No matter what type of content I create, I always have the audience in mind. Creative people are passionate about the things they produce, but you can't let that excitement override your responsibility to remember your audience. This is especially important when creating a podcast because you want listeners to keep coming back (or subscribe) to your show. Here are some simple audience-driven tips to remember.
It all starts with audio quality
There is probably nothing that will make a listener turn off your show faster than bad audio quality. If they have trouble understanding you, what's the point of listening? Now, let me follow that up by saying this doesn't mean you have to go out and buy the most high-quality (and high-priced) microphone out there. Granted, if you can spend a few hundred dollars on a high-end mic and mixer, do it. If you can't, just make sure you get something that makes you clear enough to understand.
When I launched my first podcast, I didn't have the money to spend on the expensive stuff. So, I went searching for an acceptable, affordable alternative. Of all places, I found a podcast mic in the music/guitar/karaoke section of Target. It's the Samson Q2U USB/XLR microphone that comes with headphones and a mic stand.
Here is a promo for my geek podcast. You can hear how the mic makes me sound.
The best news...I've recommended this mic to other people in other states and they have found this mic at a Target store close to them. It's around $65 there, and it can be even cheaper online.
Don't forget that the audience is with you
If you're producing a podcast where you're the only host, it's hard to forget that you're speaking to the audience. However, it can get tricky for podcasts with multiple hosts.
When I produced on-air fundraising breaks for public radio, we would always have at least two people in the studio pitching. Occasionally, talent would get off-script in a way that risked making the listener feel like they weren't part of the conversation, but instead just being forced to listen to two people talk.
Occasionally I will hear a podcast that opens with the hosts just talking to each other - no introduction or greeting, they just start talking about random stuff. It sounds horrible! Plus, if your podcast title and description tell the audience that you're going to talk about something specific, you better get to the point before they bail on you.
I think people sometimes think they have to sound like a wacky morning radio crew in order for the podcast to sound legit. So, they will open the show with just random banter. I would warn against this. Sometimes people are drawn to podcast to get away from commercial radio and radio shtick. Your random banter better be awesome enough where you just know they won't turn your show off.
It's not uncommon for a podcast listener to pick an episode that will cover a set of topics that interest them. So, if you spend the first few minutes just randomly talking about the pizza you ate last night or laughing at each other's "funny" habits, the listener may get tired of waiting for you to get to the point. This brings me to my last tip.
Edit, edit, edit and edit some more
Though people do it, I don't recommend you record your podcast and then just post it. Take some time and tighten up conversations and tweak segments. In fact, find ways to insert bumpers or stings to break up longer conversations that cover multiple topics.
There's nothing wrong with occasionally getting sidetracked or randomly steering off-topic. That happens all of the time when people are talking. However, you have to get back on-topic at a reasonable time so that the listener doesn't think you forgot them and the topics they want to hear.
Take time to listen to your show as you edit. Put yourself in the listener's shoes and determine when you think certain conversations are running too long. Take the time to self-edit and delete comments that aren't as strong as others in order to keep the flow of conversations strong as possible. The audience doesn't always have to hear everything that was said.
Consistency and flow are more important. Make the strongest, most engaging conversation you can by editing. It's a huge benefit of a pre-recorded show. Take advantage of it!
Please note, when I say keep the audience in the conversation, I don't mean you have to constantly address them during it. Granted, you can address them by welcoming them to the show, thanking them for listening, or maybe even ask a question.
I simply mean don't forget them. It's important to remember them when you plan, record and edit the show. Audiences recognize when you've cared enough to think about them while producing the show and they'll appreciate you for it. If you do this, they'll feel like they're part of it. After all, I've had people tell me they talk back to us while listening to Assembly of Geeks in the car.
That's the kind of experience you want to give your podcast audience.
I truly believe in the old adage, "It never hurts to ask" or as my mother says, "All they can say is 'no'". It's true and I've experienced it through my work in content production.
When I was hired to revamp and re-imagine the on-air fundraising drives at the Dallas Public Radio Station, my supervisor and colleagues were often surprised at some of the people I got to be part of the effort. It was always exciting when something worked out. Some of my success stories included:
Granted, when I asked, it helped being from a public radio station in a major market. However, I experienced similar success stories when I started podcasting.
My first podcast was called The Critic Show. I later changed the name to Beyond the Screens after having better than expected success getting celebrity guests. In my first few shows, I interviewed Lar Park Lincoln (Friday the 13th Part VII), James Hampton (Teen Wolf), Julie Newmar (Batman), James Tolken (Top Gun) & Efren Ramirez (Napoleon Dynamite).
I finally realized I was really onto something when my sixth episode featured an interview with Mayim Bialik from The Big Bang Theory. Despite asking, I have to admit, that was an interview I thought I would never get. Yet again, it simply didn't hurt to ask. At the end of the interview, she was nice enough to offer to send over some autographed photos for listeners (and me, of course) and read a liner for the show that said, "Hi, this is Mayim Bialik and I play Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory. (Then said this like Amy) I highly recommend you listen to The Critic Show with Scott Murray. And you can trust me, I'm a doctor...and I play one on TV."
I wasn't a major radio station or popular radio program. I was a guy in an office recording my own show. With that said, I think it's important to point out that HOW you ask is just as important as the question itself. My experience in radio helped me write effective e-mails to celebrity managers & publicists. I knew I would need to include how long the interview would be, what we'd talk about and assure them that the interview would be professional.
Most importantly, I knew that more often than not, they would be calling me. It wouldn't look good to give them a home phone number (and you don't want them to pay for a long distance call). So, I bought an inexpensive toll-free number through Kall8. I gave them that number and my cell phone as a back-up. On a side note, I'll never forget Julie Newmar calling my cell to ask me a few questions before the interview with her.
I've always been this way. When I was producing an 1980s cop show parody TV series in Dallas, my wife was always surprised what I could get for free (locations, props, special appearances, etc). Again, it boiled down to not being afraid to ask and knowing how to ask.
I realize that examples like these can't relate to all types of content production. However, there is a principle that is very important to take from it. While you may not be able to ask a celebrity to be part of your work, don't be afraid to find ways to take extra steps in making your content better than average.
Never be afraid to ask yourself how you can do that.