Podcasters have a reputation for being more than a little rambly. They often dive into various tangents and talk at length on trivial matters when listeners just wish they would get to the point. Some equate the bad behavior of podcasters to that of politicians. But I don't think that's a fair comparison.
I spent several hours watching C-SPAN last week, investing much more time than ever before on that channel, in the hours leading up to and just after the assault on Capitol Hill. Setting the political ramifications and national existential crisis aside (gods, does that sound trite), I noticed that the senators shared a singular trait:
They were all amazingly good orators.
Trust Me, I’ll Be Brief
I’m used to hearing from senators in soundbites, usually clipped from their brief appearances on political talk shows, other interviews given, or stump speeches. Last week was the first time I really paid attention to them in situ, as it were. And almost to a person, they were fantastic communicators. Heck, even the bad ones (and there are plenty of bad ones) were actually quite good at getting their point across in short, less-than-five-minute speeches.
They each nailed it in their short talks. Considering they had literally been under siege and were fearing for their lives a few hours ago, I was amazed. And each of them effortlessly (?) modified their prepared speeches to acknowledge what just happened to them yet still delivered their messages. And again, they nailed it.
Of course, they had talking points and an outline. And I suppose many of them had assistance from their speechwriters who also went through the same harrowing ordeal. But still, the senators delivered their prepared—or re-prepared—statements with aplomb.
So… All Podcast Episodes Should Be Five Minutes, Evo?
No, I'm not suggesting that you constrain all of your episodes to five minutes. (Although, if you can boil your message down and effectively communicate it to your audience in only five minutes, then why are you going than that?) The lesson here is finding a way to incorporate a chunk of “conciseness” into each of your episodes.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, but this technique can be applied to just about any type of podcast.
For longer-form interview-based shows, look to the pre- or post-interview sections of your episodes. That's a great place to drop in a concise chunk that summarizes the angle you and the guest covered. I like it at the front, and I like it created after you’ve edited out all the fluff from the interview. Though you could also do it at the end, especially if you’re reframing the key takeaways from the conversation.
For monologue shows, start each episode super-tight. No fluff. No banter. No sharing what you had for breakfast. Clearly outline what you’re about to talk about. Or write out an entire script if you can pull it off. Just make sure the episode starts on-point.
If you're doing an educational or “how-to” podcast, blend those two ideas. Produce the main content of the episode, then come back with a super-tight intro that hooks the listener. Don’t worry about “spoilers”, because you’re not writing fiction. In fact, you want to “spoil” it so the listener knows exactly why they should keep listening.
This can work for podcast fiction, true crime, or journalistic deep dives too. It just takes a bit more planning, as you’re following (or should be following) an arc across multiple episodes. One idea is to rely on the “Story So Far” approach, where you summarize what’s taken place in the prior episodes and foreshadow what’s to come in this episode. Starting each episode with this nice and tight summary is quite helpful, as you can’t know when or how people chose to listen to your serialized content.
In theory, you could try to place a concise chunk at the end. But good luck with that. We’re trained to skip the credits of most content, and podcasts are no exception. But if you can pull off a Marvel, dropping content at the end that’s worth sticking around for, great! I’ve seen a few Netflix Original series that manage to make the credits themselves entertaining. So if you’re up for the challenge, go for it!
Letting Your Inner Orator Out To Play On Your Podcast
The message here is simple: Embrace, re-embrace, or build your skills as an orator. Because it's easy for a podcaster to sit behind a microphone and talk. It’s another thing to prepare and polish enough to talk on-point for a short amount of time. That's tricky.
You might worry that changing up your episode format by introducing a new highly-produced bit of content inside your episodes will be weird for your listeners. And you’re right, to a point. It will sound different to your existing audience because it is different. But your loyal listeners probably aren’t going anywhere. Once they get over the “different-ness”, they’ll grow to love it.
And I assure you, brand-new listeners to your show will really appreciate your ability to orate concisely and hook them into your content.
Do You Even Clubhouse, Bro?
I’ve been active on Clubhouse for a little over a week and continue to be intrigued by the platform. So much that I have a few ideas that I think you might be interested in as well. If you’re active on Clubhouse, follow me over there—predictably, my user name is evoterra—and either DM me on Twitter (@evoterra) or send me an email (email@example.com) to tell me you want to play in my sandbox.
Clubhouse seems like something we working podcasters should love, as it’s an audio-only medium. But, as happens with any growing platform, there’s a preponderance of less-than-stellar advice being offered, and a lot aimed only at the newbies. I have some ideas that might better serve working podcasters in the middle who want to make their shows better. If it’ll work on Clubhouse. We’ll see.
Finally, if you know a working podcaster who needs to hear messages like this, then please tell them about Podcast Pontifications, the podcast, the website, or the newsletter. Or all three!
I shall be back tomorrow with another Podcast Pontifications.
Podcast Pontifications is written and narrated by Evo Terra. He’s on a mission to make podcasting better. Allie Press proofed the copy, corrected the transcript, and edited the video. Podcast Pontifications is a production of Simpler Media.