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What will your show be about?

People often talk to me about wanting to start a podcast.  For those looking to start a podcast, this is a good discussion to have.  Not being sure of what you’re trying to do has killed many a podcast, leaving behind a string of one-episode experiments.  In talking with these fine people, I’ve come up with a series of questions that I ask new podcasters-to-be to help them get a grip on this thing called podcasting.  There are no right or wrong answers to any of the question.  The goal in answering them them is to help the new podcasters better understand what they want to accomplish.

This is the first in a series of articles for new podcasters and for people who are re-thinking their current podcasts.

What will your show be about?

This is the first question I always ask.  At first glance, this seems like a simple question with a simple answer.  I’ve heard answers like “I want to do a show about game-mastering advice,” “I want to have a show where my friends and I can talk about things that are on our minds,” and even my own “I want to do a show about game design.”  But this question exist as a conversation starter, to start talking about the topics you want to cover and the format you want to follow.

Many new podcasters have a vague topic idea or a vague format idea when they get jazzed to start recording.  In the examples above, the people talking about game-master advice and game design have ideas about the topics they want to cover, while the person talking about a show with his friends has a good idea of how to approach the things they want to talk about – in other words, their format.

Knowing only topic or format is often enough to get you started.  But that’s the easy part; keeping your momentum going and publishing new episodes takes more work.  That’s where knowing both topic & format, and getting to know them better over time, come into play.

When you start talking about topic, don’t concern yourself with how narrow or wide it seems.  You may start off thinking that your topic is fairly narrow – I did when I first started talking about game design.  You’ll likely find that as you research and speak with people, you’ll find points of view you hadn’t considered, nuances that weren’t first apparent, and a great deal of information created by those before you.  That’s a function of becoming an expert on your topic.  Of course, there are exceptions; I doubt there’s enough material about “owlbears of the 20th Century” to get more than a couple episodes off the ground (though I invite folks to prove me wrong on that).  But overall, don’t let thinking your topic is too narrow stop you from podcasting.

On the same note, don’t be afraid that your topic is too broad.  If you decide that you want to do a show about play advice or fantasy gaming, great!  Those are very large topics, so much so that there are several podcasts that cover both in different ways.  You’ll find plenty to talk about on your topic, so you shouldn’t hurt for ideas.  But if you aren’t careful, you’ll run into “podcasting paralysis” — writer’s block for podcasters — from having too many ideas and not being able to focus on one.

How do you know if your topic is too broad or narrow?  That’s largely a matter of what you’re able to talk about on the subject.  To get a sense of that for yourself, come up with what you want to talk about on your first six or seven episodes.  If you’re struggling to come up with seven different things to talk about, maybe the topic is too narrow -– though give it a shot anyway and see what you’ll learn along the way.  If you are having a hard time limiting yourself to seven, it could be possible that your topic is too broad (though, it could also be possible that you’re just really, really eager).

If you do have too many ideas you want to start with, that can also lead to podcasting paralysis.  If that happens, look at common topics and picking a single group of them to start with.  This technique works for podcasts with multiple hosts who are trying to coordinate their ideas.  Perhaps our friend above who wants to make a show with his friends just has in mind “a show about role-playing games,” with nothing more specific.  The three of them come up with around 40 ideas of things they want to talk about, and around 15 of them involve gaming conventions.  Seeing that, and seeing that everyone contributed something to that group, they’ve found a starting point.

Should you be unsure of your topic even after thinking on it and making a list of your first few episodes, that’s perfectly okay!  Do not let that stop you from trying this great experience we call podcasting.  The most important thing to understand about this medium is that, because it’s consumer-created and has a much smaller gap between host and fan than other media, you’re free to experiment and your audience will generally be forgiving — especially if the changes you make produces a better show.  Feel free to narrow your topic as time goes on, because you decide you’re doing a “how to handle gaming conventions” show.  Feel free to broaden your topic if you decide you’re more of an “owlbears, then and now” sort of podcaster.  And if your answer to “so, what’s your show about?” is “I don’t know,” don’t worry – sometimes the best way to answer that question is to just do it and look back later.

Next time we visit the subject, we’ll continue by talking about the other part of this first conversation: understanding your format.

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