No. 098 Are You Overlooking This Proven Podcast Format?

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No. 098 Are You Overlooking This Proven Podcast Format?

If you were given a choice, would you create a podcast that took more or less time to create, all else being equal?

Some podcast formats are harder to consistently produce than others. Choose wisely.


Today’s episode is a discussion about Q&A shows. We discuss the pros and cons, the barriers to entry (both real and imagined), and why Jerod has started his own Q&A segment with The Assembly Call.

Producing a few bonus Q&A episodes may be just what you need to build audience engagement, create some new content, and expose a new side of yourself to your listeners.

Here’s what we covered:

  • Why podcasters shouldn’t try this format until their 50th episode
  • How to get started today with listener questions (and why to ignore the fancy technology)
  • Two reasons why Jonny hasn’t started a Q&A segment on HTE (and how Jerod helps him overcome both of these issues)

Listen, learn, enjoy …

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The Show Notes

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  • Follow Jerod on Twitter: @jerodmorris
  • Follow Jonny on Twitter: @jonnastor

The Transcript

Are You Overlooking This Proven Podcast Format?

Voiceover: Rainmaker FM.

Jerod Morris: This is Rainmaker FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free, 14-day trial at RainmakerPlatform.com.

Welcome to The Showrunner, where we have one goal: teach you how to develop, launch, and run a remarkable show. Ready? Welcome back to The Showrunner. This is episode number 98. I’m your host, Jerod Morris, VP of Marketing for Rainmaker Digital. I will be joined momentarily by my co-host, Jonny Nastor, the host of Hack the Entrepreneur.

Jerod Morris: Jonny, what’s going on, man?

Jonny Nastor: You know, a little of this, a little of that.

Jerod Morris: I’ve got a question for you.

Jonny Nastor: All right.

Jerod Morris: I think the answer is no, but on Hack the Entrepreneur, have you ever done a Q&A style show or a mailbag where you request questions from your audience and then basically take an episode and answer them?

Jonny Nastor: I have not.

Jerod Morris: I hadn’t really either, but I did a couple recently over on The Assembly Call. One was a mailbag episode of the show where the whole thing was I went out to Twitter, asked for questions, and then spent the whole episode answering the questions. Then another one was a segment of our radio show, which we also post our radio show as a podcast. We just did our third segment as a Q&A. Same thing. Reached out to Twitter — we have a nice Twitter following — got a bunch of questions back, and answered them. I have to say, a few things surprised me pleasantly about this.

Now, obviously we’ve seen this format in many other places before. It’s a proven format from late night TV all the way to podcasts. We know that this works. But for some reason I hadn’t necessarily thought about how much it could work with that particular show. Actually, we’ve done it on The Showrunner before. We used to do a Q&A section of The Showrunner, and it worked well.

What I found was, number one, the audience loved it. Even when it wasn’t their questions being answered. I can’t remember a format type for an episode or even one segment of the radio show that I’ve gotten as many positive comments on as that one with people emailing me, “Hey, man, love the Q&A format. Hope you keep doing that.” The other thing that I found is from The Showrunner perspective, two things. Number one, having a really easy way to create content. Because how simple is that? You get questions, you answer them. It’s the oldest content marketing episode or blog post format in the book. People ask questions, you give answers. It’s great.

But it’s also such a great way to get into the mind of your audience when you put out a call for questions and you see the patterns. You see five or six questions about this one thing and then four or five questions about this one thing. You really see what your audience is honed in on. For me — with The Assembly Call in particular — it was such a great way to see what people are really focused on during the off season. Maybe what guests I should get for interviews. Maybe what blog posts I could write — in addition to obviously the questions that I could answer.

I thought maybe we could talk about the Q&A format a little bit, because I think it may be an underutilized format for podcasters. Maybe something that we even want to consider doing a little bit more of on The Showrunner, because we know people have questions. Maybe we could spend a little bit more time either on every episode — bring back the Q&A like we did before, or just do entire mailbag episodes where we put out a call to questions and answer them, because I think it works.

