Content, presentation, production, and promotion. These are the four cornerstones for a great podcast. A lack of quality in these could hurt the growth of your podcast. But improve these cornerstones and you will grow your podcast.
You're a podcaster, which means you're a content-creator. Whether you create or curate your content, it needs to be something people actually want to consume.
Unless you're a celebrity, most people won't care about your personal life or your and your friend's random perspectives on random topics. (Your personality enhances your presentation of content, but your personality usually should not be the content itself.)
Even if your content is almost handed to you (for example, recent news, TV show episodes, movie releases, interview responses, or audience questions), you must choose the right stuff to include in order to have a high-quality episode. An art museum curator doesn't make the art himself; he selects what he thinks is the best art to give his gallery the best collection.
For your podcast, this may mean skipping a news story, not including a particular feedback piece, editing something out, or maybe not even starting a podcast about a particular TV show because the source content is horrible.
Consider two examples of what a podcaster might say. “I’m going to tell you how awesome I am” versus “I’m going to give you ten ways to be awesome.” Just from that short tease, which content sounds higher quality to you?
As I see it, everyone on the Internet wants to be either helped or entertained. Is your podcast meeting those two basic needs?
- Helpful—You are educating, equipping, encouraging, or inspiring people. They have a need and you're meeting it.
- Entertaining—You are making people laugh, engaging their minds, feeding their passions, or giving them a good time.
Helpful content can be entertaining, and entertaining content can be helpful. Remember that this isn't about meeting just your own needs, but the needs and desires of others.
To make even better content, don't just think about what your audience wants to hear, give them content they'll appreciate or enjoy so much that they'll want to share it with others. That's the core of viral content that sees massive growth—we call it word of mouth.
You could have the best content in the world, but your podcast will still struggle if you can't present that content well.
How clearly can you communicate? Can you explain complex ideas in simple ways? How good are you at captivating your audience with stories? Do you share information personally and passionately, or boringly? Are you giving your audience the content you promised, or wasting their time with other stuff?
The two best ways to improve your presentation are preparation and practice. Think of a concert pianist. She spends hundreds—maybe even thousands—of hours preparing the performance piece, learning the dynamics, understanding the emotions, optimizing the fingering, and more. Then spends maybe even more time practicing the piece she already knows. If she skipped either of these and just “winged it” on stage, the music would lack feeling and might even include a lot of mistakes.
Preparing your presentation doesn't mean you have to script it. A simple outline, even if just a list of topics you want to discuss, will help your presentation significantly. It helps you know what you want to share, share everything you intend to, and leads to an easier-to-follow presentation.
Practicing doesn't mean you have to rehearse your podcast. Practice communicating in every setting possible and review your ideas in your mind. If you want to stop saying, “uh,” then practice this in your everyday communication. If you want to tell better stories in your podcast, tell better stories to the people around you. I have even started “scripting” some of my comedy, so that it gives me something to practice and improve my story-telling.
Great presentation quality can sometimes make up for weak content. Just look at the television evangelists and pushy salespeople. What they lack in content quality, they make up for in how well they articulate their messages, manipulate your emotions, and inspire you to take action.
Take a critical look at how you present your content, find those things that may be detracting from the content, and figure out how to remove them.
Your content may be great and your presentation engaging, but poor production can quickly undermine your other hard work.
Both audio and video podcasts should focus first on the sound quality. You may see podcasters claiming massive audiences on some telephone-based platforms, but those platforms produce horrible sound quality. If those shows get that large of an audience with such poor quality, imagine how much larger they could be with better quality and being on multiple platforms! The biggest factor to your audio quality is the microphone you use. Investing in quality audio equipment (appropriate to your format—like lavaliers or shotgun mics for video) isn’t expensive. You can get great studio or lavalier starter microphones for around $50.
If you produce video, your second production-quality focus should be your lighting. Great, temperature-balanced lighting can make even a cheap video camera's output look professional. Using your lighting well can also hide or even enhance a cluttered background.
Don't stop the high-quality production with just your episodes! Also ensure you have a great-looking website, cover art, and social-network branding. Podcast cover art is often a potential subscriber's first impression of your show in many podcast directories. Great website design can enhance your content, calls to action, and make watching or listening to your episodes easier.
It is possible to have a great podcast, but with no audience. When you have the other cornerstones in place, then you can look at your promotion.
Some content is really easy to promote, because people are already looking for it. This might be content that answers questions, reviews products, and provides entertainment-fan perspectives. Often, then need work on podcast SEO (search-engine optimization) in order to be more findable. This is still proactive effort to optimize your content.
But for all content, you still have to work to grow an audience. Growth is easy when you already have leverage, such as celebrity status, a loyal following, or a mailing list. Each of these are things you can create when you're just starting out, and then the momentum will build.
The best ways to grow your audience involve engaging your potential audience where they already are, and equipping your existing audience to become your ambassadors.
Build on this foundation
Each of these four cornerstones of a great podcast build on each other. Good content needs good presentation, which needs good production to be consumed, which needs good promotion to be found.
It also works the other way around. Your promotion promotes your production, which enhances your presentation, which communicates your content.
With more momentum means less stress over each cornerstone, but it never negates the importance.
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