An Invitation to the Podcast Party

Jul 5, 2015

The heat in Salt Lake City averaged 94 degrees throughout the PRNDI Conference but that wasn’t the hot topic on the last day of breakout sessions. What was? Podcasts.

The "Podcastification" panel featured greats of the podcasting world including: Phoebe Judge of Criminal, Manoush Zomorodi of New Tech City, Robert Smith of Planet Money, and Sara Sarasohn, managing director of the streaming app NPR One.

Panelists Phoebe Judge, Manoush Zomorodi, Sara Sarasohn, and Robert Smith on "Podcastification".
Credit Jeff Coltin

With on-demand audio on the rise, figuring out ways to effectively transform radio content into a podcast was at the forefront for the discussion. But wait ... what's a podcast anyway?

In the broadest sense, a podcast is any form of digital audio. Replies from the audience ranged from "what you broadcast yesterday" to "no clocks" to "annoying dudes." Throughout the discussion, the panelists used "freedom" interchangeably with "podcast." 

The Invitation to Listen

An invitation for podcast listening.

Think of radio and podcasts as parties. The invitation to listen to radio is the formal invite you got in the mail requesting you be at a certain place at a certain time. With radio, the audience is bound by location.

Questions to ask: Is your podcast relevant to people outside of your local broadcast market? How can you cultivate and capture a broad audience?

The invitation to listen to a podcast is like a colorful flyer on a street post saying, "All are welcome. B.Y.O.B!" The decision to attend the party is entirely up to the listener. First, they're looking for incentive to join -- to listen. Then, they're looking for a reason to stay. So, the panel suggested, give them one.

Making Every Moment Matter

The first minute of your podcast is just as important as your last. "Investing production and editing into the intro of a podcast segment is worth it," Judge said. Each moment, the listener can decide whether or not you’re worth their time. The panel reminded the crowd of the skip button's existence. It's possible for listeners to fast-forward past important parts of your podcast. "Get used to that early," Judge said.

Questions to ask: How much time are you spending on podcast production? What are potential turn-offs to your audience?

An illustration of flag posts in a podcast to keep the story and the listener's attention going.
Credit Robert Smith

Smith bashfully revealed the Planet Money crew spends only about 5 to 10 percent of their time working on radio stories. The remaining time is spent on the podcast, which has seen its audience grow much faster than quarter-hour radio listening in the past year. Despite the show's success, he acknowledged, "you can't please everyone."

Sarasohn also pointed out introducing a podcast as a series gives listeners a "weird obligation." If they just heard part two, do they now have to go back and listen to part one? She recommends not even mentioning a story is part of a series, audiences are smart enough to put it together themselves.

The Shared Experience

If radio is the intimate medium, podcasts can be even more intimate.

"Phoebe went with me to Temple Square," Zomorodi said half-jokingly. She had been listening to Criminal through earbuds on a walk in Salt Lake City earlier that morning.

Question to ask: What can you do to include your listeners?

The sign-up page for the "Bored and Brilliant" challenge.
Credit WNYC

As a host, you can use that connection with the listener to your advantage. On Note To Self (when it was still called New Tech City)​, Zomorodi did just that with the "Bored and Brilliant" project. "You'd be surprised at what your audience will do for you," she said. The project encouraged listeners to participate in a week of challenges to detach from their phones and spend more time thinking creatively. After completing each task, participants were asked to share their experiences. Some of their accounts were aired in a following episode, giving them incentive to continue participating.

Setting Your Gold Standard

Sarasohn (a.k.a. The Data Queen) shared her secret to collecting stats. “Listening is the gold standard when getting data,” she said. By really listening, Sarasohn found the earlier the "break" -- a light-hearted piece -- in the NPR One stream showed up, the longer the listener stayed around.

Questions to ask: What gold standard do you live by? How will that improve your podcast?

Judge has a gold standard of her own. She asks herself, “is this good enough for radio?”