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How long should your podcast be?

 

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The perfect length for your podcast

In podcasting, length doesn’t really matter except to say that shorter is (almost) always better.

Let’s face it, no one wants to be the kid who overstays their welcome in people’s earholes. But whatever length you choose the decision should always be based on what best suits your content (so you’re only including the best of the best) and your listener.

It’s also important to have a realistic understanding of how tough it is to fill a full hour without the luxury of being able to throw to ads or music.

When you’re just starting out it can be easy to get swept up in the excitement of podcasting and start smashing out longer episodes thinking it’s sustainable.  But it’s better to cool your jets and set yourself a lower goal for the long run so you can give yourself the best chance of achieving it.

Filling 40 minutes to an hour is easy when you’re standing at the starting line, flush with ideas but you need to think about what’s do-able seven months down the track when you’re starting to wonder if anyone would notice if you dipped into the vault for a bit of a ‘best of’ episode.

Whatever length you choose, you want to make sure you’re in a situation where you’re able to edit out the fluff and leave in only the best of the best rather than stuffing your show full of filler because you’re trying to achieve an unrealistic goal.High five

Does this mean you can’t do an hour long show? Absolutely not.  In fact, if you’ve got enough killer content to fill that week in week out let me take a moment to down tools and give you a remote high five!

Of course, the length of your podcast is always up to you, but here are some things you should think about when making your decision…

Always leave your listeners wanting more

Your podcast should wrap up at the point where your listeners are yelling “Noooo! Don’t leave me!” or at the precise moment they’re feeling perfectly sated.  Wander past that moment and you’ll go from delivering your content to hoards of screaming fans to limping across the finish line wondering where everyone went.

It’s also important to note length is no measure of professionalism.  A 15 minute episode packed with awesome content doesn’t say ‘I’ve still got my training wheels on’ it says ‘I know my audience doesn’t have a lot of time so I’m packing the most valuable content into a show they don’t need a lot of time to listen to.’  How thoughtful!

You also shouldn’t be basing your show length on what other people are doing.  If you start thinking “I need to fill an hour because most of the shows I listen to are an hour long,” it’s going to be a painful ride for both you and your listener.   Obviously when it comes to podcasts that feature longer-form storytelling, like This American Life or Serial, as a listener you get so wrapped up in the story often an hour isn’t long enough.  But shows like that spend days working on sound design (music, sound effects, audio grabs) so the whole audio experience keeps you engaged from start to finish.  When things are professionally produced to that level it often feels like you’re watching a TV show rather than listening to a podcast because of the way the production triggers pictures in your mind.  But if it’s just you in your lounge room with a microphone and a couple of segment intros, shorter will always be better.

Just remember: pack as much quality content as possible in but always leave the party before your listeners want you to go. You don’t want them yawning every five seconds in the hopes you’ll get the message and get out of their ears.

Pick and stick

One thing about an audience is once they’re on board your show they’ll usually prefer things to stay the way they found them.  That doesn’t mean they won’t be responsive to change, so long as it’s an improvement but one thing that doesn’t look like an improvement is when you significantly shorten the length of your show.   This doesn’t mean you have to deliver the same length every week to the millisecond.  But if you start out at 30 minutes it’s always good to keep it as close as possible to that time.  Ten minutes either side is usually a good maximum but if you keep it in the range of 25-35 minutes your listeners will hardly notice.

When Paul and I started our podcast we were smashing out hour long episodes without much drama, but as time went on and I became more picky about what I included in the edit our episodes got shorter.  Eventually, we settled around the 30minute mark and our listeners eventually got used to that but in the early days of the transition our inbox was getting a real workout with people constantly asking “where’s the rest of the show?”

To an audience, if you drop down from an hour to 30 minutes, even though you’re providing the content for free, it feels like you’re taking the foot off the gas.  The truth is that sometimes Paul and I would sit and chat for an hour and a half and I’d pick out the best 30 minutes, so we weren’t dedicating less time to the show but all our listeners heard was that we were giving them less content than we originally promised.

It would have been better for us to have come out of the gate with 30-minute episodes and then drop the occasional hour-long episode as a special.

Think about your ideal listener

If you think about who your podcast is for, decisions like ‘how long should my show be?’ become easier because the answer will always be ‘what would my ideal listener want?’  If your podcast is full of tips for busy mums that person would probably appreciate a ten-minute show five days a week instead of one 50 minute episode.  If they work in an office and commute an hour to work every day maybe a show designed to fill as much of that commute as possible is the way to go.  Whatever your decision, think about who’s consuming your content as well as what length will allow you to deliver on your promise every week.

So there you have it, some things to think about when you’re deciding how long your podcast should be. Whatever length you choose make sure the goals you set are realistic and achievable in the long term, suit your ideal listener and have you walking out the audio door before your listeners are ready to push you out.

Need help starting your own podcast?  Download my FREE podcast guide ‘5 things you need to start your own podcast.’

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