A good podcast is like a TED Talk; it encapsulates a complex topic in a way that non-technical audiences can grasp its importance. When the right speaker tackles it from the right angle, even an Impenetrable topic can become fascinating and popular..
The problem? Planning podcasts about technical topics is hard. No one wants to listen to a repair manual, and you can’t rely on charisma alone to draw listeners. You need to explain, explore, and expand their understanding of your field, and give them something they can take home and use at the end of the episode.
If you’re struggling to come up with engaging topics for your podcast, don’t worry; it’s a common issue. With the right approach (and a pedagogical mindset) you’ll be able to engage and entertain your audience without detracting from your core topics.
So here’s the science of being interesting:
You Don’t Have To Be Unique, You Have To Be Engaging
Unless you’re on the cutting edge, people probably know what you’re on about. So don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel every time you sit down in front of the microphone. When people listen to conversations about technical topics, they rely on familiar things — signposts, similes, and value statements — to help them process information.
So don’t feel bad about using a framework or an outline to make sure your thoughts are in order. Borrow the mold of podcasts like School of Motion or Motion and Meaning, that primarily produce interview-style podcasts, or work with a structure where you verbally signpost the goals of each segment. This will help listeners engage with your topics, and give you an opportunity to pull in pedagogical resources (syllabus structures, lecturing guides, etc) to improve your podcast.
Just keep in mind that listeners don’t want to sit down and listen to a scripted recital of facts. They’re there to hear your passion. So focus on what you’re good at and why it’s important. Open on a strong assertion, and progressively substantiate with frequent value statements that connect the topic to the real world.
If you’re producing technical content for technical audiences, focus on methodology. If you’re not interpreting a topic for your audience, you’re building them a framework they can apply to their own issues. Engage with them on the how, and why finding or refining a new how is incredibly important for your field.
Good Content Does Things
When you’re producing a comedy podcast, the goal is to entertain. When you’re producing a technical podcast, the goal is to explain, explore, or expand your portion of the field. If you’re struggling to build a multi-episode plan for your podcast, think like an educator.
A good educator strikes a balance between immediate applicability and long-term understanding. They build a framework, then fill it in with immediately applicable information. They straddle the divide between TED-like presentations that try to explain the impenetrable and method-based lessons that talk to informed audiences, trying to build content calendars that lead audiences from the former to the latter.
Where podcasts diverge from an educational model is in lesson length and sequence. Listeners are there voluntarily, which means you can’t spread a lesson across ten episodes. You have to account for new listeners and nonlinear listening patterns. Work in short, direct, applicable units, and make sure they’re navigable.
If You’re Stuck, Explore Getting Stuck
While podcasts about TV shows or music have a fairly constant stream of new things to look at, technical podcasts tend to explore fields that move slower. And that’s okay. If you’re trying to produce a podcast on an aggressive schedule, you’re bound to find gaps where there aren’t any immediately applicable topics to cover.
The more technical your topic is, the more useful a Q&A or problem solving episode will be. Talk to your audience, listen to their issues or points of confusion, and produce episodes that directly engage with those topics. This is a common content strategy for technical podcasts, but it’s common for a reason: it works.
A simple model would see you starting off with a handful of self-contained episodes to gauge audience interest, and then following those up with a series that brings them in from a TED-like explanation to a more technical expansion of the topic. You would then cap things off with either a directly related podcast responding to listener questions, or a more generalized series of Q&A and diagnostic podcasts to get a feel for listener sentiment and figure out the direction for the next set of episodes.
This kind of approach will help you balance out your content schedule, as it creates a great opportunity for engagement without interrupting your overall flow. Every podcast should be in tune with its listeners.
What Comes Next
Most podcasting guides are aimed at podcasts that explore “fun” topics. Technical podcasts are different animals, but they can still be engaging. You just need to tweak your approach a bit.
Don’t reinvent the wheel. Pull in inspiration from presentations and conferences that engage your interests. Focus on exploring and expanding your topic, instead of just explaining what it’s about.
Build your content calendar with objectives in mind. Work in blocks, but don’t be afraid to break them up with engagement-driven segments to make sure you’re still in touch with your audience. When in doubt, pull from educational resources to find the most effective ways to engage your audience on harder topics.
Take advantage of your expertise. Engage with your audience regularly, ask them questions, and use their common roadblocks to fill the gaps in your content calendar. This, combined with an educational approach that mixes one-off episodes with short series for listeners who want to go in-depth, will give you a diverse podcast that still centers on what your listeners are interested in.