Four tips for good podcasts from a listeners perspective

Though I've been familiar with podcasts and podcasting for quite a while I have to admit it wasn't until recently that I really immersed myself in them to see what's out there. What I discovered is that when podcasts are good, they can be really good. On the flip side, when they're bad, they can be quite awful. Below are four things I discovered that the good ones seem to be doing:

1. Attention to pace:
The good podcasts feel like they move quickly. Whether it was the pace of the people talking or the momentum they would carry from one story to the next, the really good ones keep it moving forward. Not all podcasts move at the same pace however. Some seem like a steady jog while others move like a brisk run, but in the end they all know they have a pace to maintain and do it well to keep the show moving forward.

2. Sound quality:
I didn't think poor sound quality would be as annoying as it was. After all, we're dealing with amateurs here right? Yes, partly, but the difference is that the line between pro and amateur is very blurry now so it's all about good quality. Whether you're a solitary guy in garage or a team in a studio, the playing field is level and the listeners can't help but desire good sound quality. The good news is that the solitary guy in a garage can actually sound like a pro in the studio with fairly basic equipment. The rule seems to be that if it doesn't sound as good as the radio, it's not going to be good enough.

3. Set the hook early:
The most distinct thing I heard between the good podcasts and the bad ones was that the good ones recognized that I may very well be a first time listener and therefore not familiar with the personalities, the format, the content, the tone, etc. In every case they set it up as if they know some percentage of their listeners are first timers. If you think about it, that's how talk radio is...at any point in time a radio personality knows people are coming and going and although that wouldn't be necessary to incorporate through an entire show, that mindset seems vital within the first two minutes of the podcast. I was most turned off with one particular podcast where it seemed like the guys were trying to figure out if they were even ready to begin. The dialogue went something like this (names made up for example purposes):
Tim: "So Joe, how's it going?"
Joe: "Pretty good."
Tim: "Whatcha been up to?"
Joe: "Not much."
Tim: "Jeff, how are you doing?"
Jeff: "Good."
Tim: "Whatcha been up to?"
Jeff: "Not a whole lot."
After this they traded a few inside jokes and sort of talked about what the show was going to cover that day but at this point I went to the next podcast. They lost me. The thing is the preceding dialogue followed a pretty decent prerecorded intro and a "Welcome to the podcast" intro by the host. The point here is that you can't forget how easy it is for people to move on. They don't know you. They don't know how smart you are or how inspired and compelling your message is. If you don't get them hooked early they probably won't take the time to find out.

4. Content quality:
In the same way that the lines are blurry between pro and amateur on the sound quality side, they are equally blurry when it comes to good content. The fact of the matter is that good content is what will keep people over the long term. Everything above is to get them to pay attention to you the first time or two. Giving attention to quality content will keep them their for the long term.

Bonus 1: Episode numbers
Aside from the above items I discovered that everyone tells me what episode number that particular podcast is. I don't get that. Why do I need to know what number episode they're broadcasting? Maybe if you're just starting out it buys you a little bit of grace but on the other hand it could work against you because a listener could assume you don't have your act together since you're brand new.

Bonus 2: Browseable podcasts
Also, I read a post from Seth Godin back in May, 2005 when he noted that one of the downsides to podcasts is that they can't be browsed. That sentiment didn't resonate with me until listening to a bunch of different podcasts more recently. I can't help but wonder what it would do for a listener if the podcast posted a timestamp listing of all the topics covered in each podcast...meaning if you have a 30 minute show that covers blogging, a new book, and an interview you note that at 1:13 of the show you talk about blogging, at 8:47 you begin talking about the book and at 14:09 you begin the interview. Seems to me that would be a step toward browseable podcasts.


Joe Suh said...

For bonus #2 I believe http://veotag.com already lets you place navigation tags in video and audio files. The search engines can then index these tags, so that the content will show up in digital format (ie search results).

I almost think of it as digitally representing analog. "DAC" as we used to call it in the chip design industry.

Bill Seaver said...

Thanks Joe. Very interesting. I hadn't heard of Veotag before.