5 criteria for a quality podcast, just like First Things | Practical Productivity

Do you enjoy a rotating playlist of podcasts and audio books?  For many people, audio content is an essential learning tool and it fills a niche that other media just can’t. The flexible format, low consumer cost and relatively low barrier to entry has made podcasting a mainstream media format.

There are only a few audio content creators that stay on my device for an extended period. The others are an ever-changing parade of topical interests. Sticky podcasts have a few essential qualities and I’ll get to those in a minute. First let me recommend Brandon Vaughn’s outstanding First Things | Practical Productivity podcast (iTunes link). It’s among the best and you should give it a listen.

There are other great podcasts among the 20+ on my device at the moment, but First Things is really worth every minute of my time because it has several things going for it.

Great audio quality. Post-production sound editing is important. When the finished product has good clarity, volume and consistency, the listening experience is a pleasure. In fact, when the listener doesn’t even notice the audio quality, it’s ideal. Weak, scratchy, noisy, choppy sound distracts from the content purpose and can make it impossible to comprehend for many listening scenarios.

Content relevance. A well-planned episode that has timeliness, structure and logic can make a topic easy to understand. If you do the work ahead of time to organize your thoughts, then the final product is more satisfying. Logical breaks and topic changes are easier to understand with a clear set of audio markers. Imagine a sports podcast that uses references to the game as a method of structure. I’m thinking of innings or laps as a structural device. Brandon’s ongoing book commentary about The Like Switch by Jack Schafer is a great example of timeliness and logic. The mission of Practical Productivity is inspired by the late Steven Covey’s principles, which makes the podcast theme trustworthy, genuine and timely.

Professional and polished. Staying on-message and concise is like cutting a tomato with a sharp knife instead of a baseball bat. If your title says neurology, I don’t expect trivial comments about the weather. Banter among hosts can have a humanizing effect but it really needs to be quick. Like bumper music that goes on way too long, any off-topic witticisms about video games, current events or things the audience can’t experience are off-putting. Anecdotes that add color and support your topic are good. Trivial comments are not good.

30-minutes. The total length of a single episode has to be reasonable. 20-40 minutes is enough time to develop and deliver a moderately complex subject. Some podcasts have only a 3-minute message week in and week out. That’s hardly worth the effort of tapping through to queue it up, tap play and then tap some more to start something else. Can anybody recall a moral from a 3-minute sound bite?

Descriptive title. Give me keywords and basic subject matter info at least. What is this thing about? Obscure adjectives and insider nicknames that once had meaning to your friends just don’t tell me what to expect. I’m not going to invest in something that has no known benefit. It would be like picking up an unlabeled DVD off the ground and sticking it in a player on the hope that it’s the latest Star Wars movie. Here’s one of my favorite useless podcast titles: The Moth. Sure it might be great but I’ll never know since I don’t care about moths.

The relevance, professionalism and clarity of Brandon Vaughn’s very nice First Things | Practical Productivity podcast make it worth every minute. Check it out and compare it with the criteria listed here for a top-notch podcast.

About the author

John Andrilla is a technical communicator with a passion for teamwork, project management, writing and editing. Recognized for “using optimism to move mountains.” LinkedIn profile: https://bit.ly/active-voicer


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