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Storytelling tips and best practices

How to hook your podcast audience

• March 27th, 2017

(Bria Granville/NPR)

As more and more people create podcasts, there’s a lot of competition for listeners’ ears. But there’s a reason so many public radio producers are finding success in the podcasting space — we know how to tell a good story!

Platforms like NPR One also help provide clues and recommendations for how you can hook your potential podcast audience.

Start strong

We can’t understate how important the start of a podcast is. NPR One’s Innovation Accountant, Nick DePrey, examined the data and found a typical podcast episode loses 20-35 percent of the listening audience in the first five minutes.

The rate of the drop-off is higher in the first five minutes than any time until the credits roll. Listeners are making a decision to commit in those crucial opening moments. A mediocre episode with a good introduction will almost always perform better than a great episode with a poor intro.

Only established shows with loyal followings can overcome uninteresting or non-engaging beginnings. Read more about how great audio stories begin.

Re-engage your audience every 2-5 minutes

Not only do the podcasts that work on NPR One start strong, they also use techniques to re-engage the audience every few minutes.

When you are creating a radio piece, you can count on having a fairly constant number of people listening throughout the piece, even if it may not be the same people at the beginning of a story as at the end.

But podcasts have their biggest audience at the beginning and smallest audience at the end. This means you have to set up tension and keep forward momentum all throughout your podcast in order to keep as many listeners as possible, and you should not save your best or most important point for the end of a podcast.

Some of our evidence suggests that 18-30 minutes long in podcasts might be a sweet spot for holding the audience’s attention. Just because you can go as long as you want on a podcast, doesn’t mean you should.

Use good artwork and write strong descriptions

Unlike radio, your artwork and the language you use to describe your podcast are both important to your success. Your podcast artwork has to draw people in. The podcast’s description has to function like a headline that makes someone click to listen.

We’ve seen great podcast episodes fail to do well because the title and description didn’t entice people to give the episode a chance. Read more about headline tips to help you write titles and descriptions.

Think about your audience and how you will find them

When it comes to producing station podcasts, it helps to have thought very intentionally about your audience and to have considered how to reach that audience.

Is your podcast geared generally to a national audience, such as Member station podcasts like Death, Sex, and Money or Modern Love? Or is it a local story for your local audience?

A third possibility might be that you have a local story that is actually relevant to people elsewhere. For instance, the topic your podcast is exploring in your community might be relevant elsewhere or perhaps, there are people who live in other places that are still connected to your community.

The producers of St Louis Public Radio’s We Live Here and Milwaukee Public Radio’s Precious Lives tell stories set in their community about issues facing people in the area, but their stories also speak to much larger issues experienced in many communities throughout the U.S.

We’ve also seen stations find success with podcasts that build on some inherent interest in their community such as WWNO’s Katrina: The Debris and WBEZ’s Curious City.

Both of these approaches allow stations to create a podcast that is — on one hand — local, but is also able to reach an audience size that has sponsorship revenue potential.

Watch your data

Podcasts are a growing way to reach new listeners both inside and outside your terrestrial broadcast signal. They are a great place to try out new ideas and let new talent show what they can do. These tips can help you make the most of your podcasts. But as we always recommend here at NPR One, watch your data.


Note: A version of this post was originally published on NPR’s Digital Services blog. 

Tamar Charney is the Managing Editor of NPR One.