Kirk’s Eight Rules of Effective Podcasting

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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.




10 replies
  1. Steve Sloan says:

    I think this limits podcasting too much to one type of show. Look at IT
    Conversations, for example. Their best podcasts, I think, are not
    scripted, rehearsed or post produced. They are audio recordings of
    conversations that often are off the cuff. Steve Gillmor, for example, to me his
    shows seem more like live radio. That brings up an important point. In my
    opinion saying their are "rules for podcasting" is like saying their are rules for
    radio. Podcasting is a medium that, like radio in it’s golden age, invites
    playful creativity.
    That’s what I think. Rules to me seem so limiting…
    ~Steve Sloan

    Reply
    • Kirk says:

      Creativity, yes. There are exceptions that prove the rule. I’m not sure IT
      Conversations is the best example, because they tend to be over-long and
      rambling. However, they show that when conducting interviews between
      experienced interviewers and intelligent people who have something to say, you
      can safely toss out the rules. My goal here is to give advice to novice podcasters,
      not those who can interview instinctively.

      Reply
  2. Tanguero says:

    I first heard about Kirk’s 7 rules in a podcast called "Podcast 411," hosted by
    Rob W. . . whose last name I cannot find on his website.

    Rob made it very clear that he not only doesn’t think much of Kirk’s rules, he
    doesn’t think much of rules of any kind for podcasting. His website lists, if I
    recall, about 40 podcasts, which, in podcasting years, is like being in middle
    school (or what I grew up calling junior high). That said, and judging from the
    extensive advice on creating podcasts hosted on his website — good stuff, by
    the way — I’d say Rob is in deep denial of the need for rules to be creative.

    That’s appropriate, really, because most middle schoolers think they have the
    world by the tail and don’t much like rules of any kind and can’t or won’t
    admit that they’re wrong.

    Kirk’s rules are really not much more than good commonsense guidelines for
    creating a quality product. If you object to the word "product," you probably
    don’t like rules, either — much like Rob of Podcast411. But the truth is,
    podcasts are a product — a work product, an intellectual product, a product
    to be hawked in the marketplace of ideas and entertainment.

    To say that there are no rules in podcasting is not only shortsighted, it’s
    indicative of an intellect that simply does not grasp that structure is created
    by parameters, by guidelines, and by rules. And creativity is nothing if not
    structure. Yes, there ARE rules for podcasting, just like there ARE rules for
    radio. Rules, not Commandments. Don’t like Kirk’s Rules? That’s fine. Make
    your own. In fact, I daresay that it’s impossible to do a podcast of any kind
    without following, or creating on-the-fly, some set of rules.

    Anarchy is an interesting concept for about 5 minutes. However, rules are the
    outside influence that Newton referred to in his 2nd Law of Thermodynamics:
    Without an outside influence, everything turns to crap. (I’m not sure if that’s
    an exact quotation; I’m paraphrasing.)

    Want to play, be creative? Define a space for it. Without rules, we might have
    playgrounds built in the middle of freeways.

    Using Kirk’s Seven Rules of Effective Podcasting are a good start at defining
    your podcast playground. Are they the best rules? Or the only rules? Can’t say
    that they are. I would probably replace #7 with one of my own because I think
    Kirk’s #7 smacks too much of being a "rule" instead of a "guideline."

    My Rule #7? Be consistent. People tune in and return to a podcast (or, in my
    experience, a radio program) because it’s dependably consistent. Does that
    mean you can’t ever change? No. But once you establish the theme or format
    of your podcast, you should make changes only incrementally and judiciously
    in order to maintain your audience.

    Now, go make YOUR rules, and make good podcasts, too.

    Larry Stevens
    http://podcastingdallas.blogspot.com/

    Reply
    • Kirk says:

      Larry,

      Thanks for your comments. My rules are not intended to be the be-all and
      end-all of podcasting "rules" or "guidelines". But you say some valuable
      things – too many podcasters think that they’ll attract audiences (hence, be
      successful) by doing whatever crosses their mind. Your junior high school
      analogy is very apt; lots of podcasts have that "junior high newspaper" feel to
      them.

      This is fine, imho, if people want to listen. Until recently, the vast majority of
      podcasts were boostrapped into the ether. But this is going to change. It does
      pay to have some idea of what makes good content (I like that word better
      than product).

      As for rule #7, well, it’s a pet peeve. You see, here in France, radio shows do
      that all the time. They talk for 7 minutes, toss in a song; talk for another 7
      minutes, toss in song #2. And so on. The songs are there to do nothing more
      than fill space. I’ve heard too many podcasts that do the same thing. "Ok, it’s
      time for a break." Music… Why have a break? Does the listener need to get up
      and pee, or go get a beer?

      Eventually, I’ll be coming up with a few more for a listener’s guide to
      podcasting I’m working on. I didn’t want to have a list of ten "podcastments",
      as a frend suggested, because I don’t like round numbers. :-)

      Reply
      • Tanguero says:

        On the contrary, I do see your rules as pretty good guidelines for podcasts.
        I’m all about creating quality, compelling content. As far as I’m concerned,
        these "rules" would go a long way to help create that content. The only thing
        missing is an idea for a show.

        Just to be clear, the junior high analogy was simply a convenient way to talk
        about the developmental stage of present podcasts without referring to "dog
        years." It wasn’t a backhanded way of insulting Mr. W at Podcast 411.

        I understand what you’re saying about music as filler. Not a good idea. All it
        does is waste listeners’ time and everyone’s bandwidth.

        Enjoy your blog. Keep posting. And when you get a chance, come visit mine,
        Podcasting Dallas, at http://podcastingdallas.blogspot.com.

        Later.

        Larry Stevens
        Podcasting Dallas
        Dallas Podcasting Meetup Goup, Organizer

        Reply
  3. docartemis says:

    I think these rules are a good guideline, though I have to admit that my show notes tend to vary in quality from show to show. I don’t bother making an enhanced podcast because I know most of my listeners, are listening while looking at something besides their iPod.

    Rob is a super nice guy, but he seems very resistant to the way podcasting is evolving. Recently he has been on a tirade against bumper ads.

    I think Kirk brings fresh ears to the topic because, while he is not a podcaster, he is an avid listener. Most of us are not making our podcasts for other podcasters, so we should pay attention to what listeners think is important.

    Reply
  4. Melissa R. says:

    Although, this was put up years ago, I’d like to thank you for the tips! I am new to the podcasting world. Currently, I’m taking a masters course surrounding podcasts and blogs being used in the classroom. I will be creating many audio and video podcasts. Thanks again!

    Reply
  5. Bakari Chavanu says:

    Very useful recommendations, Kirk. I do a BlogTalk Show, and though the sound quality is below standards, I incorporate many of the suggestions you list above. I do need to, however, include better show notes, including links to topics we discuss in the show.

    I also totally agree that too many podcasts just drag on too long to fill an hour. Hosts get off topic, and spend way too much time with small talk. (That’s why I use the Instacast app to skip through stuff or speed up the audio.) 30-45 minutes is good time, unless you have guests.

    I also recommend getting a co-hosts. It’s so dry to hear one person talking the entire time.

    Reply

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