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Find Out if Anyone is Listening to Your Podcast


“Lies, damn lies, and statistics.” To the old cliché it might be worth adding “number of internet downloads” because working out just how many people are consuming your content is the source of countless applications, rules of thumb, and the occasional touch of snake oil (yes, I still get pitched with measured “hits” in 2011).  It gets even more interesting with podcasting.

Nobody likes to produce to an empty room, so how do you know if people are engaging with you? While most podcasters are going to have a blog (even if it’s just to power the RSS feeds for your show), there are some great strategies and ideas to discover your listeners and interact with them. Here are three, and feel free to add your own.

One of the important areas you have to remember is that people listening to your podcast are not likely to be next to their computer when they do listen, and if they are out and about they might not be in the best place to use a smartphone or tablet to carry out the action. So you need to make any call to action memorable and simple.

If you want something, ask for it. That’s a rule you want to remember here, because you want to get that listener interaction. The time honoured way is to offer some sort of inducement, and that’s why competitions should be considered. It doesn’t need to be a fantastic prize (unless you’ve got a sponsor who’d like to help out with that). An Amazon digital voucher is always a good place to start.

You could always combine the competition with a survey. Asking your audience a “question of the month” is a great format, and as well as engaging with them and starting a two-way conversation, any survey should always ask the basic demographic details of those taking part. Why? Because when you start to approach advertisers, they’ll really appreciate that kind of information (so make sure you tell people why you’re asking for the demographic data, be honest).

Finally, your podcast is just a file on the internet, so tracking downloads is a valid method. There are various plug-ins for blogging platforms that will help you do this, and some of them are tailored for use with podcasts. Personally I’m a fan of Blubrry’s service that’s wrapped up in their Powerpress plug-in for WordPress, but there are others out there you can use.

The flaw in relying on a counter is that downloads don’t necessarily mean listeners – go and check your podcast queue to see how many podcasts you have unplayed and you’ll see what I mean. That’s why the call to actions in your podcast are important. They may be reinforced with links on the show notes, but fundamentally they are discovered when people listen. Keep them simple, make them easy to remember (consider using a custom bit.ly link such as bit.ly/blogworld), and make sure to keep your own records on what works and what doesn’t – it’ll be different for every podcast audience!

Image: TwiT at MacWorld 2008″ cc Macinate / Flickr

The Flexibility of Consistency


One of the initial attractions to podcasting is the ability to listen to a show whenever you want to – be it in the car, the daily jog along the boardwalk, or on a long flight across the Atlantic (perhaps to BlogWorld, if so I’ll be in the back of the plane in cattle class). I think this freedom for the listener has been one of the strengths that has made podcasting what it is today.

By creating personal appointments (such as Vikki Spence and I listening to the BBC’s Friday Comedy Podcast on a Sunday morning), the emotional bond between listener and creator is magnified, but that places a strong demand from the creator.

To have a podcast that creates appointment listening means having a schedule, and sticking to it. Regular content is the key to a good blog, and it’s also the key to a good podcast. People will be relying on you, and when you can prove you have that, listenership goes up, people will be comfortable recommending the show, and feedback from the audience will rise (at least it does for me).

Signpost that regularity too. With my “Friday Rock Show” the clue is in the title, and as a result it leaves me little choice but to make that deadline. The obvious safety net is that I plan my music around recording on the Wednesday, for posting Friday afternoon (UK time). That gives me a few opportunities to record a show if I miss the regular time.

The other option, which needs a bit of lead time but is mighty useful if you know you have a tricky episode deadline to meet, is to invite in a guest host. While I covered the Edinburgh Fringe with a daily podcast (going live at 11am each day, making sure the consistency was there), I also had the commitment to the Friday Rock Show. One show was taped in advance, one show was made up of music that I had found at the Fringe (a nice doubling up of research and clearance), but the third may have caused an issue.

Until fellow podcaster Neville Hobson stepped up to guest host the show.

Double win! Not only do I get the show going out when the listener is expecting it, but I also get the bonus of having a bit of an extra promotion from the guest host as well – because you know they are going to mention it on Twitter or on their blog.

The point of course is to make sure you never let down your listeners, be they the regulars, or the first times who’ll know when to come back. Because that;s what you want, no drive-by listens, but solid, dependable listeners.

