Podcasts are boring (Hot tips to hold attention)

I keep getting distracted when I try to listen to podcasts. My mind wanders, I check my email, before I know it I’m doing something entirely different and have forgotten that there’s someone talking in my ears. The podcast becomes background noise. I stop listening.

You could say it’s my fault. That I don’t have good concentration, or discipline. That I don’t care enough. But it’s not me, it’s them.

Podcasts are boring.

(At least, the ones that I’ve been listening to that are produced by people who are supposedly interested in design and user experience…. I know there are some that are really cool and interesting… but that would make a boring title).

Yes, yes, so you’re really smart and probably pretty well known… that’s why I’m listening to you. But you still have to make an effort to reach through the microphone and grab me by the earlobes. Lots of people are trying to get in my ear these days, but too few are putting any effort into making it a great experience for me.

I’m no expert in podcasting, but I know what I like ;) Having spent the last few days listening to a whole bunch of podcasts, this is what I’ve learned:

  • Don’t over prepare and don’t read from a script. Definitely don’t try to ‘fake’ an interview. It sounds artificial and lifeless and dull.
  • Have a plan. Once you get started with your podcast it’s pretty easy to ramble on and on. This is not a good idea. Know what point you want to make or what information you want to share, have a strong structure and stick to it.
  • Talk about something interesting. Just like my wishlist for conference presentations, I’d also like your podcast to be full of meaty information not just a top level review, I want you to take a position and argue it (bonus points if it’s a controversial position and you can back it up!), and I love hearing about real life examples and stories.
  • If you must edit, try to keep it subtle. Personally, I’d be aiming to keep the podcast authentic sounding and to edit as little as possible. I’d rather do a few takes and minimal editing than try to hack together something coherent from rambling single take.
    Why shouldn’t you rehearse your podcast? You’ll do a better job the third time through than the first.
  • Don’t be cool, be passionate. If you care about your subject matter (and you should if you think you’re worth listening to), then put a bit of enthusiasm into your delivery. It was always the voice that held my attention – speakers who had LIFE in their voice, and HUMOUR and HUMANITY. People who were passionate about the topic of the podcast. And don’t cut out the bits that make you seem human. This is the joy of the podcast… you make yourself more human.
  • It’s a performance, not an internal monologue. Think about how you’d prepare for a conference presentation. Take away the slides and all the same ‘how to’s’ pretty much apply. You can’t just get three of your mates on the phone (no matter how A-list they maybe), shoot the breeze and call it a podcast because you’ve got some big names chatting. Have you seen all those posts about how panel sessions at conferences often suck? These kinds of podcasts are worse.
  • Keep it snappy. Set yourself a time limit and stick to it. For me, I’d prefer a podcast around say 15 minutes long. Any longer than that and I’ll probably lose concentration or get called away to do something else. I’d LOVE a really satifisfying 15 minute podcast to listen to every day.
  • Be creative. What can you do to make your podcast a better experience for your users? I don’t know the answer to this, but I have some ideas that I reckon might be kind of cool… podcasts use music a bit these days but I’d quite like to see a bit more. What about sound effects?
    I’m thinking of radio plays – sound effects, characters, storytelling, suspense. Lists? Vox pops? Talk show? There are lots of different genres from which we could be drawing inspiration.

Now that anyone who wants to can easily grab a microphone and start pumping out the podcasts, I think it’s time to raise the bar. So, if you’ve to something to say, and you want to say it in a podcast… take a little time before you hit record and think about how you can give your audience a great listening experience.

What are our tips for making podcasts not boring? And what podcasts do you recommend?

7 Responses to “Podcasts are boring (Hot tips to hold attention)”

  1. Michael Air November 4, 2006 at 3:53 am #

    I find it depends a great deal on where you listen to them. I only really listen to podcasts while on my laptop… If I’m on my laptop then I’m working which means I’m not really going to sit there and focus just on the podcast. For this reason alone, I don’t listen to many podcasts.

  2. craig November 6, 2006 at 12:37 am #

    Give em hell Leisa. ;) Far too many of the podcasts I download end up whaffling on without any direction scarcly littered with detailed information. We need an industry wide reputation and rating system to filter out this time wasting garbage because there is so much to gain from the gems. I recently purchased a mobile media player I take with me on my walks so as “not to get distracted” while on the puter listening to podcasts. Helps immensely with focus and I’m getting more exercise than I ever have. :) I’ve found I have to set time “just for listening” and “watching” not using the computer and doing both. I’m less stressed and more focused this way. I find myself listening more intently to the good casts but finding good stuff has been hard. Of all the casts I listen to, conference ones seem to be the best content wise so long as they don’t rely too heavily on sildes I can’t see out walking. :) A big problem I’m having is the sometimes awful recording quality when I sync to my player that I can’t fix while out walking. It annoys me no end that good quality content can’t be heard over noise or through lack of amplification. Gah! Or people walking away from microphones… or audio that clips! Argh! Listening to podcasts has certainly been a frustrating experience for me thus far.

    Anyone know of some good commandline filtering software I can run over podcasts I subscribe to (with juice) to fix or at least identify dodgy casts?

  3. Eddie November 6, 2006 at 4:20 pm #

    I’m a big fan of podcasts. Regarding the “multitasking” type of comments- I think the difference is that podcasts aren’t just ambient, background noise. It’s something we actively sought out because of our interest in it, so it seems to make sense we want to focus on listening to it.

    I recommend Gerry Gaffney’s UXPod (http://uxpod.libsyn.com/) I think it hits all the tips you have. He very rarely does “anouncements” or any other fluff, except when he needs to. He spends about 30 seconds on intro before he jumps right into an interview or short take on user experience.

    He doesn’t do a daily show though… it’s about 3-4 episodes a month.

  4. Andy Budd November 6, 2006 at 7:31 pm #

    I think the location matters. I generally listen to podcasts on the commute to work or while in the kitchen. That way you don’t have too many external distractions. If you’re sitting in front of the computer listening to a podcast, then the natural temptation is to multitask and 10 minutes later you realise you’ve stopped listening.

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