Two Years in as a Podcast Host – What I’ve Learned
I launched my podcast, The Medium Rules (TMR), in early 2018. TMR is a straightforward interview format, typically with one or two guests, and the broad category of the show is in its subtitle: Long-Term Trends in Media and Technology. As of this writing, I’ve taped and released 20 episodes, each between 45 and 60 minutes. As 2019 winds to a close, I thought it would be a good time to reflect upon some of my takeaways from the past two years.
For background, I launched TMR princiapally as a form of content marketing for my law practice, which is a venture practice focused on media and technology. Therefore, my thoughts here are skewed towards a content-marketing perspective rather than viewing the podcast as stand-alone content that I am looking to monetize. That said, I hope my insights are applicable to any podcast hosts and/or producers, and particularly people considering starting their own show.
- Only Cover Topics That You Personally Find Engaging. You can’t fake interest, so don’t try. Not to mention, even if you do try, the show will not be interesting because it will be obvious that the host is not particularly interested in what’s being discussed. Similarly, don’t overreach with respect to topics that you don’t have a decent handle on in terms of your own understanding and/or research. The fact that you’re groping for the thread will be obvious to your guest, he or she will lose interest, and the show will suffer. There’s no worse feeling than getting bogged down in an interview where you’re the host!
- Be Confident In Your Own Voice. This takes some time and some repetitions, but it’s important to develop the confidence that if you find something interesting, your audience will also be engaged. So don’t be afraid to speak up and insert your own observations, insights and experience into the conversation. If you have a sense of humor, use it. You want your show to be conversational rather than a straight Q&A. As people get to know you in the role of podcast host they want to hear from you. Related, do not over-edit the show to take out pauses, breaths, etc. It should be human and it should breathe. Highly edited shows sound robotic and are ultimately a big turn-off.
- Pick Guests You Have Some History With. If possible, try to have guests on where you know going in that you have some chemistry, that the guests are going to be lively and well spoken, and that they want to be there. One of my early guests on a crypto-related topic (I did a few crypto shows in 2018, so protecting the identities of the innocent here!) was both wooden and downright hostile with talking points that were way off the mark. Particularly, when starting selecting the right guests and being conversationally compatibile is key.
- It’s The Video, Stupid. From the very first episode we made the decision to both tape audio and shoot video. Initially we shot video using one MEVO camera and filmed just a wide shot for the entire show. Pretty unwatchable. We then added a second MEVO and shot the host and the guests, but no wide shot. Better, but also pretty boring. We then added a third MEVO camera to get two close-ups and a wide shot. Getting there, but the image-quality was below average. Finally, as we were getting traction with the show, and staying power, we upgraded to three Lumix SLR cameras, we got rid of the headsets for audio monitoring, and we upgraded our set design. The show now looks like it takes place on a talk show set (it’s actually one of our internal conference rooms), and the video is of exceptionally high quality and in fact looks great on a large, flat-screen TV. Why did we do this? I think people like, have always liked, watching interview shows, particularly if they are well shot and well produced. In fact, I think our show is much better, much more engaging, watched as opposed to heard. And in the long-tail world, this is important. Second, and relatedly, why not? If you’re already taping, the incremental time and expense to shoot video is minimal (after the relatively modest up-front costs). As the marketing people say, traffic the content. Finally, from a promotional perspective, it’s infinitely more effective to promote on social channels using a well put together video clip than using stills and an audio file. Production quality matters, more so in video than audio, and there are lots of great podcast production companies out there working on decent per-episode budgets. Shoot me a note and I’d be happy to suggest names.
- Rome (Audience) Wasn’t Built In A Day. Easier to say from a content-marketing perspective in that so long as you’re hitting your lists with thoughtful, well-made content you’re doing your job, but regardless it takes time to build a following. You have to keep at it, and you have to keep at it with consistency and on somewhat of a schedule (which takes some discipline and work, particularly if it’s not your day-job). And you need to self-promote on all mediums, off-line and online. I’ve read a number of posts about how to build a podcast audience, and the one consistent through-line is that, absent a celebrity host, it takes time. Also, don’t set your expectations too high. There are literally thousands upon thousands of podcasts out there, many with overlapping themes. That’s fine, but unless you’re trying to hit the elusive Top 20 on iTunes, you need to be satisfied with finding a niche audience and growing it over time. Crack the thousands, and then the tens-of-thousands, and go from there. If you get there, you’ve pretty much won.
- Stretch. Don’t stop innovating on format, production, topics, etc. One of my favorite TMR episodes of 2019 was the episode I taped with Ari Wallach and Duff McDonald covering the Amazon HQ2 pullout back in February. We hadn’t done a show that was in any sense “news”, but we tried it and it worked out well. We covered the Amazon/Long Island City debacle from multiple angles and I think pulled out some really interesting insights, and we got great feedback. Definitely planning on more of the same in 2020.
- Eat Your Own Dog Food. Goes without saying, but listen to/watch your own show. If you don’t, you’ll have no idea what you do well and what you do badly, nor how you come across, and you won’t improve.