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  • Thoughts On Podcast Structure: Part 1 – What Is Your Topic?

    May 11, 2014 · 1 comment

    structure

    Whenever I get an email asking for advice about starting a podcast, I always cringe after I ask what the show will be about and hear, “It’ll just be me and my friends talking about geeky stuff.” You’re allowed to podcasting however and about whatever you want, but I have news for you: Unless you are famous, nobody wants to hear you and your friends talk about random geeky stuff. As my fellow podcaster Chris Cowan said, “[Listeners are] only interested in…something that piques their interest…Talking about random stuff is not going to pique someone’s interest…talking about their favorite TV show, activity or subject matter [will].” In other words:

    Your Podcast Needs to Be about Something

    I remember how excited I was when I first heard about podcasting. I knew right away that it was something I wanted to do… and do quickly! This is a pitfall for many potential hobby podcasters. You pour through posts on gear and media hosting, and read about the importance of show art and sound quality, and all of that is important, the most important is “What is your show about?” If you can’t answer that question in one sentence, you’re not ready to start a podcast people will want to listen to. And though we tell ourselves that we’re just doing it for fun and we don’t care if anyone listens… you do. And if you don’t now you will. Podcasting can be a lonely, one-sided medium without an audience.

    So what is your podcast about? In the movies they call a one sentence description for a movie a “logline”. Sounds like lumberjack lingo but that’s what they call it. The logline is the hook that captures the imagination of potential producers… and the interest of your potential listener. So sit down and summarize your new show in one sentence. Here’s a handy guide:

    [Descriptive Title] is a [Regularity] [Genre] podcast where [Credentialed] [Host(s)] shares [Topic] with [Unique Perspective]; subscribe for the [Gimmick] stay for the [Listener Involvement].

    Let’s take this one element at a time:

    Descriptive Title: You’re show title should be one to three words long and describe what your show is about… but in a fun and unique way. Consider it a mini-logline. One of my favorite couple’s-cast titles is “It’s Just Us“. You read it and you know what they’re it’s going to be about. Before you commit to a name search iTunes and on Google to see if the name is already being used. Then search iTunes in your genre and get a feel for what kind of titles you like… and what overused keywords to avoid (ie: geek). You’re also going to want to make sure you can get a URL with your title (MyPodcast.com). If it’s taken, consider changing the title or using a uncomplicated abbreviated version (ie: nlcast.com).

    Regularity: How often will you do the show? Monthly? Weekly? Daily? Once a week is typical. Podcasts should be between 30-60 mins with 45 minutes as a goal. You want it short enough to stay interesting but long enough to be taken seriously. Post your show on the same day every week.

    Genre: What listing will your show fall under in iTunes? Comedy? Kids & Family? TV & Film? If you can’t fit your show into just one category (you get to choose two) chances are you don’t know what your show is about. Here’s a listing of iTunes Podcast Genres.

    Credentialed: What makes you uniquely qualified to speak on the topic of your show? I’m sorry but being a “geek” isn’t going to cut it. That’s all of us these days. If you’re talking about B-movies, you had better be a B-Movie Buff. If you’re talking weight-loss, you need to have lost, or be in the process of, losing weight. Is it a couple’s cast? What can you say other than the obvious “husband & wife” that is related to the topic? Adoptive parents John and Cheryl? Sky-divers John and Cheryl? Conjoined twins John and Cheryl? Whatever it is, remember that it should be topic related.

    Host or Hosts: Who will be on your show? Just you? Yourself and five other friends? Listeners like simplicity and regularity so whoever you choose make sure they’re as committed to the recording schedule as you are. A show with two or three hosts has a better chance at succeeding than a show with five to eight especially when four of them are different every week.

