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The Business Podcast Primer: The Right Way to Do What Is So Often Wrong
Nothing has more of an identity crisis than the B2B podcast. And that makes far too many podcasts more appalling than appealing.
How—when the format seems to be "having a moment"—can I suggest such a contrarian viewpoint? Easy. I spent decades in broadcast journalism, and podcasts think they're that. They're not.
Whether you're putting together "tape at 11" or a story for a weekly news magazine, you've got the same responsibility to viewers. On the very most basic level, you have to tell them what you're going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them. Unless a viewer is recording the show and can rewind, you've got to make sure you make your point on a first hearing or viewing, and the repetition ensures that happens.
On TV, of course, visuals help tell that story. That's not an available advantage in a podcast. And that's why it's so vital to stick to the subject and the most vital facts. You have to use words to draw pictures, and that takes particular skill.
My father was the perfect example of someone who did that very well. He'd do intros to songs on his rock and roll radio show using stories he wrote that were specific to the tune. In a minute, he could describe a scene you couldn't help but see, and the structure of the intros themselves had beginnings and middles and ends (and those ends were always the opening lyric of the song).
But podcasts shouldn't do that. They should do their own version—serving a very different purpose.
So it's time to rethink the purpose, the process, and the payoff of B2B podcasts.
Too many B2B podcasts (not serialized stories or consumer-brand fluffage with some mention of Kardashians) tend to be a total waste of customers' and prospects' time:
- They rarely get to the point with any reasonable speed (and sometimes leave the listener to guess what it is). In our time-constrained lives, when we're constantly bombarded by an endless stream of stimuli, it's vital to be focused on something specific.
- They lack guidance from a competent moderator. Instead of someone who can keep interviewees from rambling or avoiding the questions they are asked, podcast moderators often think their role is to be nice. It's not. Their role is to evoke the most useful and informative responses to questions they should (by interviewing their guests in advance) already know the answers to.
- They substitute production values for journalistic merit and pride themselves on form instead of content. If the aim is to be entertaining without also being informative, don't do podcasts. Do YouTube videos in your home office. If you think that podcasts need musical intros and segues, do radio instead.
I think that, at some point around the turn of the century, a new crop of students thought that journalism looked really easy. But when they realized that research and interviews formed the basis of a story, that interviews and research had to be edited and integrated with relevant related information, and that all that information required fact-checking and corroboration... they invented the podcast. If the information was wrong or misleading, they could simply blame the guest and claim they had no time to verify the statements. (Or they avoided all that by taking jobs at Fox News.)
Unlike video, where you can scroll through to material that looks more interesting, podcasts can go on forever and still never get to the point. In B2B, you're asking for someone to donate their time, so don't squander it. You might never earn back their attention. Or interest.
Even when your listeners are stuck in traffic on the freeway or desperate to hear something that is not ESPN while they're getting in shape at the gym, you have an obligation to them to be informative, entertaining, and concise. That 30-second opening? Make it 10 (or just get rid of it entirely). All the details about everything your guests have ever done? Trim it to what matters for this one specific episode.
So here's the way to salvage the podcast from the content morass:
- Open with a crystal-clear statement about what listeners will hear, why it's important, and how they'll benefit.
- Know the answers to the questions that you plan to ask your guests (yes, you'll have to do your research and interview the guest in advance) and keep the guests on track if they wander (doing that enhances their value, yours, and the value of your podcast to the listeners).
- Improvise when something unexpected comes up, but stay focused on the subject.
- Do not reference visuals; podcasts, like radio, are TV for the blind.
- Edit the discussion for clarity (and brevity) and use narration to bridge any gaps.
- For people listening to the recording as a download, provide a timeline key (e.g., "10:14 the importance of having Plan B").
- Provide a really simple URL for people who want links to more information (e.g., Usefulinformation.com/podcasts/[date]).
- Offer a preview of the next podcast at the end of the current one.
- Do IDs throughout: "You're listening to Kelly Kahzmose, Pat Knowitall, and Lee Howitzdun on the answer to everything, and we're talking about..."
- If you're running audio ads, work them in as opening and closing "bookends."
- If the ads are visible (in a download's display window or on a SoundCloud page), put them above or below the audio progress cursor and below your own logo.
After all that is achieved, then (and only then) you can tack on any music-backed opening—if you absolutely feel that you have to—and keep it to the length of a radio station ID, not Mahler's Ninth.
The goal is simple (and it isn't to sell stuff): provide busy business people with useful, beneficial, easy-to-understand information that they associate with you (and/or your company) in a positive way.
Now go be brilliant, beguiling, and brief.