The first 30 seconds of your podcast

Do you want someone to listen to your podcast? Then you only have a few seconds to make it happen.

If you research the data, the biggest drop-off on most shows is in the first minute. You have 60 seconds at best to grab people or they’ll go elsewhere. If you don’t grab their attention, you may have the greatest episode on earth but they will never hear it. 

This is why your introduction is crucial to your success. You got them to click play, now you need them to listen. 

So how do you keep them? 

There’s a lot of debate these days about attention spans. Some people say humans now have the attention span of a goldfish, while others disagree, but one thing we can all agree on is that there is a lot more competition for our attention now. If we want people to stick with us we’d better convince them on why they should.

This is about much more than saying hello at the start of your episode and sounding like a nice person. We need to grab people’s attention, draw them in, and make our episode one that they’re afraid to miss. 

How can your introduction achieve that? Let’s start with a few core principles. 

Core principles

First and foremost, you need to consider why you’re creating a podcast. Is it to build an audience, or is it for yourself? If you’re just having some fun with no interest in building an audience, then carry on and have fun. Most of these details won’t matter in that case. But if you’re serious about establishing an audience, read on. 

1) Get on with it

People don’t want to hear about your life and why you haven’t made an episode for a few weeks at the start of the episode. They want to know why they should spend their time listening to your show. You can always bring in the story about your life later on. 

An interview show I listened to a while back had really taken this to heart. In less than 10 seconds the presenter said hello, introduced the guest, asked the first question, and got the guest delivering value. It was like being thrown into the conversation rather than a long trudge into it. Which meant you almost didn’t have time to think about whether you wanted to listen as you already were. 

2) Focus on what the audience wants, not what you want to say

What is your episode going to give them? How will it change their life or help them in their work? How will it solve a specific problem they have, whether it’s a problem in life or just to lift their spirits after a long hard day. How will it help them, not you? 

While we all want people to like us for our presentation style, the reality is our audience is here for their own interests, not because of us. 

3) Out of everything else they could be doing, why should they listen to you?

Of all the choices they have right now, whether it’s YouTube or other shows, why is this episode a must listen to episode for them? Why should they choose your episode over the other options out there? If you can’t think of any reason, then it might be worth reflecting on the content you’re putting out. Not only does it need to be focused on your audience, it needs to provide them with the value they want, in a style they like. 

4) Avoid too much music

Don’t lead with 30 seconds of music. Your voice should start the episode, not music. There’s nothing wrong with having music underneath your voice; in fact, it can add depth to your intro. But your voice should be front and center after no more than a beat or two. Be sure to choose music that compliments your voice, doesn’t drown you out, and helps to set the tone. The music you choose should enhance the experience your audience has and be memorable in a positive way.

5) Don’t be afraid to speak a bit quicker in your introduction 

An introduction isn’t about delivering information that you hope your audience will remember. It’s simply about creating a feeling that they must keep listening.  

The structure

Like everything in podcasting there is no rule for how you must structure an episode. It’s all about experimenting. But we can use an approach used in public speaking and storytelling of all formats.

Start with a hook. Intrigue the listeners. Perhaps ask a question like: “Do you know why your project failed?” or a story e.g. “It wasn’t long after noon when Diego, a fisherman, heard a loud bang.”

Then tell them who you are and how you’re going to explain that hook to them. Set up the expectation and anticipation of what they’ll get from the episode.

If you’re making a show where you are the focus, tell them why you are a person worth listening to. This is for your new listeners. Your established listeners are going to carry on listening anyway. Tell people why you have a unique perspective or experience on this topic. We all prefer to listen to “experts” over people who just have an opinion, but it doesn’t need to be someone who knows everything about a topic, it’s enough for it to be someone who knows more than we do.

If you’re making an interview show, tell them why your guest is a must listen to guest. 

If you’re not sure of the general reasons why an audience might listen, it might be worth looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s a theory of what motivates humans from basic physiological needs to having fun. The more “basic” the need your show solves, the more they will engage with it. For example, if someone is having troubles keeping a job, and your episode tells them how to stop losing their job, they’ll be more motivated to hear what you have to say than to listen to a show about where to sightsee in Paris.

Test it

There are some amazing analytics tools out there now. Take a look at Spotify Podcasters platform and Apple Podcaster Connect.

On these platforms you’ll find analytics which show exactly where people drop off when listening to your episode. 

Those data points are fascinating because you can see exactly what you were saying when they gave up. You can pinpoint the phrase in your introduction where people decided, “no, I’m not interested”. If you see a steady decline, rather than obvious drops, then maybe you’re dragging on too long and are wearing them down.

There can be a temptation to just plow forward, make a show and have fun, which is great enthusiasm. But if you’d like people to listen to your content, spending a few minutes looking at these tools can provide data which could transform your success into numbers that rise faster and faster. 

Rounding up

We all listen to podcasts because of something they give to us. No one gives up time to listen to a show that tells them things they already know, or interviews of a guest they’ve heard many times before. People want to know why your content is worth their time, why it’s going to help them, and why your show is the must listen to one for what they want. 

You have just a few seconds to get this across and it’s your introduction that will determine whether they stay to listen or leave.

To delve deeper into the world of podcasting, be sure to sign up for our free Intro to Podcasting course and share your journey in the community!

Published by Richard Midson

Podcaster, former journalist and news editor, public relations officer and techie

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