Building Blocks of a Successful Podcast Episode

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These are the core elements that make for a consistently attractive and compelling podcast. Master these and you're well on your way to producing a great show.

Pick any television program, radio show, or even the most popular podcasts today. What makes them so successful at hooking viewers or listeners? When I say ‘building blocks,’ I mean the core elements that make up how successful episodes work.

The best programming relies on a variety of building blocks that make the programming work. Here’s a quick look at those that will help you with your podcast.

1. Your Podcast Intro

There’s no one way to kickoff an episode, but you should grab listeners’ attention in some manner that’s distinct to your personality and podcast. Now, even some of the best shows, like How I Built This for instance, are able to get away with leading the show with an advertisement or important announcement.

But shows like that have the advantage of being featured and mentioned everywhere — every Top 10 list and every Recommended Podcasts round-up. Unless you’re in that group of elite podcasts, you don’t have that luxury.

People experiencing your show for the first time are very possibly doing it via word of mouth, and they don’t know you. They don’t know your personality, or how you manage your show, so they won’t give you an endless amount of time to lure them in.

You need to nail your podcast intro.

You can do this with unique podcast music

Music that’s catchy enough that it builds listener anticipation and reflects the style and ‘vibe’ of your show is a great way to do this. But please, I beg of you, don’t choose a random song that sounds like it’s a castoff from some 1980s corporate training video. Like this:

Find a piece that fits your show’s pace, your personality, and has a natural hook to it.

You can do this with an incredible excerpt from your podcast episode

This is my favorite tactic. Give people a preview of what they’re going to hear later in the show from your guest. Did they face a challenge that your listeners will relate to? Or did they have to overcome a major obstacle that should have ruined them? Give them a little taste of the glory.

If you edit it just right, you’ll build anticipation for the who, what, where, when, why, or how behind that clip.

You can do this with an attention-getting question or statement

Start your show with a teaser of something they’re going to hear from you later in this episode. Your opinion on a controversial topic. A twist on some common way of thinking that you’re going to challenge. A listener question that you’re going to answer. These are all terrific.

Even if you’re running a serial true crime podcast, you may need to catch people up on what you covered in the last episode in order to setup the current one properly. Stepping outside of the podcast world, think about how the Survivor reality show begins each episode: “Previously on Survivor…”

2. Segment Transitions

If you’ve got a few or many segments making up each podcast episode, it’s a great idea to transition from one to the next, by preparing your listeners for what’s around the corner. Maybe the first five minutes of your podcast are a news round-up before you get into an interview. Maybe you do a little monologuing or an extended intro of your guest and what they’ve accomplished.

The very best show hosts let listeners know you’re moving on from the intro — whether those are housekeeping issues or entertaining segments in and of themselves — and into the meat of the episode.

Listen up on how Chris Hardwick does this with the ID10T podcast:

Experiment!

These are only two building blocks. There are countless more things you can do to add a spark to your episodes so that you stand out from other podcasts. Would love to hear your ideas in the comments.

The important thing here is to plan your podcast episodes with the listener in mind. How can you keep them listening from this five-minute period to that five-minute period? How can you build anticipation, excitement, interest, and even action?

That’s your goal with these two building blocks.

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