The Cast Away Awards

The Cast Away Awards

This winter (or summer if you’re down under) I was asked to be a judge for the Australian Podcast Awards, called The Cast Away Awards. Winners in several categories were announced on April 1st – check out the website for the full list. There were many awesome judges and I believe I was the only one who reviews podcasts on the regular, so it was a true honor to be included in the panel.

All of the judges were given about thirty podcasts to listen to and a set of questions to answer for each show. This helped me judge objectively. I wasn’t as concerned about not finding a show interesting as I was worried about my taste in humor being a total mismatch for a ‘comedy’ show! I love discovering new shows and this was a terrific way to hear a wide variety of hosting styles, learn about new content, and get exposed to even more Australian podcasts than I already subscribe to (those are This is About, Not By Accident, and Better Off Dead).

I am thrilled to have found three new shows which I subscribed to – Vinyl Soul, Human/Ordinary, and Phoebe’s Fall. What really set these shows apart for me was their flow and production value. I understand podcasts are a labor of love for 99% of creators, but there are some simple production edits (and just thoughtful things) that can be done to create a velvety-smooth listening experience, and I want to share some of my observations with podcasters seeking feedback.

I listened to shows in so many genres: sports, bro comedy, self-improvement, fiction, human interest, music, and more. One of the judging categories was on the length — and hook value — of the intro. I had never specifically evaluated the intro of many shows, but whoa, do I notice it now. For me, a great intro tells you what the show is going to be about, who the hosts are, maybe has a short preview of content to follow, and then it starts. So many shows that I evaluated had very, very long intros with two or more friends talking to each other, or even worse – one person talking into the mic to the audience about something unrelated to the episode. If you have an announcement unrelated to the content, keep it very short, or tell the listeners you’ll share that announcement at the end of the episode. Only die-hard fans are going to make it past a couple minutes of banter.

I also noticed there is a wide range of sound quality, and while I appreciate that not everyone has access to a sound booth or expensive recording equipment, I got really distracted when volume levels were really different between host and guest or even two hosts. Again-your die-hard fans won’t care that much about this quality issue, but it may turn off some potential listeners trying out your show for the first time.

Editing out content that doesn’t really belong in your show is time consuming, but really helps clarify your message. Don’t feel like you have to include every word a guest said – if it’s not great, you don’t have to keep it just to conform to a certain podcast length. In a fantastic Longform interview with Hrishikesh Hirway of Song Exploder and The West Wing Weekly, Hirway talks about how he cuts and pastes pieces of an interview/song narration in Song Exploder to create audio that truly tells a story. I wouldn’t say Song Exploder is necessarily a storytelling podcast, but every podcaster is telling some kind of story in each audio piece, and the editing work is worth it – it will help you have a more polished final product.

This is what makes me listen: hook me, have appropriate music and if you have time and expertise, definitely edit and include sound design, make me feel like I’m lost in the story so I have no idea how much time has passed, and surprise me, teach me, or at least invoke some emotion in me – fear, laughter, peace, sadness, even anger … this will keep me coming back and recommending your shows here on Audible Feast!

Click here to go to a Facebook photo album from The Cast Away Awards (the photos are by Momo Image). Congratulations to Dave Gertler for organizing this successful contest and event!

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