The Courage and Confidence to run a Podcast


My podcasting work at the Edinburgh Fringe in the last fortnight has led me to think about what qualities are useful in podcasting and social media content creation. And I think I need to add another one to the list.

I just can’t make up my mind if it should be courage or confidence.

Let’s backtrack slightly. I’m doing a daily podcast from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (2500 different shows over three and a half weeks). Each show is about forty minutes long, and follows a standard chat show format of jokey opening, news and recommendations, followed by three long interviews and some music to finish.

Each interview needs around 30 minutes of time in my diary (if I’m being generous) plus an hour beforehand to see the show, then some editing on top of that, and compile the final podcast each morning. It’s a busy schedule, but one that I’ve fine tuned over the years. The only potential wrinkle is that there is very little room for a second take if something is missed.

And that’s where the confidence comes in. Because when you have one shot at getting all your material recorded; when you have one shot at an interview; when you only have the time to do one take of the morning news bulletin or you irrevocably screw up the schedule for the rest of the day; you need to have confidence in yourself that your equipment will work, you can switch it on, start recording, and simply go for it.

I love the luxury of working at home in my studio, with the ability to retake a line, section or even the whole podcast, but at the same time there’s a certain daredevil in my psche that thrives in a high pressure environment that allows no mistakes whatsoever.

I know I can do it. I know it makes for a better podcast. That’s what I mean about confidence.

But it’s also courage to take chances, to go down an interview route where the outcome is unclear, because so much can change. Especially when interviewing up to 15 comics a day in a five hour window, it’s impossible to do the sort of preparation that I would do for a weekly 30 minute interview podcast with one guest. There’s a press release from their PR, some scribbled notes from their wikipedia page and website biography in my notebook, and that’s it. Open the microphone, welcome them to the show, and simply see what happens.

That’s what I mean by courage.

It’s a high wire balancing act that I do as often as I can. Anyone who’s done live TV or radio beyond spinning discs and introducing the bands will know exactly what I mean. There’s an energy that can’t be replicated in a studio or with a safety net, and I’d encourage everyone to take off the stabilizers and find out if you can balance the podcasting bicycle on your own.

Image Attribution: Vikki Spence

How a Podcast Can Grow Your Brand


If you are a blogger it’s a well known fact that you can no longer operate in the vacuum of your web site. You have to expand beyond your blog. The most common ways people do that are via social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook.  While those are necessary and great outlets, they’re saturated. Everybody has a Facebook fan page and everybody is on Twitter. It’s not going to help you differentiate yourself very much.

I stumbled upon podcasting by accident when I decided to start a weekly series called “Interviews With Up and Coming Bloggers.” That evolved into a site of its own and I became known as the guy who interviews people. Starting a podcast has allowed me to connect with 100’s of bloggers that I might never otherwise have talked to, and extend my brand beyond my blog. Once you start a podcast you’ll be leveraging iTunes as a distribution channel and reach an audience that might never have heard of you. While there are millions of people producing written content for their blogs, there are far fewer who are regularly creating audio content.

A Podcast Gets People Talking About You:

There’s something about allowing people to hear voice that creates a stronger connection. I’ve had countless people tell me “I listen to you on the way to work everyday.” That means that somebody is connecting with you, your voice, and your brand every single day.  If you’re creating something of value they’ll naturally go out and start telling other people about it.

Choosing a Subject

Figuring out what your podcast will be about is not the easiest thing in the world. But it in many ways it comes back to the same way you chose your blog topic. Find something you are passionate about and that other people would be interested in. Cliff Ravenscraft turned a podcast about the TV show Lost into a movement and eventually created additional podcasts which have turned into significant income streams. If you try to create content around something you have absolutely no genuine interest in, it will definitely fail.

One of the things that seems to stop people from exploring multimedia content is that it’s something they’ve never done before. It’s also putting yourself out there for the whole world to hear and see. What you forget is that before you started blogging it was something you had never done. Eventually you stopped being afraid to push publish. Multimedia content and podcasting work the same way. Chances are your content won’t be spectacular when you start, but it’s something you’ll improve with time.

Directing the Conversation


In my last post, I wrote about the structure of a podcast which would allow you to block out the flow of information as you prepare to record a podcast. Now I want to talk about directing the conversation.

