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The Chicago Bar Association created a CLE opportunity about how to improve your legal reputation through podcasting. I participated in a panel with Thinking Like a Lawyer co-host Joe Patrice, Lunch Hour Legal Marketing co-host Conrad Saam and Chicago Bar’s @theBar co-host Trisha Rich to share some research and best practices about legal podcasting with CBA’s members. Following is my script for the talk and the slides.
I’m new to legal, but long in media experience. My role at Legal Talk Network is primarily sponsorship sales and working with show partners (like the CBA and ABA) to produce and deliver legal podcasts. I end up having a lot of conversations with attorneys like you who want to start their own podcasts.
And we say ‘no’ to them. A lot.
There are some issues that come up repeatedly and I want to share a few of these with you. Perhaps with this session, our experience can save you all some frustration.
I have a few items about what works, and what doesn’t…
First some Don’ts…
Rather, don’t talk and talk and talk and talk.
Just because you have a microphone does not mean people have to, or want to, listen to you.
Organize your thoughts so people can follow the structure of your point or the progression of questions to a guest.
Edit your thoughts. That means take stuff out, don’t polish it like your acceptance speech. Less is more.
Conrad and his co-host Gyi Tsakalakis work with a tight show plan. They are deeply knowledgeable about these marketing tools so there are tons more things they might say about the marketing tools. But for the sake of the listener, the hosts take that extra minute to step back, so they can prioritize the most important ideas the listeners care about.
It’s your ability as a host to filter and curate the subject matter, or share a specific point of view that creates value to the listeners, and builds your reputation as a thought leader worth listening to.
Meaning, don’t just sit back and listen to your guest’s answers. As a host, you are not a listener. Ask your guests meaningful questions. Ask things that listeners won’t find in other interviews or articles the guest may have written.
Our team recently worked with a podcasting client who was good at getting good guests. Then the hosts sat back and let the very good guests talk. They said “we didn’t want to get in their way.”
Their approach was to ask a broad question and then effectively take their hands off the wheel. The guests rambled on and on and on.
Then the guests started to sound desperate. You can almost hear them thinking “am I saying the right stuff? Is this what you wanted? This can’t be right. Should I keep going?“
As host, you are the proxy for the listener. The host can and should do things the listener CANNOT do!
Many guests who are willing to interview have a book to promote or are otherwise on a circuit, and they end up saying the same things in multiple settings. That’s boring for them and if a listener has heard them elsewhere, they’re going to hear the same stories, which undervalues your show. As host, you can create a reason to knock them off-script. Make them laugh or offer something that hasn’t been heard anywhere else, or say “huh, I never thought about that.”
Ask narrow questions so you can keep the guest to one, trackable idea. You can always ask follow-up questions. But if you start with a broad question, it can be hard to get to the heart of what you really want out of them. Worse, it can be hard to stop them once they’ve set out.
Here is a question to avoid because it’s overly-broad: “Before we start, tell us a little about how you got into the area of this-that-and-the-other.”
I heard a host let a guest ramble on for NINE minutes with his resume rundown in a recent episode. That gives the guest carte blanche on your listener’s dime. A guest is never going to edit themselves without you guiding them to what’s important.
The guest did not make the same promise you did to deliver relevant info that’s consistent with your show’s brand. You as the host are the only one who can keep the conversation on track.
Instead, ask about a specific element of their work, or ask a question that sounds like a statement such as “I thought it was really interesting how you were in this area but then moved over to that area. Tell us about how your experience there informs your work now.”
You make an implied promise to your audience when you send a podcast out into the world.
Just like hosting a party, it’s implied you will have refreshments at things you invite people to. And it is implied that you will not be a rambling, incoherent, self-indulgent mess. That sort of poor hosting in either setting doesn’t build your reputation. In this analogy, you don’t need the extra food or drinks – but the people you invite in do. They need the structure and curation that a good host provides.
The audience is what makes your show real. If you don’t engage their interest and provide some structure to the discussion and a reason for them to listen to your next episode, you’re just a guy in a closet talking to himself. Take the time to make a plan for being a better host.
Promise – I keep using that word because it’s important and it differentiates the randos in a closet from real thought leaders. Your promise is what you do to use the audience’s time well and provide something relevant. Sometimes adding structure is a little predictable and that’s OK. It’s even comforting if not overused. You can do it in your own way, but plan to deliver your show and topics and format consistently to retain your audience.
Your Promise to listeners drives the way you organize your show. These are the key elements:
Delivering on your promise, just like in real life, builds your reputation.
To test if something is part of your Promise and will build your reputation, keep asking yourself:
“What do I want my audience to come away with from listening to my show?”
Your Promise holds your show together around that question.
Motivation: Here’s what we found out about what attracted listeners to the shows on Legal Talk Network.
Our recent listener survey showed that people tune in because the topics are interesting.
They want you to curate the world through the filter you promised them. They are out in the world, curious about something and your show may have a possible answer.
This curiosity is the beginning of your relationship together.
Do a few specific things to help the audience find you:
In the industry as a whole, 30% of listeners, according to Edison’s Infinite Dial, report finding their favorite shows on a search engine:
Do remember that Apple Podcasts is a Search Engine.
