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PodSchool Podcast | 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

Read

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?

Read

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.

Got some time on your hands? Read the full episode transcript

[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the show. I'm fresh from OzPod2017 which is a podcasting conference in Sydney Australia that I spoke at the other day. There were some fantastic guests, including Jen White who is one of the creators of the show Making Oprah that ran on WBEZ in Chicago. I've spent the last couple of days binge listening and I highly highly recommend.

[00:00:29] Over the course of the conference I touched on something in my presentation about starting your podcast off on the right foot and I noticed it coming up time and time again with each one of the speakers. They all said this was the question they got asked more than any other and that is "How long should a podcast be?" This is a question new podcasters spend way too much time worrying about because the answer is simple. Your show should be as long as the content suggests it should be. 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 just cram the best of the best in. And if that means it's a seven minute podcast that's it. If that means it's four and a half hours...perhaps that's a little too long but it depends on what the A Grade material dictates.

[00:01:37] One of the great things about jumping into podcasting is that at this stage there are no rules and perhaps it will stay that way forever. On radio you're hemmed in by ad breaks that have to run at a certain time, the number of songs you need to get out each hour but in a podcast it can be exactly the length you want it to be. You should also keep your audience in mind when thinking about how long it should be. If you are doing a podcast for travellers who are going to be sitting on lengthy 20 hour bus rides through South America maybe a longer podcast is going to be exactly what they're going to want to pass the time. But if your podcast is designed for busy mums then there's nothing to say you can't make a 10 minute show if that's enough time to feature your content. They might be happy to have something they can ingest in a really short amount of time and then not have to pause and come back to it. James Cridland is a radio futurologist and he was talking at OzPod about the fact that less than 50 percent of listeners make it past 15 minutes (which is a bad thing for advertisers who are putting stuff in the middle and end of podcasts) but a lot of talk when he was mentioning those statistics was around how we get our listeners to stay longer. And the truth is the way you get them to stay longer is to have good content that's riveting the whole way through and maybe a better question is could our podcasts be shorter? Ideally you don't want your listeners to have to pause and come back to the content because people are subscribing to more and more shows. I certainly know in my feed I can't make it through all of the shows I'm subscribed to. I feel like it's a full time job. So when I pause something I tend, unless it's a show that I really really love, not to go back because I'm trying to get through as many shows as possible so it's good to keep that in mind when you're creating a show. You want your listeners to be able to gobble it all up and not have any leftovers they need to worry about coming back to. Less is always going to be more not only from the audience's perspective but from your perspective. It's important to think about what is genuinely achievable for you day in day out or week in week out. It's a real commitment to do an hour of content not only from listeners perspective but also from yours. That's a really long time to fill and you can easily fill it in the first couple of weeks when you're fresh with ideas and you've got so many things you want to get to. But think about where you're going to be seven months down the track or seven years down the track.

[00:04:30] Are you still going to be able to make it to an hour of content? You've got to put in the time every week to get this out into peoples ears and an hour is sometimes not achievable. With my podcast You've Gotta Start Somewhere, I usually chat for an hour sometimes longer with the guests but we're covering an entire career so it's very hard to squeeze that into 20 minutes. But if you're doing a show on your own then shorter can sometimes be much better. The other thing that's going to happen if you have a long show to start and then you start paring it back is that your listeners will crack it at you. This happened to me with our show Paul and Rach. Originally we started out at an hour because we were fresh with ideas. But then life gets in the way, you can only fit in half an hour record time, you don't have a great day one day so you're not going to include all of the bits and pieces. And as soon as we started to chip away at that time our listeners were straight on the email. "Where's the rest of it?" "Why is it shorter?" "Why aren't the episodes as long as they used to be?" So it's much better if you are going to set an expectation with the listener to keep that expectation. And one of the ways to do that is to keep your episodes shorter and use bonus content to put into your podcast feed so it's a little bit of an extra surprise for your audience.

[00:06:18] It is really important you understand who you are doing your show for and then you have to be a bit selfish and think about yourself because you are the person who's putting their time in to do this show. So what can you commit to in the long term. Do not create a rod for your own back.

[00:06:53] I hope that's helped you think a little bit about how long your podcast should be. Go forth, free from the shackles of thinking that there is a single way to do this. It is all up in the air and entirely down to you. So think about it strategically. Put some thought into it and as long as you are thinking about what's best for your audience and the show content you will be just fine.

[00:07:27] Thanks so much for joining me on this episode of PodSchool. As always I will put the show notes up at PodSchoolPodcast.com and if you'd like a little extra help you can check out my online podcasting course PodSchool.com.au.

[00:07:41] I'll see you next week and until then, happy podcasting.

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