Unless you are doing a solo “news report” style podcast, you’ll have a guest on the podcast – that could be a second reporter or analyst, an invited specialist, chatting to a member of the public, or any other combination that makes for an exciting and informative show. The great thing about guests, at least for me, is that it makes the show unpredictable.

And that means not being able to plan out anything more than the broad areas in the structure. So how to keep everything flowing during the podcast? For me I keep in mind three key points.

The first is that you are undertaking a directed conversation. You know what you want to find out from your guest (and of course your guest has their own goals as well), so you do want to keep the conversation going in the direction of “what you want to tell people”. Keep these ideas in mind, and try to make everything you say lead up to one of those ideas, before moving on to the next one.

Second, your next question is in the last answer. It should all flow, no sudden jumps in the progression. Don’t forget that it is a conversation and not an interrogation, it shouldn’t need to jump around. Think smooth. It’s a smart idea to pay attention to random conversations (such as when you are out in a bar) and take note of how people talk with each other. That rhythm and feel is what you need to replicate, while directing the conversation. It might sound a bit false to start with, but over time you’ll be able to guide someone’s voice to where you want it to go, and still make it sound natural.

Finally, and one that sometimes requires tact and bravery in a host… what are the listeners screaming at you to ask? Right there, that’s the question you have to ask (or at least justify afterwards why you didn’t ask it). The key is getting to that point, and once you are there, being able to ask it in such a way that you get a useful answer. That sort of skill takes practice, but you can get there.

Keep those three elements in mind while you are recording your podcast, and you’ll keep the interest up in the audio or video, you’ll stay engaging for your audience, and your skills will continue to improve.

Image Source: iProng and Bill Palmer, Creative Commons.

The Flowering Structure of a Podcast


So you’re got a microphone ready, there might be a camera in the background with a blinking LED, and it’s time for you to record your latest podcast. But where to start?

One of the questions I get asked a lot is "what should I talk about" in a podcast. To be honest as long as you are talking about something you are passionate about, which has elements of entertainment, education and information, you’re probably on the right track. What’s just as important is how you say it. There’s a structure that’s worked well for me for presentations, seminars, training courses, and podcasts, and I want to throw it out there as a rule of thumb just now.

It’s a pretty simple formula for framing your chunk of information you want in the podcast. The thing you want to tell people sits nicely in the middle. Right before you tell people, you tell them what you’re going to tell them. Once you’ve told them, tell them what you just told them.

Okay you’ll be using some production tricks between the three parts, but a strong "welcome to the show, today I’m going to tell you how to fly to Paris" followed by a jingle, then how to fly to the French capital, followed by another jingle or musical sting, and then "that was how to get to Paris, for more, listen to the next Wonderful World of Travelling episode."

Too broad strokes for you? Then break down the fly to Paris in to two or three sections – for example landing at the Airport, and then travelling to the centre of town. Tell them first you’ll talk about the airport experience, then tell them, then remind them as you move towards the city centre.

With this "flowering" technique you can not only break down a big presentation in a podcast, but you’ll have a natural flow of information, alternating new facts and reinforcement through repetition, as well as a structure that can be used again and again. It’s a great framework when you start out, but also a good safety net if you loose focus and have no idea what to do – it wouldn’t be the first time that this has saved me in a live show!

Tell ’em what you’ll tell them – tell them – tell them what you told em.


Image Source: Yukiroad, Creative Commons.

Imperfection Makes Perfect


On of the things that I found surprising when I started out in podcasting was the value that imperfection can bring towards your production. I’m about to start my yearly coverage of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – a daily show that runs each day of the month long festival featuring news, chat, reviews and interviews. This will be the sixth year that it runs, and each year of course has lessons for the following year (be it thing to do better, and things that should never be done again.

I want to go back to my second year to illustrate a point. The first year of the Fringe, I was recording while out and about, finding quiet corners in bars, alcoves in the streets, dark alleyways just out of the volume of the street performers to do the interviews. Mostly because this was 2005 and I didn’t know better, but also because I couldn’t get a "base" to work from that I could set up equipment and get really good sound quality.

Everyone loved the shows though, and it gained popular and critical acclaim (and six years later has a crowd of people eagerly waiting for it to return and performers lining up to get on the show). And in year two I had more time to plan the show, and was doing some volunteer work at a local community radio station. Which meant I had access to an honest-to-goodness real studio. Mixing desks! Microphones! Comfy chairs! Tea and Coffee making facilities!

