Conventional wisdom in the podcasting world is that the first few episodes of your podcast are going to suck. Conventional wisdom says you just need to get those sucky episodes out of your system, and then you'll be all better on the other side of the suck.
I don’t disagree with that. Where I depart from conventional wisdom is when they translate “out of your system” to “into your podcast feed so everyone sees how much your episodes suck”.
Call me crazy, I'm not sure many businesses can afford to purposely release sucky content. In any form.
Last night I had a conversation with a new prospect about starting a business podcast for there firm. One of the questions they asked was, ”Is the market saturated?”. Of course, my answer was no, there's plenty of room for in the market for another podcast. Even at somewhere north of 700,000 shows, there’s no upper limit and we’ve plenty of room for more podcasts.
However, we may be quickly running out of room for crappy business podcasts.
I don’t think that we podcasters, especially those of us who've done it for a very long time, have done a good job as stewards of the medium from a professional sense. At least not as it applies to businesses looking to get into podcasting for the first time.
Nota bene: Everything I'm about to cover is going to be highly controversial. If you're just in podcasting for the fun of it, what I’m about to say likely doesn’t apply. But in the vast majority of cases, businesses don’t get into new mediums like podcasting for the fun of it.
Let's go back to correlating a first podcast episode with the first draft of something written. With the notable exception of email and social media posts, the first draft of written content is rarely published. Written content -- annual report, monthly reports, chapters of a book, case studies -- goes through several revisions before it's ready for public consumption.
So true is -- or at least should be -- with podcasting for your business.
The very first time you start talking into a microphone, you're probably not going to be “a natural”. There are many things you need to learn. Proper mic placement, diction, pacing, how to tell a good story... There are many skills, hard and soft, you need to learn to create good spoken-word content.
And yes, as you do more behind the mic, you will get better over time. What you need not do is shine the public spotlight on your content as you work through that “getting better” phase.
That's a tough pill to swallow, and it goes against conventional wisdom in podcasting. I realize that the way to get better most things is learning how to be better at those things. Practice and repetition is a part of that learning. But so is bringing in additional people and mentors who are skilled knowledge workers who know what they're doing. It’s the rare good business podcast that’s staffed by a team of one.
Conventional wisdom in podcasting is to release your early (read: sucky) episodes to the public and get feedback. You will, conventional wisdom says, find out what your listeners like and don’t like about your episodes. This is helpful, it is said, because you're not podcasting for yourself, but for your audience.
As a seasoned business operations guy, I understand the importance of getting early feedback from the user base. But what I don’t buy is that listeners of your show’s early episodes -- or even later episodes -- make for a good focus group. In my experience (which mirrors the experience of many others) any feedback you get from your audience is occasional at best. As much as we talk about podcasting being a great medium for getting instant feedback from your audience, I haven’t seen evidence to back that up.
Worse, I worry about all the people who were going to listen to those early (read: sucky) episodes and decide the content certainly does suck, and that they are not going to listen any longer. Yes, there's a lot of bad podcast episodes out there. But there's also a decent amount of good content available for the listening.
But we can’t ignore the fact that first drafts suck. I think you should be OK with making content for your business that sucks. What you should not be OK with is publishing content that you know sucks.
Content that sucks can be made not to suck. That’s the reason we iterate: to take something that sucks, get it to a place where it doesn’t suck, and then keep refining it until it’s great! Go back and edit. Maybe take another editorial pass on the script. Get back behind the mic if you need to.
A sucky episode doesn’t mean the concept for the episode sucks. It only means your first execution didn’t work. That’s fine. Just don't publish it!
You'll hear many podcasters repeat the mantra that “Perfect is the enemy of done”, and that it's better to publish than polish. But I'm going to disagree, at least in some cases, and say that if you know that episode is nowhere near perfect, you should not publish.
Another nota bene: You know the difference between something with a few flaws and something that is a rolling train wreck. If you can't; get someone's opinion. Not the public's opinion, but somebody not afraid to give you an honest appraisal.
Fix it. Go back and redo it if that's what's necessary. I don't care if it takes you seven different revisions to get it better. If that’s what it takes, then you do seven revisions. Get it better before it goes out live to the public.
It's your business we’re talking about. It's not just podcasting for fun. Listeners are getting more discerning all the time.
Yes, you will get better at podcasting over time. And yes, your first few attempts at making episodes will suck. Conventional wisdom has that right. Where I disagree is in what you should do with those sucky things.
I think you should learn from your mistakes. You should listen, find out what's not working and go back and tweak it. I don't care if it takes you hundreds of hours to get it right. It probably will take something like that, counting up all the hours spent by all the people necessary, with a lot of those hours tossed out before you've produced an episode dialed in enough to release to the wild. I'm sorry that you find that number shocking and disappointing. But there it is.
However, if you want to buck against my recommendation and publish your first draft, go for it. You can do that. I'm not a gatekeeper. Just keep in mind that here we are, 15 years into the world of podcasting, where the number of leeway listeners will give us for making obviously flawed content is shrinking. The window of forgiveness is closing and fast on your business. So get better at your craft. Do not rush to publish that first draft or that second draft. Wait until it's ready to go and then publish it.
I'll have more to say about this on future episodes, but for now, thank you very much for listening. I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.
(I didn't even do my normal roll-off ending…)