5 Thoughts About Podcasts from PodCamp Toronto 2014

The podcast has come along way in the years between my first PodCamp in 2009 and this weekend’s PodCamp Toronto. Aside from them mostly being played on iPods, podcasts in 2009 also tended to exist simply as another channel for radio programs or a personal hobby.

In the years that have followed, many podcasts have started and ended. And a select few have served as a creative outlet for new producers that have taken the form to new creative levels. I’ve seen many comedians, professionals, enthusiasts, and journalists take the podcast form to new levels.

Of course, PodCamp Toronto’s scope has also widened to many interesting areas of technology and media such as open government, the internet of things, and online marketing.

PodCamp Toronto 2014 was a great event to attend, and I was very happy to be able to meet some very friendly and interesting people. In this post, I’ll try to relate some of the interesting things from PodCamp Toronto 2014 that relate to podcasts.

1. Establish Intimacy

A podcast has a wonderful ability on connect with people on an individual basis. Think about it. Your listeners have their earbuds on, and your voice is in their head.

Veteran radio producer Tod Maffin says the podcast form it more suited to intimacy. For instance, instead of addressing your listeners like Stuart McLean, who basically loudly reads stories on CBC radio to a live audience, your delivery should often sound more like you’re talking to one listener. Rather than go over-the-top, get closer to the microphone so you can speak more softly.

Given the litany of distractions that is the internet, can you really count on them to be patient?

In a word – yes.

Your listener tends to be more focused on your podcast than if they were listening to radio in a public space like an office or a store where there are other distractions. A podcast listener is, by definition, rather loyal. She must, for instance choose to download your particular program, choose to listen to it at a time when they can concentrate, and her earbuds essentially block out other distractions.

You’ve got an opportunity to evoke genuine emotion and create intimacy with someone listening from wherever they may be.

But creating this feeling really depends on your material and technique. Maffin suggests personalizing your material by sharing a personal experience, or humanizing an issue by relating it to an individual – or get that individual to tell their story. Also, draw upon truths or common experiences that bring listeners into the story (ie. “Putting your podcast onto iTunes is like sending out party invitations and hoping at least someone will arrive.”)

Reading from a script is perfectly fine, but it shouldn’t sound like you are. Pauses, hesitation, and “ums” shouldn’t always be removed in the final product. These add character and emotion to a podcast.

2. Integration and Multi-Channel

Many PodCamp Toronto presentations focused on online marketing. And while we often think this only applies to profit-seeking organizations, it isn’t hard to realize that many principles of “content marketing” apply to podcasts and other media content.

In a panel presentation involving Brian Rotsztein, Tara Hunt, and Geoff Whitlock, explained that many agencies and brands are trying to integrate their content and publish on multiple platforms. What this means is that the message you want to send should be relatively consistent across platforms – whether it’s a podcast, a blog, a video, or infographic.

You might think it’s a little much to have to be great at multiple forms – for instance, photography Annie Leibovitz can’t, nor should be expected to start shooting film. But, really, it’s not that difficult to have a primary focus on your podcast, but also write blog posts and social media updates around your topic.

Content creators can also get more out of their work by re-purposing it into different forms. For instance, a podcaster can use an interview they recorded as the basis for a blog post, or use stills from their video podcast to post as images on Twitter or Instagram.

The marketing panel also noted that it’s important to learn about new ways to get a message to the public, but not make a temporary trend the only thing they know. For instance, you may be able to create great short content for Vine, but if people stop using Vine, you should be able to do something else. Imagine, if you can, a world after Vine.

3. Humble Broadcasters Go Online

Howard Glassman and Fred Patterson are best known by Torontonians as radio DJs “Humble and Fred”. They managed to switch from filling in three-minute breaks between songs to eventually having a long-format podcast on SiriusXM satelite radio.

Basically, they weren’t able to continue doing their show on traditional radio so they took a leap of faith and started doing it online – which eventually made them money. Of course, instead of providing the usual drive-time talk radio, Humble and Fred’s “show about nothing” strives for authenticity. It’s really about talking about their lives and what they find interesting, not unlike podcasting stars Adam Carolla and Joe Rogan.

Hearing Humble and Fred describe their approach reminded me of a standup comedy exercise where you just tell a story – with no rehearsed bits or changes that you think will make it funnier. Just telling a story simply will often keep an audience riveted because it is honest.

As anyone who’s recently tuned into commercial radio will know, radio personalities continue to rely on the same old formats and gimmicks as their audience continues to decline. Glassman said it’s taking a while for the people in charge of traditional radio to understand that they should let their on-air talent talk and reveal personal details about themselves.

Until this tipping point arrives, podcasts will stand out as a venue for people to get the sort of intimacy and insight they crave.

4. Content Calendars Be Gone

Marketing frat boys Jeremy Wright and Jon Crowley swigged some beer and went through some of the problems with planning content ahead of time in content calendars.

Content calendars are restrictive and are often revised many times before material (blog post, video, tweet, etc.) is actually published.

Also, deciding on content so far in advance really doesn’t take changing context into account. For instance, references to running that seemed appropriate when they were planned might not be in the days following the Boston Marathon bombing.

Wright and Crowley prefer a more agile approach where content is loosely decided upon in advance, including many different possibilities. For instance, instead of creating one blog post that needs to be posted a certain day, there could be three or four blog posts that are already approved and ready to be posted in case one of them would be inappropriate given the context.

With a podcast, instead of recording for a specific date, you could have a backlog of episodes and interviews that can change based on what would be most appropriate.

5. Laugh, Think, Cry

In a very compelling PodCamp presentation, Toronto marketer Saul Colt explained his approach to marketing: elicit a response. Whatever you create, make it something that could make your audience laugh, think, or cry. Perhaps all three.

This isn’t only good advice for marketing content but for all media. You want to create something that they don’t just see, read or hear. It’s something they feel.

In his presentation, Colt actually gave a bit of himself. He talked about a new romance that gives him a feeling of happiness usually only seen in stock photography.

This rather charming revelation can’t be though of as simply manipulation – he’s giving away something personal that elicits a feeling. It may make us laugh, think, or cry, but it’s also coming from a place of honesty.

And this is infectious whether it’s advertising or it’s a podcast.

What did you take away from Podcamp Toronto 2014? Please let me know in the comments!

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