Perfect, I thought, and proceeded to book in the performers to the studio, rather than a bar that was close to their theatre space. The audio quality was good, the quality of the interview was better than the year before (that’ll be a year of experience talking)…

Yet after a week I got a few listener emails all saying the same thing. They loved the interviews, they loved the people that were on the show (and some were buying tickets on the strength of these spots), but they missed something. They missed the hustle and bustle in the background, they missed the feeling that they were right in the thick of the excitement that the Fringe brought to Edinburgh. They missed the moments I had to stop and let a very loud bus pass before I could ask another question.

They missed the imperfection, and it was that imperfection that created the flavour that the rest of the podcast drew its energy from.

I cancelled the studio, moved back onto the streets, and to this day have continued to do the interviews wherever I as in Edinburgh, be it a quiet coffee bar, the busy Royal Mile, or in the middle of a Bouncy Castle which is being used as a stage to put on a performance of Dracula.

It also led to a special show that I do once a year, where I literally stand on The Royal Mile, switch on the recorder, and just stop and ask people "why are you here?" for 45 minutes to bring over the spirit of the Fringe. And that’s the one I get asked about the most!

The lesson? Pay attention and talk to your listeners, and never be afraid to throw your plans out the window if you’re presented with a more appropriate option. In the long run, it will be improve you and your show.

Image Source: Leith Podcaster, Creative Commons.

Stay Outside Your Comfort Zone


Stay outside your comfort zone!

It’s one of the most important things you can do with any new media site, be it a blog, podcast or customised video channel. You can change the product at any point. It could be radical, or more likely it will be a little tweak here, some reworking of an element there, and the website continues on it slow evolutionary path.

But to do that you need to keep the ideas text file full of things to try out? What’s the best way of keeping your mojo flowing? Apart from thinking that BlogWorld LA might be a neat idea?

For want of a better word, keep grazing around the Internet like you graze a Conference’s Exhibition Hall.

Take Facebook as an example – with your lists of friends, and the status updates and links they post, you’re going to see, well, everything you’re expecting to see, things that you’ve told Facebook you like. If none of your friends are listening to "Anke Engestrom’s Podcast of Sand" then it’s super-unlikely you’ll ever stumble on it when staying inside your circle of friends. You need to actively go out there and "find the new."

And then you need to make a point of reading, listening (or watching) this new material. With an open mind. Just because you have no interest in pan-continental singing contests, you might learn something from a podcast about Eurovision that you can apply to your daily Major League Baseball round-up show. You’re not listening for content, you’re listening for technique. How do they handle background music, reading out URL’s, listener interaction, sponsorship messages, content structure, and everything else that goes into making a good podcast?

Where to start? Well, iTunes is a good place, primarily because of their "people listening to this also listened to" feature. Start at your favourite podcast, click on a random "people also listen to" choice… three times. Okay where are you now? That’s a good question. There’s probably a handful of ‘casts listed, so even though you’re not strictly here for content, might as well go for the most attractive one.

Do this once a week, and not only will you find some lovely little gems and broaden your horizons, you’re also going to expose yourself to a huge range of styles, techniques and the occasional "must make sure I never do that" shows. Keep a track of everything, good or bad, and listen to your own shows with that same critical process.

Oh and while you’re at it, drop an email to whoever you’ve ended up listening to. They’ll appreciate just as much as you do when you get fan mail. After all, isn’t it all about making human connections and sharing knowledge in the end?

Image Source: Rachel Clarke, Creative Commons

Get Your Blog Ready for BlogWorld New York


You’re probably going to this week’s BlogWorld NY to meet people, to forge new links for your business, to put yourself “on display”, or a mix of all the above. Before you head in to the Convention Center, you’ll probably check yourself out in the mirror, making sure you’re at your best.

Have you done the same for your online presence?

Just before you get on your flight to BlogWorld, take five minutes to look over what everyone else will check out once they’ve met you. The first impression in the real world counts, but so does the first impression in the online world. Are you making the best use of that first moment?


Let’s start with your blog. If it’s not frequently updated, now is the time to put up a fresh post. My own blog is more a map to my other activities around the web, but in advance of BlogWorld, I’ve put up a short post saying that I’ll be at the conference, the best way to get in touch with me while I’m at the conference, and what I’m looking for while in New York to start the ball rolling before I even land..