Help your potential audience find you in their favorite podcast search engine. This is not a small suggestion: hear me now and believe me on the next slide. Connect your show to Apple Podcasts so you’re findable in the legal space.
Even though Spotify says they’re the #1 podcast distributor, nearly 90% of our legal audience comes through Apple.
This is our chart over time of user agents requesting episodes. User agents (agents like your podcast player, working on behalf of you, the user) are the robots that deliver episodes listeners download, and then report back to us “Hey, I sent your show to someone.”
The blue is Apple’s user agents. There’s no second place. The legal industry seems to have a very strong preference for Apple. Over 90% of OUR downloads come through Apple users. So, I recommend, to help your show find a legal audience, take the time to work through the multi-step process to get your show on Apple Podcasts.
Listeners are motivated to listen ONCE because of the topic.
But then they STAY with a show because they like the hosts.
All three shows represented on this panel are podcasts that people tend to stay with – their subscriber to download ratio is high, implying these three have established a rapport with their audiences.
This chart about “What’s Important?” is really saying the audience trusts that time spent with these hosts will be spent in an entertaining or informative way… as long as the hosts remember their promise and bring their personalities and good hosting to the conversation.
Big or small, understand that your audience won’t include “everyone.”
Test the choices you make about your show (ie., guest selection, artwork choices, sponsor mix, promotional partners, etc.) by asking yourself “what you want my audience to come away with from my show?”
Podcasting is very niched. That’s exciting to me because of all the choices. Niche is nice. It gives you the opportunity to be you and not have to please EVERYONE. You can get as deep and wonky as you want. As you’re developing your shows, think about who else wants to talk about these things with you – and be consistent in what you deliver.
Think about it: How do inside jokes work? They are special BECAUSE they don’t translate to a wide audience. In those moments you formed an inside joke with a friend, you added to your bond of shared experiences.
I’ll give you a new idea to try. If you say “my audience is everyone,” you’ll please nobody in your effort to attract everyone. Podcasting, unless you’re Joe Rogan, is less about having the biggest audience, than it is about creating something interesting, well-formed, and valuable to a certain set of listeners.
In contrast, broadcast content has to please a lot of people, or rather, not antagonize major segments of audiences, so it ends up being mediocre. I am new to legal, but I’ve been in broadcast media in TV and radio for over 20 years. I was in for so long that they gave me a trophy. So you can imagine it broke my heart when I realized a few years ago that I didn’t listen to my radio any more. I didn’t watch network TV anymore. I’d seen everything they were putting out, and I’d gotten adept at seeking out more interesting content.
Podcasts have a special kind of freedom that comes with not having to maintain (and appease) a massive audience. That allows us to go deep and narrow on a topic to pursue things that interest us, and get weird.
My fellow panelist Joe Patrice here has the biggest audience among our shows, and while he appeals very much to me, Thinking Like a Lawyer doesn’t appeal to everyone. Their tone is snarky, the vibe is distinctly ‘insider.’ There are sponsors I steer away from his very popular and fun show because that sponsor wouldn’t be consistent with the promise that show delivers to its audience.
Don’t talk to everyone. Identify your listeners… talk to them about stuff you’re both interested in.
As much as we talk about niche and small audiences, there is room for more content, and room for your content. You might recognize this, but lawyers are voracious learners. You are a hungry bunch. This is good. That means there is audience for you. The legal market is NOT saturated.
When we asked our listeners what else they listen to besides Legal Talk Network, I expected to see all the other genres that are popular in the consumer space like comedy or news, sports or politics, true crime.
Here’s where we embrace the niche… OUR listeners, made up of over 75% attorneys, practicing or otherwise, told us their #1 other interests is “Other Law and Legal.”
Hmmm? OK, so what kind of “Other Law and Legal” would you like specifically?
We dug in… 13% wanted Litigation and Courtroom, then Supreme Court Coverage, then History-based Legal, then Legal Technology…
This list is a sushi menu of what to put together in your show. This is what your potential listeners are interested in. There is room in the podcast marketplace for you.
As listeners, the legal community somehow has capacity to take in a remarkable volume of content. When we asked how many podcast episodes our listeners consumed in a week… 30% listen to 10 or more episodes of SOMETHING per week. 30%.
Compare that to the consumer audience…
…only 18% listened to that many in a week. Amateurs.
Audio quality does matter. Like I said at the beginning, I get a lot of submissions from legal podcasters like you.
I know you would never do this, but if when I hear a host who sounds like he’s a mile away, or there’s a washing machine in the background, or traffic noise, I’m hearing “this person isn’t serious.”
Simple equipment upgrades takes your podcast up to the next level. It won’t make your questions better, or think through your show outline, but it will help you cross a basic criteria.
Everyone asks… so here is Adam the Audio Engineer’s Shopping List.
Director of Partnerships
Legal Talk Network
Lisa, as Legal Talk Network's Director of Partnerships, is the bridge between show sponsors and the production team. She helps sponsors develop their message and choose the most effective shows for reaching their target audience. Lisa has consulted with clients in both digital marketing and traditional broadcast media, and loves podcasting because the medium celebrates creativity and makes room for diverse content. She loves driving fast and lives at Lake Tahoe with her family.