Is your podcast routine stuck in a rut? If so, we’ve got just what you need! Jane Portman from Userlist joins us on the blog today to share her podcasting genius. Keep reading for 8 experiments you can try when your podcasting routine needs spicing up.
Podcasting is all about the long haul.
In the beginning, your priority is optimizing the processes, so that the podcast routine smoothly co-exists with other aspects of your work. Then you just keep shipping on schedule, and the show grows over time.
But like with anything in life, you get bored.
I’ve grown UI Breakfast to 1.8 million downloads since 2014, and launched another show, Better Done Than Perfect, for Userlist in 2020. It’s been a tremendous learning curve: there have been experiments, changes, and format updates.
In this article, I’ll share some of these learnings with you. You’ll find several ideas on how to experiment, and make your podcast journey more exciting.
1. Swap the format
Have you been running an interview show for ages? Then you could invite a co-host for a few months, or make a mini-series with a single guest. Rob Walling at Startups for The Rest of Us alternates the formats really well.
In the early days of UI Breakfast, I did a mini-series of 3-5 short episodes with a single guest, but on different topics. This way, we could record and produce the episodes in bulk, and publish them over time. It’s a big time saver for everyone, and it also helped the audience to know one guest better.
And vice versa. Has it been just you and your co-host? Try bringing in guests once in a while.
My co-founder Benedikt runs a podcast called Slow & Steady together with Brian Rhea. It’s a two-person “founder journey” show, but they also have occasional guests.
Sidenote. Keep in mind that conversations of three and more people are incredibly hard to host, compared to a classic two-way conversation.
2. Run a survey
Podcasting is a silent medium. You hit publish and pray for the best. To collect feedback, try running a survey. You can set it up using any form tool of your choice, and promote it in the beginning of the episode.
Here are some questions to ask:
- What do you do for a living?
- How long have you been listening to the show?
- How did you discover it?
- What topics do you enjoy the most?
- What do you like the most & the least?
- How often do you listen?
You can arrive at some surprising learnings.
Here’s one story. For a couple years, UI Breakfast had an opening “ice-breaker” section — a list of questions that I asked each guest. It was fun to compare their answers to each other, and allowed me to “ease into” each conversation.
However, a poll showed that many listeners didn’t enjoy it as much as I did. One of the comments said that they’d rather “get past the foam and straight to the beer.” And so I did, removing the questionnaire and shortening the episodes to 30–40 minutes (more on that below.)
3. Experiment with episode length
Episode length matters. A lot.
Your listener typically has a time window at their disposal — a run, a stroll, a train ride — and they choose a show to finish in one sitting. If your episodes go over an hour, some listeners might prefer another show.
Why are your episodes long? From my experience, any guest typically “warms up” at 20-30 minutes after the beginning. Of course, then it’s hard to wrap up the conversation at 30 minutes sharp.
Can you do anything about it? Try this:
- Keep the “bio” part shorter, and dive into the main topic earlier.
- Edit out certain parts in the beginning, starting right with the juicy content.
- Break down extra-long interviews in two parts (this works well for celebrity guests.)
At one point, I shortened the episodes to 30-40 minutes and listeners appreciated it. You can also experiment with extra short episodes, or mix-and-match different lengths within one show.
4. Change publishing frequency
If your podcast isn’t your primary source of income, then you might be worrying about “podcast-work” balance:
“Is the podcast bringing any tangible results?”
“Should I put the show on pause to reduce the workload, and focus on my core job (business?)”
Instead of taking extreme measures, try reducing the publishing frequency. You’ll be surprised: going from a weekly routine to every two weeks might not even influence your download stats that much. Most listeners don’t listen to all of your episodes anyways: a common pattern is to cherry-pick interesting topics.
If you publish less frequently, the audience will treat your episodes as something precious, and you won’t overwhelm them with “too much content.”
On the contrary, if you’ve been publishing sporadically — try a strict schedule, e.g. weekly. Consistency works magic for podcast growth.
5. Try seasons (or no seasons)
If the pressure of continuous publishing gets to you, consider splitting your show into seasons. You’ll get the desired breaks. Moreover, you can also set themes for each season, which helps you to dive deeper into a certain topic.
For example, at Better Done Than Perfect we do themes for each season: it was user on boarding for Season 1, customer success for Season 2, and email automation for Season 3.
The downside. “Starting” and “stopping” something takes energy, similar to any mechanical engine. From my experience, it’s easier to get into the publishing rhythm and maintain a smooth schedule. A continuous queue of various guests is also easier to handle than recruiting by topic.
6. Try blitz-style interviews
Sometimes you have an amazing guest and you want to ask a ton of questions, but don’t have enough time. For these occasions, blitz-style interviews work great.
How to do it: explain the format to your guest, and fire questions one by one without expanding on them. You can do a whole episode this way, or you can use it for the second part of the episode.
Here are some episodes that have such blitz sections in the end: [Adii Pienaar] on starting a new SaaS product, [Liz Painter] on best email practices.
7. Take over audio editing
Have you always delegated audio editing? That’s the smartest choice, from a productivity standpoint. However, try doing it yourself for a while!
As you edit your show, you dive deep into the conversation. You inspect the beginning and end of each phrase. You have full control over everything, and can make your show better.
You also become conscious of the “filler words” as an interviewer — “oh, that’s great,” “so,” and many others.
There was a period in 2018 when I took over audio editing for UI Breakfast. As I was pregnant with my third child, my breathing became so loud that I received a couple complaints. Audio editing is not rocket science, so I taught myself the basics pretty quickly.
Surprisingly, I enjoyed it for the reasons above. And that’s exactly why I think every podcaster should try it as well.
The downside. It takes time. At least two hours per episode.
8. Experiment with guests
Last, but not least: your guest lineup. Because in many ways, it defines your show.
One common mistake is trying to invite celebrity guests from day one. Remember the world is full of amazing people, and everybody has fascinating stories to share about their work. You just need to find the angle.
Here are some tips for expanding your guest pool:
- Make it obvious how to pitch new guests at your website
- Think about your friends and their strong skills or interesting experiences
- Collaborate with publishing houses who are happy to send over their recent authors (I have a long-standing friendship with Rosenfeld Media)
- Watch out for interesting articles in your niche
- Make notes about conference speakers
If you always “wear your interviewer hat,” you’ll see that new guest opportunities are everywhere.
Recruiting guests is my favorite part of podcasting. Besides, guest outreach is the most pleasant, highly-converting form of cold outreach: you don’t ask for any favors, but instead provide them with an audience.
I hope this post has sparked ideas for you to try yourself. Don’t be afraid to experiment! No part of your format is set in stone. Make changes, collect feedback, and keep improving your podcast. Good luck, and don’t forget to enjoy the journey!
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