by revenue or share price. (At least not yet.)
Podcasters can and should take lessons from the great broadcasters and apply them to the podcast genre. It’s all about creating great content. And, podcast hosts are hungry for and appreciate the feedback.
The most asked question I receive as a talent coach is this: What makes a good podcast? The answer contains many of the same ingredients that go into a good radio show, minus the rigid time and format constraints.
Some podcasts are very compelling with strong content and slick production. However, many are almost unlistenable, lacking emotion and structure, featuring boring interviews and multiple hosts attempting humour and a whole lot of blah blah blah. Having a car does not make one a good driver. Having a mic and some software does not a great podcaster make.
Prep is King
Like a good radio show, a podcast takes preparation. Not only do you need to know what you’re talking about and have an educated opinion, you also need to know how you’re going to get from point A to B in a way that’s easy to follow. Stay on the highway instead of taking the scenic route. You may think you can hit “record” and wing-it. You can’t. But don’t fret, most radio personalities can’t either, without a lot of work and dedication.
Oh the Humanity
Good content pushes the listener emotionally. It makes them laugh, cry, or react in some way other than just wanting to hit stop. Too many podcasters refuse to bring themselves and the things they care about to each episode. Be vulnerable. Open up and show your listener that you are human. Audiences bond with people – not hosts.
Fun versus Funny
Fun and humour can be hard for podcasters and broadcasters to master. A good podcast is fun. The hosts are energetic, enthusiastic, quick-witted and the topics never get bogged down with too much blah blah blah. Fun is good. Funny is hard. Listening to two hosts riffing, attempting to be funny? Not good. Ask yourself this: When you’re at a party, are you the one in the kitchen telling the stories and making people laugh? People other than your mom, that is. Or are you a bystander to the funny? You probably have many friends who are fun – very few are truly funny. Know thyself!
Get Off The Stage
Like radio, podcasts should be intimate, one-on-one listening experiences. Using phrases like “Hey everybody” and “How is everyone today” puts you on stage. Talk to one person, not an entire audience.
How Long It Is
Most podcasters become preoccupied with the acceptable length of an episode. Some say it should be short and shareable. Others say Free Willy: two, three, or even five hours is perfectly fine! Like radio, if the content is great (emotional, relevant to the target, and prepped in advance) and delivered in a compelling way by an excellent storyteller, then one or two hours (or even more) is fine. However, there are very few podcasters that possess this calibre of talent. Sadly, there are very few on radio who can hold attention that long either.
Three Critical Elements for Success
- Learn how to structure a good story. Start strong and get to the key points quickly in a way that’s easy to follow as opposed to veering all over the road and eventually ending up in the ditch. End with a payoff, a key takeaway, something actionable or something that might elicit an emotional reaction instead of just ending when the hosts get tired of talking. This takes advanced planning (show-prep). Think. Write. Edit. Repeat. When you think you’ve edited enough, go back and do it again. Most podcasters think they need to fill thirty minutes, so they end up saying the same things over and over which is frustrating for the audience.
- Learn how to use your voice effectively. Use your vocal range, as well as tempo and pausing effectively so you don’t sound monotone and boring. If you have kids at home, practice by reading to them. What happens when you deliver a story to a child that sounds too scripted or lacks energy and enthusiasm? They get bored and scramble for the exit. The audience does too.
- Learn how to conduct an interview. So many podcasts feature guests or experts and so many go horribly wrong. “Hi, how are you?” “I’m fine, you?” “Thank you so much for being on my podcast!” “No problem. Thanks for having me.” “How’s the weather where you are?” “Funny you should ask. I’m usually golfing at this time of year, but we have two feet of snow on the ground.” “Wow. Not here. It’s beautiful.” “Remind me where we saw each other last.” “Oh, it was at a conference in Miami.” Blah blah blah. Nobody cares. Drop the pleasantries. The number one rule when interviewing a guest is listen more than you talk. By listening to the answer, you’ll naturally be guided to the next question. Many podcasters are so concerned with sticking to the prepared list of questions, they miss opportunities to react to answers. The interview comes off stiff instead of being a natural conversation.
So much more goes into it, but hopefully this inspires you to Be a Better Podcaster.
Whether you are a podcaster or broadcaster who struggles to get feedback on your performance, you’re not alone. Ask for help and embrace the well-informed critique you receive. Content is the future. And content can only be created by human beings who create meaningful connections.
Dave Farough is a Programming and Talent Coach and works with broadcast companies in Canada teaching and mentoring Program Directors and on-air talent along with podcast clients in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Mexico. www.beabetterpodcaster.ca