    Topic: What is your show about? Crafting. Crafting what? Perler beads. What will the audience take away from your show? They’ll know where they can get the latest patterns and supplies. Perfect. When choosing your topic, drill down into it and see how deep you go. The more specific you can be, the more of a hook your show becomes to potential listeners. Let’s do another. What’s your show about? My family. What about your family? Updates on what we’re doing every week. What are you doing every week? We enjoy movies. What kind of movies? Movies that aren’t necessarily “family-friendly” but are still okay for kids and parents to watch together. So do a show reviewing the movies you watch so your listeners can watch them with their kids. Okay! Now your show is about something. Having a topic limits your content… which is a good thing. A podcast without a topic is like listening to elementary kids talking in the back seat. It’s random, hard to follow, involves inside humor and is generally annoying.

    Unique Perspective: Or Unique Angle. Same difference. There are thousands of podcasts on every topic known to mankind out there. What is your Harry Potter Fan Podcast going to add that makes it special and unique? If can’t answer this question, you probably have the wrong topic for you. The Unique Perspective comes from the passion  that you have for the topic and/or your personality. If your topic is collecting Lego minifigs and your passion is trading, you’re likely to do a minifig show where you’re sharing your latest duplicates and where people can trade them. If your topic is pop-culture and your a funny guy, your angle will be humor, satire or outright mockery.

    Gimmick: What is going to happen in the first five minutes of your show that will keep that new listener listening? After quickly mentioning the title, logline, date and hosts, then what? Your show needs to start with something gripping. Pop Mockers (another excellent Descriptive Title) records a preview of their show topics before the show even starts, whetting the listeners appetite for more. Other shows start by discussing a bit of news that pertains to their topic. What you want to avoid is a slow, soft opener where no one seems to know what to say. If the Descriptive Title is the mini-logline, the opening of your show is the movie trailer. Set the tone right at the start and keep the energy going through till the end.

    Listener Involvement: Again, unless you’re famous, you can’t afford to ignore your listeners. These people have decided that you are entertaining and/or enlightening and have made a commitment to you… and the more involved they can be the more likely they are to hang around. Answer submitted questions. Read feedback emails. Play voicemails. Ask for their feedback and content submissions… and give them a chance to support you financially. We’ll talk more about that on a future post.

    So now let’s do a few examples. I’m going to use my own podcasts because I know them best.

    Nobody’s Listening is a weekly clean-comedy podcast where storytellers/comedians, James Kennison and John Steinklauber share funny life stories with humorous commentary and their own humorous anecdotes; subscribe for the host’s anecdotal humor & recap-song, stay to hear your submitted story featured on the show.

    Help! I’m A Children’s Pastor is a bi-weekly religious/christian podcast where veteran children’s pastorJames Kennison shares children’s ministry issues, tips and resources with a practical down-to-earth perspective; subscribe for the ministry updates, stay for the user-submitted topics, content and answers to your children’s ministry questions.

    Made My Day is a weekly religious/christian, health/self-help podcast where depression survivorJames Kennison shares the happenings that make each day worthwhile with a positive and humorous perspective on depression recovery; subscribe for the stories, stay to share your own recovery story and what you’re thankful for.

    Don’t use this exercise as your actual logline. It’s too sterile and academic. It’s only purpose is to help you understand your own show. For example after eight years I have finally figured out a proper logline for my show Nobody’s Listening (horrible non-descriptive title). It’s “The funny story podcast”. Boom. Period. Done. If I had read this eight years ago I might have named the show something close to that. Oh, well.

    It’s never to late to shape up your existing show using these tips. Even if you’re completely happy with your program filling in this logline can help you realize where to focus your show’s energy [topic], the part to promote [gimmick], the part to improve [listener involvement], [regularity]. For me this exercise helped me to finally label myself as a comedian. I don’t consider myself one, but I do try to make people laugh and provide a comedy podcast.

    Starting a new show? I’d love to hear your logline and offer any advice I can. Have an existing show? I’d love to see yours as well. Post it in the comments or email me directly: james@nlcast.com

    [Read Thoughts on Podcast Structure: Part 2]

    • Awesome advice! Thanks for the shout out!

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