As I was watching today’s SpaceX launch “webcast”, I found a few lessons that I think are applicable to podcasters. The population of the world breaks into two classes: People who've watched a space X launch and those who have not. If you have, you know they are a lot of fun to watch. But if you haven't, that's okay too!
The webcasts SpaceX makes and airs live with each launch aren't for everyone. To watch regularly, you have to be very interested in the whole process. And it helps to be a part of the fandom that has developed around Space X.
And because not everyone is interested enough to watch the webcast, SpaceX doesn’t try to make their webcasts for everyone. That’s lesson number one.
Everyone is not your audience.
Most people only have a passing interest in commercial space activity. While most are happy to use Google Maps and expect mobile coverage everywhere they travel, that's not a deep enough of an interest-level to actually watch the literal rocket science live. That’s why only about 36,000 people watched today’s launch live. (You'd love to have 36,000 downloads of each of your episodes, right? That would put your podcast in the top 1% bracket!) But it's a pretty small number in comparison to the overall population.
So instead of making live launch coverage for everyone, SpaceX makes it for people interested in their launches. But that doesn’t mean hard-core space nerds. There are multiple levels of “space nerd-dom”. Space X recognizes this, but still isn’t shy with throw out weird terms that normal, not rocket scientists, are mostly ignorant of. MECO. SECO. LOX. And that brings us to lesson number two.
Smart-up instead of dumbing-down
SpaceX does a very good job of getting you in-the-know as to those odd-sounding terms. When the spokesperson for the webcast talks about MECO, they say something like “that's Main Engine Cut Off”. And then they get back to the explaining of what’s happening.
Sometimes, they’ll go into more detail. Today I learned why they adding helium just before launch. (It replaces the volume of the spent fuel so the tank doesn’t collapse like a disposable plastic bottle of water.) Just a quick explanation, then back to the intense coverage, often with more technical -- and unintelligible to most -- content in the background. Which makes for a nice segue to the third lesson podcasters can take from SpaceX.
Fly your geek flag responsibly
The spokesperson for SpaceX does not replace the actual action from launch control. During the webcast, you hear bits and pieces from the control center as they happen in real-time. They do this not only just to scratch the itch for super geeky fans. They do this because they know that all of their viewing audience has at least a little bit of a wanna-be rocket scientist in them, and SpaceX wants to cultivate that in all of us!
While this is sprinkled in throughout the webcast, it goes front-and-center about one minute before launch. The spokesperson -- often themselves a rocket scientist -- goes silent and lets the actual voices of the launch control engineers do their thing. It’s great tension. And it’s largely intelligible for first-time or infrequent viewers. And if you isolated it on its own, it would sound like the worst content.
But it’s not the worst content. It’s some of the best content when taken as a whole!
Even though the spokesperson isn't telling us what's going on we still -- to varying degrees -- know what's going on. And once liftoff happens, the spokesperson returns, offering up commentary as the launch engineers continue talking about the launch progression as the vehicle forces its way to space. They aren’t hiding us from the complexity. Instead, they are relishing with us.
To recap, here are the three lessons podcasters can learn from watching a SpaceX live launch webcast:
- You're not making your podcast content for everyone. You're only making content for the people who are interested in the topic that you have to discuss.
- Make sure that you talk in normal language and explain what needs to be explained.
- Go ahead and fly your geek flag when you need to. Done right, it’s infectious!
Even if you’re in the “never watched a SpaceX launch” set, I hope you’ve picked up something from this bit of content. And if you need help with your podcast or need someone on your team with big ideas around podcasting, it’s what I do four times a week for you and all other times for my clients.
Heh. “Launch”. How fitting. I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.