Jonny Nastor: Yeah. I think you’re right. It’s cool. I’m glad you did it, because there’s some questions I have for you that have probably held me back from doing it.

Jerod Morris: Really? Let’s get to those questions next on this episode of The Showrunner. All right, Jonny, you’ve got questions. I guess the way that I look at this — especially from your perspective with Hack the Entrepreneur — I would think Hack the Entrepreneur is the perfect audience and the perfect topic to step to the side and do something like this every now and then. Two part question: Have you considered it and just decided not to, or is it not something that you’ve really considered doing?

Two Reasons Why Jonny Hasn’t Started a Q&A Segment on HTE (and How Jerod Helps Him Overcome Both of These Issues)

Jonny Nastor: I’ve considered it and not done it — I should say — rather than decided not to. I just didn’t do it. I’m going to say for two reasons. The first reason is technical, “How do I get people to submit questions?” Literally that. Letting that be a hurdle for me. Then the other one is, “What if I set out to do it, and then ask people for questions, and then don’t get any questions?”

Jerod Morris: Now, when you’re on social media, when you Tweet out to folks, do you get a lot of responses generally? That’s a valid fear I think. What did not make me afraid about that is when I’ll Tweet something — on that account in particular — I always get tons of responses. So I knew that that I would …

I would be a little bit more nervous, actually, on my personal account, where I don’t do a whole lot and don’t have quite as much engagement. The audience on there is much more dispersed than on The Assembly Call where everybody’s focused on one topic and I get tons of responses. I could have emailed people too and gotten questions. I wonder, do you think that that’s a valid fear to have, or is it just something that you need to test and see?

Jonny Nastor: I don’t think any fear like that’s truly valid. You know what I mean? It’s valid enough that it’s a real fear, and I don’t think I’m alone in it. But social media channels, like Facebook or Twitter — whatever ones you’ve chosen to use — some of them are really good, and some of them aren’t as good. Right? Twitter’s not nearly as good as it once was.

Jerod Morris: Fact.

Jonny Nastor: Right? I still like it to find links to read and things like that. It curates some stuff for me, which is cool. But having conversations and stuff — I don’t do it nearly as much as I used to. That’s, I think, strictly a platform thing. And I haven’t really pushed myself into Facebook as much, and that sort of thing, so I don’t clearly have that.

Jerod Morris: That’s why you get so much done.

Jonny Nastor: Exactly. Email would be a good place to do it, but then I really like the ones that have the person saying the question themselves and then you cut it in. Then it’s like that’s a whole technical hurdle now.

Jerod Morris: See, okay. I like that too. That kept me from doing it a little bit, is I wanted to be able to add that. But it’s one of those things. Look, I think that is a positive. If you can do a Q&A and add that, I think that makes it 100 percent awesome. But even if you can’t do that, it could still be 80 percent awesome and still be really beneficial. You know? That’s one of those things where I feel like we make an excuse if we don’t do it because of that. That’s where the pursuit of perfection is the enemy of doing something that’s really good or even great. We don’t do it because it’s not perfect in our eyes.

Jonny Nastor: Right.

Jerod Morris: I think that can be detrimental to the audience and to the show, to a certain extent.

Jonny Nastor: Yeah, that’s true. That was my reasoning. I love the idea that it is content created — not only content that’s easier to create, because you’re just answering questions from your audience, but you’re literally answering the questions of your audience, which is kind of our job as a showrunner. If we’re in the education space, then that is our job, is to answer their questions. Normally we’re just trying to assume, or from our educated guesses put their questions in our head and try and answer them throughout our content. This is literally doing it, so it does make sense.