It also has a recent picture of me, so people who do want to find me know what to look out for. That might not be as important to me (after all, “look for the kilt” isn’t going to turn up too many false positives)

Next up is my Twitter account, and specifically the main web page. Is the background showing what I want to show, is my avatar reflecting what I want it to reflect, and will it match with what people see after they meet me? I think it does. And is the 140 character bio still suitable?

To a certain extent the same goes for Facebook. Depending on your privacy settings you might want to keep your timeline clear of any pictures from a late night in Dusseldorf with a Maltese pop star (ask me over a pint, I might tell you then). If you’re going to be hitting the social scene at BlogWorld, keep an eye out for the tagged photo that causes mayhem. One trick you might like to employ is to create a “banner image” at the top of your profile that uses all five images to create one image (how to do this? Shane Richmond has the details). Striking and discrete at the same time.

Finally, and the one that quite a few people forget about, is LinkedIn. This is much more business-like and always feels like a “living CV” to me, but it’s one of the largest social networks out there. I’ve always got a handful of projects going at any one time, and it’s always good to make sure everything is up to date in LinkedIn with those achievements.

An event like BlogWorld for me is about making initial meetings and starting relationships – it’s one of the big reasons that I don;t mind doing a four day transatlantic trip. I want to make an impression on all fronts, and to make sure that people who want to meet me, and perhaps work with me in the future, are getting the true story no matter where they turn.

So cast an eye over your online presence – even if it’s just in the departures lounge of the airport. There’s always room for improvement!

Learn to Talk on Your Podcast by Listening


What is a podcast? I’m going to be asking that question at next week’s Blog World Expo in New York, and I suspect there will be a different answer from everyone I ask. What I am pretty sure about is that when you look at the content, it’; going to boil down to people talking to each other.

Be it a formal interview, a panel discussion on the latest news on a specialist topic, most podcasts boil down to people talking to each other, be it the aforementioned interview, a round table discussion, or stopping someone in the hall of a blogging conference. Unfortunately there isn’t a "Dummies Guide for Talking to People and recording the conversation".

But help is at hand! It’s all around you in the podcast world! People! Talking to other people! Unlike "how to set up an RSS feed," there isn’t a set of bullet points to follow, but there are a lot of practical examples out there, and a number of rules of thumb that I’ve gleaned.

Okay, the first one, the most obvious, and the one that seems to be missed by those starting out. Listen to what others are saying, and let your lines flow from that. The next question is always in the last answer – the skill is leading into question two from question one, via the answer, and getting the flow right between the two people involved in the conversation.

I’m never a fan of having all your questions completely written out before an interview, mainly because you can’t react to what is being said, and listening is just as important a skill to use. You need to be able to make it all sound natural, and you can’t do that with a fixed script. By all means have notes, but do what every good blogger does, and #tag the questions you want to ask. That way you can make sure that over the whole interview, but all your questions will feel natural when they come up.

For me though, one of the best things you can do is to listen to other podcasts, listen to other formats, and absorb as much as possible. Here’s three podcasts that I’d recommend you pop on your listening list for the technique as well as the content:

  • Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me (NPR)

    A weekly sports quiz show, where the questions are already known to the panellists, but there is an easy spontaneity on show, and it’s an excellent example of how a chairperson can keep control of a panel of guests, and stay on course for time and content while everyone else goes for the jokes.

  • Tech Weekly (The Guardian)

    A nice descriptive title, covering the weekly news. Lots of structure on show here, with a clear goal, but at the same time it stays fresh and never hard to listen to.

  • Best of Today (BBC Radio 4)

    One of the most surprising things for me watching US media is how gentle your interviewers are with their guests. How are you meant to get any new information that way? Time to listen to aggressive interview technique when the subject is not as forthcoming.

On top of all this, there is one guide, one reference points, there is one sage that I would turn to before any others. Someone I turned to over six years ago when this all smelt like a new car.

Johnny Carson.

Seriously, grab a decent collection of old Tonight shows (here’s my suggestion) and while you enjoy the fun, listen to Carson, and watch how everything just works and clicks together. For me, that was the gold standard to aim for when I started. Now, you have a lot more to choose from and learn from.

But if you;re asking me for advice, it’s simple. "Heeeeeere’s Johnny"

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