Note: I originally posted this in March, 2006, and it continues to be a popular article on my site. I’m re-posting it now, because podcasting hasn’t changed very much, and these rules can still apply to podcasts, even though the “genre” has matured greatly in the past seven years.
The buzz has been around podcasting since Apple’s embracing of the medium in iTunes, which provides easy access to thousands of podcasts. Since Apple added podcast features to iTunes, podcasts have become almost mainstream, and the first for-cash podcasts have recently arisen. But not everyone listens to podcasts, and many people check out a few and leave them behind. Some podcasts do things very wrong, and, after listening for a few minutes, listeners simply switch to something else. Here are a few rules that should help podcasters get people to tune into their shows.
1. Have something to say. You can certainly just ramble for a half-hour, but unless you have a unique voice (or are really funny) people won’t come back. If you make a podcast just to provide the drivel that’s on your blog, don’t bother; stick to text. It’ll save you time, and it’s easier to find out what you have to say.
2. Be prepared. Make notes before you start talking; only a rare few can improvise for a half-hour or an hour. In fact, few people can really improvise for more than a few minutes. Make detailed notes, and, if you’re interviewing someone, prepare questions in advance. However, don’t let notes or questions keep you from diverging if you find something better to say.
3. Be short and simple. Too many podcasts try to fill an hour with whatever it takes to fill that time. You will be much more likely to get listeners to try out your podcasts if they are short. This does not mean that one-hour podcasts won’t work; but you may want to have occasional shorter podcasts – say 20 to 30 minutes – to attract listeners who might be turned off by the idea of devoting one hour of their lives to an unknown program. If listeners like the shortcasts, then they’ll stick around for the longcasts.
4. Be clear. Use good recording equipment; listeners are used the radio-quality broadcasts, and if it sounds like you recorded your podcast in the bathroom, they won’t stay long. Learn how to record, edit, and produce your podcast. Also, if you’re interviewing someone, don’t interrupt. Learn when to talk and when to let the guest speak. You can edit later.
5. Be yourself. Unless you’re a professional journalist or radio broadcaster, you won’t make people think you are. Don’t try using that “radio voice”, and don’t try to talk about things you don’t know about. Do talk about what turns you on: even if it’s a hobby, such as beekeeping, an impassioned delivery by someone who knows the subject can be interesting.
6. Be unique. The best podcasts are the ones that are unique or original. People won’t listen in just because you copy Rush Limbaugh or Al Franken; but if you are unique, you’ll find an audience. Don’t copy in style or content. Podcasting, like writing, is creative.
7. Provide detailed program notes. My friend Richard Giles, who runs The Gadget Show, gets it right. Look at how he writes program notes. You know exactly what’s going to be on the podcast, and when. In addition, Apple’s enhanced podcasts let you use chapters in your programs; this makes navigating on the iPod, or in iTunes, even easier.
8. Don’t stick in music just to fill time, or to punctuate your show. If you have music in the show, use it as music, not filler. And choose good music, not the cheezy royalty-free muzak that floats around. (Though be aware of the copyright implications of using commercial music. In short, you can’t.) For example, Magnatune lets you use any of their music for free in non-commercial podcasts. Their FAQ says, “If your podcast is non-commercial (most are) then you can use Magnatune’s music for free in your podcasts. Choose the license type “non-commercial” and agree to the terms of the Creative Commons license.”
To sum up, creating a good podcast is like creating any type of quality content, be it music, words or audio. With a fair amount of intention, originality and creativity, you can share your thoughts with others through podcasts. But only the good survive; so if you want to reach an audience, do your best to make sure that people come back for more.