How to Get Started Today with Listener Questions (and Why to Ignore the Fancy Technology)

Jonny Nastor:Now I’m just thinking it’s crazy that I haven’t done it yet. I guess that’s it. It’s literally what to do without the questions to get the ball rolling. It seems like once you get it going, then people will hear it and be like, “Oh. This is cool. I want to submit questions.” But at the beginning it’s harder. Then it was that hurdle where I love it when they’re recorded and you just get to cut them in, but that’s a whole other set of processes and systems to set up to get those episodes produced. It was like, “Oh, man. That seems like a huge hurdle.” I like the way you did it.

Jerod Morris: Yeah. Maybe if you do it and the Q&A format really takes off, then you realize, “Okay. I want to take this to the next level.” You’ve done some tests of it and then you can add SpeakPipe or whatever to actually get people in. You pay your editor a little bit more to do that. You’re like, “Hey, this is a proven format, people really like this. I’m going to invest more and double down.”

You do a couple tests first to make sure it actually works. Because maybe with your audience it doesn’t work, or maybe you’re not that good or natural at answering questions. There’s a lot of reasons it may not work, so I think in a lot of ways it would be smart to give it a try. Very low tech. Get some questions and you read them. Then if it’s really working, maybe you can double down on it with some extra technology.

Jonny Nastor: Were you off the cuff? Would you just look at the answer and do it, or did you try and plan it out and re-record answers?

Jerod Morris: This is a great question, and this is something that I wanted to get to in this, because I think I’ve learned a lot by doing this a couple of times now. Just so you know, the way that The Assembly Call is recorded — it’s always recorded live, so I couldn’t just record it and stop if I didn’t like the answer. When I did the full mailbag episode I still broadcast it live, even though it wasn’t on the radio or whatever. I still broadcast it live. I was like, “Hey, send me your questions. At such and such time I’m going to go live answering them.” Broadcast it live. Used that as the podcast. The radio show is the same thing.

But what I did is I got the questions ahead of time. I was just going to get on there and wing the answers. Because I know my material, I could get on there and pretty much any question that people asked I would be able to answer. If I couldn’t, I just wouldn’t pick that question to answer. But I thought, “I always create better content when I take a few minutes to sit down and not necessarily write it out verbatim, but explore the idea a little bit. Let’s make sure I actually know what I’m going to say about this.”

So I went through and I got the questions. I put them into a Google Doc. Put them in order. And then typed out, real quick, some thoughts. Just to make sure that I could organize my ideas. So that, instead of the mailbag episode taking 35 minutes and getting through all the information, it took 25 minutes. I was much tighter as I went through because I didn’t have to sit there and go … You know how sometimes people ask you a question and the very first time you’re going through it, you’re going through it in your head as your question? Well I could get past that first part and then get right to the answer.

I think that really helped, being prepared with the answer but then doing it live so it’s still off the cuff. It’s still conversational, I just put a little bit of thought into it ahead of time. I think that really helped. I think that’s one place where a Q&A or a mailbag type episode can go off the rails a little bit, is if you’re thinking out loud as you’re answering the questions instead of really answering the question and getting right to the answer. Now, maybe you’re great at doing that off the cuff and you can just get a question, answer it, and you know your materials so well. For me, I like to have a little bit of preparation to be able to make sure my answers are as tight as possible.

Jonny Nastor: I like that. I was picturing it more … I didn’t know you were doing it live. I was picturing it more like … I’m assuming you don’t do your … When you do the blog post ones those aren’t done live, are they?

Jerod Morris: What do you mean?

Jonny Nastor: You said you were reading off some blog posts and doing …

Jerod Morris: Yeah. I do those too.

Jonny Nastor: Those are live?

Jerod Morris: Well our audience has gotten used to seeing our content produced live, so when I do the readings I just turn on the Google Hangout and let it roll. I figure I’m recording and I want to get it on YouTube anyways, so I might as well. Yeah, I do those live as well.

Jonny Nastor: Wow, impressive.

