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How long should your podcast be?

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Bigger isn’t always better…

“How long should my podcast be?” is a question that stumps almost every podcaster.  And it’s one they spend waaaaay too much time worrying about because the answer is simple.

The ideal length of your show is the ideal length for your content.

There should be no fluff, no additional crap, no rabbiting on for 20 minutes before you get into the good stuff. You need to be respectful of your listeners time and only include the best of the best.

That often means the sweet spot for your podcast will be a lot shorter than you think.

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Remember, there are no rules in podcasting

In radio, you’ve got strict rules about how long you can talk for because you’ve got to play music and get to the ad breaks.  And while this often feels restrictive it develops serious discipline and a skill for getting to the point very quickly.

In podcasting, you don’t have any of those restrictions or parameters.  And while that freedom is amazing, if you don’t have the self-control to reign it in, it can mean your podcast goes for way longer than it should.

So what are some of the things you should take into consideration when you’re coming up with the ideal length for your podcast?

Why you shouldn’t waste time in your podcast introduction

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What suits your audience?

If you think about who your podcast is for, decisions like ‘how long should my show be?’ become easy because the answer is: ‘what would my ideal listener want?’

If your podcast is designed for working mums they’d probably prefer a ten-minute show so they can fit it into their busy schedules.

If you’re doing a podcast for travellers an hour might seem like nothing since they’ll be looking for a way to pass the time as they move from one place to another.

Whatever length you choose you always want to leave your listeners wanting more.

Your podcast should wrap up at the point where people are yelling “Noooo! Don’t leave me!” or when they feel perfectly sated.

Wander past that moment and you’ll go from delivering content to hoards of screaming fans to limping across the finish line wondering where everyone went.

It’s also important to note that 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 and can’t come up with any more content.’  It says ‘I know my audience doesn’t have a lot of time so I’m only giving them the best of the best.”

How thoughtful!

Why you should design an ideal listener for your podcast

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What’s REALLY achievable?

When you’re starting out it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement and smash out longer episodes thinking it’s sustainable. But it’s better to set yourself a lower goal so you can give yourself the best chance of achieving it week in, week out.

Filling 40 minutes to an hour is easy when you’re standing at the starting line, flush with ideas and ready to get this thing going.  But you need to think about what’s going to be do-able seven months or seven years down the track.

If you’re not sure how easy it’s going to be to fill a longer show, try practising before you go live.  You can always record the episodes and release them once you’ve hit a time that feels right for you.

With my podcast You’ve Gotta Start Somewhere, the episodes are usually an hour or longer because I’m sitting down with a media personality and dissecting an entire career.  For my other show The PodSchool Podcast I’m sharing short actionable tips for people who want to start their own podcast, so sometimes the episodes are as short as seven minutes.

If you consider what’s best for your content, your audience and your schedule you’ll hit the podcast length that’s right for you.

How long does it take to put together a podcast episode?

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What’s your motivation?

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 long-form storytelling, like This American Life or Serial, it’s easy to get so wrapped up in the story an hour sometimes feels like it isn’t long enough.

But shows like that spend days, weeks or sometimes months working on sound design (music, sound effects, audio grabs) so the whole experience keeps you engaged from start to finish.

Comparing yourself to shows like this can leave you paralysed.  It’s also important to note that just because a show is successful doesn’t mean their formula is right for you.

Choose the length that suits your show and your show only, and that will be the right one.

Are these things holding you back from starting a podcast?

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Think about what your listeners expect

One thing about an audience is once they’re on board they usually prefer things to stay the way they found them.

That doesn’t mean they won’t be responsive to change (as 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 podcast.

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.

I’ve experienced this first hand with my old podcast, Paul and Rach. Originally we started the show out at an hour because we were fresh with ideas and excited to be working together again (we used to be radio husband and wife on-air at Triple M, Sydney).

But as time went on and life got in the way or I became pickier about what made the final edit the show got shorter and shorter.

Eventually, we settled around the 30-minute mark and our listeners eventually got used to it.  But in the early days, our inbox was getting a real workout with people constantly asking “where’s the rest of the show?”

The truth is, 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’d originally promised.

It would have been better for us to have come out of the gate with 30-minute episodes, then drop the occasional hour-long ep or bonus so our listeners felt they were getting more.

Remember podcasting is a marathon not a sprint and while you don’t want your listeners to abandon you, you also don’t want to be too tired to finish the race!

So choose the length that’s right for YOU.

Got a burning podcasting question you’d like answered? Send me an email.

Want to start your own podcast but need a little help?  Download my “How To Start A Podcast” guide or sign up for my online podcasting course, PodSchool.

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GET MY FREE PODCAST GUIDE

WANT TO START A PODCAST BUT HAVE NO IDEA HOW? THIS GUIDE TAKES YOU THROUGH ALL THE TOOLS AND TECH YOU NEED TO GET GOING!

SEND IT TO ME!