Five Ways to Keep Your Podcast Listeners Happy

Well... quite the mini-maelstrom of feedback I seem to have stirred up with that last post.

Lots of emails, a good handful of comments (both here and in the real world), and even a couple of phone calls. For the record: no, I wasn't specifically talking about your podcast. Sheesh.

I'm encouraged to note that most people seem to have taken my disgruntlings in good humour, recognizing that my little rant was intended as a kind of constructive criticism.

The response has set me to thinking - what do I want to listen to in a podcast?

Again, I know I'm not really all that well qualified to pass judgement here. While I do listen to a lot of podcasts, my own small forays into this space have been either utterly goofy or guest appearances on others' podcasts.

So, in the spirit of "easier to criticise than to create," here are five quick thoughts from a non-podcasting podcast addict. Take these for what they're worth - one avid podcast listener's thoughts on how to keep your audience engaged.

1. Stop Preaching to the Choir
You're doing a podcast. We're listening to a podcast. Please stop endlessly blithering on about the wonderful power of podcasting and social media in general. We get it - otherwise we wouldn't be here in the first place.

If you have useful, illustrative anecdotes about the real-world impact of social media, I'd love to hear them - but enough gushing about the shiny new geekery of it all. Yes, it's immensely cool that we can all create our own radio stations now. Move on.

2. Stop Preening
It's genuinely wonderful that you're rising up the iTunes charts and I know the torrent of effusive audio comments from your legions of admirers must give you a nice Ready Brek glow; but unless the commenter is saying something that actually moves the conversation forward, we don't really need to hear them telling you how terrific you are. Get on with the business of creating a great podcast, and bask in the warmth of your subscriber numbers in private.

3. Lead With Value
Nearly ten years ago, Doc Searls wrote a piece that I'm still pointing people to almost every month. In his discussion of the problem with business presentations, he encourages presenters to think in newspaper terms when figuring out the structure of their pitch: "In the newspaper business they teach you to put the least important stuff at the end, so if your story was cut for length the reader wouldn't miss much."

I think that thinking applies just as well in podcasting - give me something of value in the first couple of minutes and I'll keep listening. Burn 10 minutes of my time with sponsor messages and piffling on about the weather - you've lost me. I was listening to a very well-known podcast on my subway ride this morning. The runtime tracker on my iPod showed 07:42 at the point when the host (finally!) said "So... on with the show". Ack.

4. More Voice Less Noise
There are a handful of new music podcasts I really like (John Sakamoto's Anti-Hit List being a particularly fine example). But if you're not doing a music podcast, go easy on the music.

My apologies to the many splendid artists who are selflessly contributing excellent music to the Podsafe Network and other resources, but I'm hear to listen to the host(s) talk. I'm sorry, but some of the intro and incidental music people are weaving into their podcasts now is really starting to chafe. If I want elevator music, Brian Eno is just a spin of the clickwheel away.

Secondly, pay attention to your sound quality. Yes, I know that rough-and-ready, hissing and popping, Skype-flanging sound might seem so much more "authentic" - but it's bloody painful to listen to. And use the Levelator, dammit. Too many wall-of-sound punk gigs back in the 70s - my old ears are buggered. If I'm constantly fiddling with the volume controls as I strain to hear your podcast, I'm going to end up tuning out.

(OK, so this is actually two points for the price of one - I'm either cheating or offering double value. Your call.)

5. Plan Your Spontaneity
Well, not really - but I think it helps to have some kind of a plan to your podcasts. Scripted and stilted is not good, but there should at least be some semblance of structure and, dare I say it, narrative arc.

Whenever I sit down to write - whether it's a news release, a client proposal, or a presentation - I always try to start by building an outline of the main points I want to cover. Perhaps your podcast could benefit from an approach based on outlining. If you just sit down and start talking, with absolutely no road map whatsoever, chances are you're going to get lost (and lose me) along the way.


So. Usual caveats and disclaimers apply. No rainchecks. YMMV. È pericoloso sporgersi. There is no spoon, etc.