Jerod Morris: Yeah. It fits. Our audience likes connecting with us, doing that live thing. I’ve gotten comfortable with it, so I figure it makes sense. And it saves me time, because when you do it on the Google Hangout it automatically populates the YouTube video. It’s right there and I don’t have to do anything extra. Yeah, I do those live too.

Jonny Nastor: Wow, impressive.

Jerod Morris: It’s fun.

Jonny Nastor: That’s cool. Maybe once you even get more comfortable with it, you might loosen up a bit, like The Showrunner episodes. We vary it in how we do each episode sometimes. Sometimes they’re very outlined, sometimes they’re not so outlined.

Jerod Morris: What would be an example of an episode that’s not so outlined?

Jonny Nastor: Oh. I think it was episode four. It really wasn’t outlined.

Jerod Morris: Yes.

Jonny Nastor: The last 94 episodes since then we’ve 100 percent structured them. But there’s a difference. If you go back to episode four and listen to it and compare it to this, they’re very different.

Jerod Morris: Yes.

Jonny Nastor: For one thing, we’re two years older.

So, a couple things are coming to my mind. Number one, we have episode 100 coming up. I’m wondering if we shouldn’t do a Q&A episode for episode 100. That would be a fun way to ring in the 100th episode. I’m going to let that hang there for a moment. But what about for you with Hack the Entrepreneur? What else would it take to get you to give a mailbag a try? You’ve been going for 300 plus episodes, I’m sure. You answer a lot of questions via email and other places, but I would have to think that your audience probably has a lot of questions. It might be ripe for doing a mailbag.

Jonny Nastor: Yeah, I think you’re right. It needs a name, Jerod. It needs a catchy title.

Jerod Morris: For a Hack the Entrepreneur mailbag?

Jonny Nastor: Yeah. Not The Mailbag.

Jerod Morris: Yeah, you got to do something else. We’ll think of something. Send your ideas to us on Twitter, @Jon Nastor, @JerodMorris. We’ve got to think of your idea for that mailbag.

Jonny Nastor: I think if I had that, it would be like, “Okay. Let’s do it.”

Jerod Morris: Just a name?

Jonny Nastor: Yeah.

Jerod Morris: You think so?

Jonny Nastor: A name that ties in a branding thing to it that makes sense, it sounds cool, and now that’s like …

Jerod Morris: Okay, but here’s my question. If you like the idea, why not just call it Mailbag? Your audience is going to … The one thing is, titling it mailbag or something simple … because you always want to think, “How is this going to look in iTunes?” Or, “How is this going to look in someone’s podcast feed so that they know exactly what it is?”

If it just says mailbag, immediately people know. Then you’ve got a little extra space, maybe 30 to 35 characters left, where you can highlight the first question or a few topics that you go over. I actually think, in this case, trying to be too clever with the name could be not good. It could actually go against what you’re trying to accomplish.

Jonny Nastor: Smart. What else is there, besides Mailbag?

Jerod Morris: Q&A.

Jonny Nastor: I guess there’s Ask Jon.

Jerod Morris: Yeah. Ask Jon.

Jonny Nastor: Ask Pat. Ask Gary.

Jerod Morris: Yeah. Ask Jon, Q&A.

Jonny Nastor: Ask James.

Jerod Morris: Mailbag. I think that’s really about it. Those are all pretty short. Yeah, I think you would want to go with something like that.

Jonny Nastor: Cool. I like it.

Jerod Morris: Yeah.

Jonny Nastor: Smart. I’m going to do it.

Why Podcasters Shouldn’t Try This Format until Their 50th Episode

Jerod Morris: Do it. I think it’d be great. Let us know how it goes. I think you listening to this episode — really consider it. There are a few different considerations that you would want to make if you’re deciding whether to this. If you’re young in your show and your show is an interview show, or you haven’t built up that relationship with your audience yet, I would not do this yet.

