Whether you just made the leap into podcasting, or are a seasoned podcaster, chances are you are always on the lookout for great content to share with your audience.
By Joanna L. McWilliams
If you’ve been podcasting for a while, it can sometimes feel challenging to come up with new, fresh, and relevant ideas to share with your audience. You may even feel, at times, like you’ve covered it all.
If you are just starting out, you may also struggle but for a different reason. You want to know how to be selective and choose the right story idea for your podcast that resonates, and helps you attract, retain, and grow your audience.
With more than 8 million podcast episodes published to the iTunes store in more than 100 languages and over a billion subscribers (according to MacWorld), your audience has a lot of choices in terms of content. Coming up with strong story ideas is a critical, and often overlooked first step to creating successful podcast episodes.
How to Brainstorm
The first place to start coming up with story ideas for your podcast is with a brainstorming session. The goal of a brainstorming session is to write down as many story ideas as possible. The goal for this brainstorming session is not to cut or cull bad ideas. You want to encourage the flow of all ideas, in whatever form they come in – good, bad, funny, ugly.
Set aside 30 minutes for you (and if you have them, your co-hosts). If you are a solo podcaster, consider making a date with yourself for this task, or inviting some creative friends to help you generate ideas. Next, let everyone know via email ahead of time that the purpose of this meeting is to come up with story ideas for your podcast.
Start the brainstorming session off by setting the ground rules for the meeting, which are that all ideas are welcome and that there is to be no negativity in regards to presented ideas. There will be time to select the best story ideas later, but right now the goal is to write all ideas down without judgment. Designate one person to jot down all the ideas. Consider using a shared Google Drive Document, so that ideas aren’t accidently lost on scarps of paper. Start a timer (most smart phones have one you can use) and begin shouting out and jotting down ideas.
If at any point during your brainstorming session you reach a lull, ask yourself or your team one of the following questions to get ideas flowing again:
- What is timely right now? What are other people, news sites, and podcasts talking about that relates to the topic of your podcast?
- What are you uniquely qualified to talk about? Chances are if you look closely, you will find you have special knowledge, training, or background that relates to your podcast.
- What is evergreen or ever true about this topic? What are people always interested in in regards to your podcast topic area? In newsrooms, reporters always have ‘evergreen’ stories to use. These might be personal, special interest stories, or local stories that like the evergreen tree stay ‘green’ or ‘fresh’ year round, and aren’t dependent on a time or place.
Once your timer dings, your brainstorming session is finished. Save your work, and email everyone the ideas generated, so you can reference them going forward.
Selecting Strong Stories for Audio
Looking over your brainstormed list of ideas, you will likely see a few that start to jump out right away as good fits for your show. Now, you need to ensure these ideas are also a good fit for the audio format.
Start by evaluating the feasibility of your ideas. For instance, it might be great to interview your favorite celebrity who has an amazing voice. But if you don’t have access to them, or a large enough podcast following to attract that type of talent, cross that idea off the list for now. Focus your energy and time on another story idea.
Take a look at the remaining ideas, and think about whom you could feasibly speak with for your show. (If you will not be bringing guests on your show, skip to the next paragraph). Come up with a few guest ideas, and research them online by reading their ‘about’ and ‘bio’ pages of their website. Look for guests who are experts, but also able to touch on the topic from a personal perspective. Even businesses podcasting can find customers or topic area experts whose lives were changed for the better by their product/service. Personality and connection to a topic comes across in audio, and is an important consideration when choosing guests.
Now, look at the setting of each idea and evaluate it from an audio perspective. In some instances, podcasters will go to their subjects and record audio say, discovering and uncovering the truth of a situation. Here podcasters might record ambient sounds (i.e. traffic noise, footsteps, children playing, dogs barking etc.) to bring the listening audience with them to the place. A classic example of this type of podcasting can be heard in S-Town. Think about and choose to move forward with ideas that will provide you with the most compelling audio.
“Test Penguin“ Your Final Story Ideas
A waddle of penguins will gather on the edge of an ice berg and bump one bird into the water to see if it sinks and gets eaten, or if it lives and floats. By now you should have a narrowed down list of podcasting ideas, and it is time to put them to push them out into the world and ‘test penguin’ your story ideas.
Pick five people to run your top ideas by and get their honest feedback. Try and find people that you think would be interested in your podcast. You can do this by asking them if they listen to any podcasts that you think are similar to your own, or by asking people that are in a field or participate in a hobby that relates to your podcast.
Take what this test group says about your ideas into consideration. If all five people hate one idea, than perhaps that is one you should strongly consider leaving off your final episode story list, unless you are seeking to stir the pot on purpose. If you feel like you aren’t generating enough interest from your test group, go back to your original brainstorm list. See if there is some other un-tapped idea that might be a better fit. You will likely also get a lot of re-affirming feedback, and even get suggestions for other episode ideas or guests to have on your show.
Now, take everything you’ve learned, researched and heard into consideration, and put together your final podcast story list. Taking a little extra time to brainstorm, vet story ideas for audio suitability, and gauge audience interest will set you up for recording successful episodes for your podcast, and give you the confidence to produce a great show.