I think you’ve really got to build up an audience. You’ve got to build up a relationship with them. You have to build up that two-way communication so that you don’t send a request for questions out into cyberspace and get no response. That’s kind of demoralizing, and you certainly wouldn’t want to do it on a podcast, not get any questions, and then later people are wondering, “Hey, where’s that Q&A episode?” and then it doesn’t happen. That wouldn’t be a good thing either. I think you want to be careful about that.

You also want to make sure that if you’re still in the process of building up your flow, that you don’t interrupt that flow of your show. I think once you’re in a flow, like you’ve been at it … I don’t think there’s necessarily a set number of episodes, maybe 20, 25, 40 — something like that. And you’ve established your rhythm. You’ve established the day when you’re going to be there.

Maybe you do this as a bonus. If you’re doing an interview every week, I wouldn’t necessarily skip an interview. That’s what people are coming for, and you wouldn’t want to take away something that they really like. Consider this as a bonus. Or, if you don’t necessarily have that exact rhythm, like maybe one week you’re doing an interview and one week you’re doing something else, then maybe this could fit into that normal weekly rhythm.

I just think you’d want to be careful. Not everybody loves the Q&A format, from an audience perspective, so I think you’d really want to be careful removing something you know they like for this. If you’re going to try it out, I would try it as a bonus, because people always love bonuses. They’re not really going to hurt you. Even if someone doesn’t like Q&A’s, they can just skip it and await your normal interview that you normally do.

Jonny Nastor: I like it.

Jerod Morris: People can’t see your face as we talk, but I can see that you’re really considering this.

Jonny Nastor: Yeah. I am. I did up my intro and stuff, so right after we’re done with this I have to record the final parts of an episode for Hack the Entrepreneur. I’m thinking of putting in the intro that I’m asking for questions.

Jerod Morris: I think that’d be great. I’m going to send you some questions. I’m going to say, “Where’d you get the idea for the mailbag episode, because it’s a great idea?” “Jon, love this idea. Where’d it come from?”

Jonny Nastor: I like it. Mailbag or Ask Jonny, one of the two. Well, we’ll see.

Jerod Morris: I like Mailbag.

Jonny Nastor: Okay. Let’s do it.

Jerod Morris: Okay. I like Mailbag, especially if you’re going to answer multiple questions. I think that’s something else. I think Ask Jonny is good if it’s one question and you’re going to take the whole episode. Mailbag suggests multiple questions.

Jonny Nastor: That’s true.

Jerod Morris: So I like that for an episode like that.

Jonny Nastor: That’s pretty cool.

Jerod Morris: Yeah.

Jonny Nastor: I wonder, would you ever think of … Say I answered two or three questions. People are used to a half hour episode. With an introduction, music, possibly an ad, and three questions and answers, there’s still a bit of time. Do you think maybe you could pepper in some — maybe read some reviews or something from iTunes with people and incentivize people to start hearing other ones. Maybe get incentivized, “Oh, I should go leave him a review too.”

Jerod Morris: Yeah, sure.

Jonny Nastor: That’s cool. Because I don’t really ask for reviews that much anymore on my show. I just don’t fit it in. I feel like people just know. But if there was a way to be reading other people’s … People know how to leave a rating and review if they want to — I think at this point. They’ve heard it thousands of times. You know what I mean?

Jerod Morris: Is that curse of knowledge a little bit, do you think? Do people really know? We’re still at a point where less than 50 percent of people have listened to podcasts. I wonder if maybe we should …

Jonny Nastor: Oh. Well, obviously only people who listen to podcasts would know this, so not as a general consensus of the population, but people who listen to —

Jerod Morris: But are more new people coming on that we should keep educating? I added it to an outro on a couple of shows because I noticed I hadn’t been doing it either. I’m wondering if we’re taking that for granted because we’re so far in this, and if that’s a mistake.

Jonny Nastor: I’m going to go out on a limb and say that somebody who just discovers podcasts is not listening to Hack the Entrepreneur first. I don’t think they’re discovering podcasts through me. They’re discovering it through giant names like Serial. Things that take off and end up in Time Magazine. Then it’s like, “Oh, there’s these other shows that are about stuff that I’m into, like business. That’s cool.” And then, “Oh, what’s this?”

This is literally me going off of spending a lot of time in Reddit forums and listening to people talk. People asking, “Oh, what’s your favorite podcast?” and stuff. People going off and then talking about a huge show like, “But why do you have to continually tell us to leave a rating and review for two or three minutes at the intro. We know.” These are people that don’t podcast. These are just people who love podcasts. It’s like, “We know. Every show we listen to tells us this. We know. It’s 2017. We know.”

Jerod Morris: Yeah. I don’t like doing it in the intro.

Jonny Nastor: It’s hard.

Jerod Morris: Yeah.

Jonny Nastor: That’s just my thought. I do like it when people read others, but I’ve never again found the spot in my show where I can read other people’s ratings and reviews. That inherently is like, “Oh, that’s cool.” Or, “That was a funny one. I should go leave a funny one.” You’re telling people, but you’re not just droning on. “Go to Apple and leave us a rating and review.” It’s more interesting. I thought maybe you could put that into a mailbag thing, in some of them.

Jerod Morris: I like that. In a mailbag, you’re already in the rhythm of reading anyway, so it’s all part of it. You could read a review in between the questions. You could even say if people leave a question as a review you’ll give it precedence or priority. Preferential treatment to reviews that leave questions.

Jonny Nastor: Yeah. But I haven’t been focusing for a long time on iTunes in that way. I’ve actually outpaced … I have more episodes now than I have ratings and reviews.

Jerod Morris: Oh.

Jonny Nastor: Which isn’t good.

Jerod Morris: That’s like having more people that you follow on Twitter than followers.

Jonny Nastor: Yeah, I know. I have 300 something reviews, but now I’m at like 340 shows, so it’s outpaced. It’s like, “Oh, this is terrible.”

Jerod Morris: You got to get it back. You got to get those vanity metrics back up.

Jonny Nastor: It’s like having more people that you’re following than follow you. All right. Well, I’m going to do it. I think that you out there listening — if you’ve been on the fence for either or both of the two reasons that I’ve been holding up for literally 200 episodes … Not consistently, but it would come to my head once in a while and then I would use one of those hurdles or excuses to not do it. Jerod’s just convinced me. Hopefully he’s convinced you in the same way. If you’re at 50 episodes or higher, now might be the time to think about something like this. Maybe we could all do it together.

Jerod Morris: Yeah. Let’s do it together. Again, it’s not to say you should go and uproot your entire format and strategy and change it all to Q&A. Just try it. You want to try it. And there’s a few things that you want to look at. You want to see how much you enjoy it and how comfortable you feel doing it.

Find out what you learn from your audience, because I think that’s going to be the underrated element of this, especially if you have that good two-way communication with your audience. What you learn about them — because you learn so much about what they’re thinking, what they need, and what kind of problems they have that you can solve.

Then, of course, you want to gauge the response. Again, I’ve had such a good response to this from The Assembly Call audience. I thought it would get a good response, but not as good a response as it got, so that’s been really nice to see. You’ll want to gauge that for your show, because every show, every context, and every showrunner’s going to be a little bit different.

But I do think it’s a tried and true format formula and it works. You just want to see how much it works for you, and if it’s something that you want to keep doing in the future. Give it a test. Let us know. No matter when you listen to this episode, send us a Tweet @JerodMorris or @JonNastor and let us know how it works for you. We’d love to hear.

Jonny Nastor: Boom.

Jerod Morris: If you want more from The Showrunner, go to Showrunner.FM/Report and get our free report. Get on the email list, we’d love to have you there as well. Maybe we’ll send out a call to our email list for questions before episode 100. I think that’d be fun.

Jonny Nastor: There you go. All right.

Jerod Morris: Maybe we’ll do that. We will talk to you next week on another brand new episode of The Showrunner.

Jonny Nastor: Take care.

114 episodes