In a world filled with on-demand video, virtual reality and articles tailored for the “too long, didn’t read” (TL;DR) crowd, a long-form podcast is an unlikely medium for commercial success. But “Serial,” a weekly podcast from the public radio creators of This American Life that debuted last fall, quickly proved otherwise.
Season one of the podcast phenom, which explored the people, places and prosecutions of a 1999 Baltimore murder case, became the fastest podcast to hit 5 million downloads in iTunes history, averaging 2.2 million listeners per episode. Serial’s massive following, and the renewed outlook for podcasts in general, illustrate the power of audio, evolved for contemporary audiences.
Organizations looking for ways to reinvigorate their audio conferences should take notes from the Serial team. Here are a few ways the podcast sensation kept listeners hooked for 12 weeks (and how they might keep your meeting attendees similarly engaged):
1. Be lenient on length
Week in and week out, Serial never stuck to a standard episode length. Some installments clocked in under a half hour, others went on for a full 60 minutes. The producers allotted only as much time as they’d need to work through the most relevant details—realizing that asking for more than an hour of audiences’ attention spans might be pushing it.
For conference calls, timing is everything. Rather than scramble to fill up a standard 30 or 60 minute meeting, focus on addressing key agenda items (even it that only takes 15 or 20 minutes.)
2. Break it up
Serial only had one host (Sarah Koenig), but each episode was much more than a monologue. Sarah’s script was punctuated by brief musical interludes, interview clips and audio recordings from the case trials.
Rather than distract from the podcast narrative, these mini-breaks kept it flowing.Playing music mid-call may not be a feasible option, but conferences should never be a place for one person to ramble uninterrupted for 45 minutes. Set aside time for Q&As and open up the floor for broader discussion to avoid monotony.
3. Supplement with other media
In between Thursdays, Serial used its website as another vehicle to keep listeners intrigued. The show’s producers regularly updated the Serial blog with evidence and other details that weren’t covered in the podcast and set up an online resource center with infographics, timelines and other documents related to the investigation at hand.
Likewise, an audio conference doesn’t have to start and stop with a dial tone. Providing pre-call agendas, post-call minutes and other useful information in a range of formats—additional audio recordings, online collaboration tools, videos—keep participants involved beyond the traditional meeting.
4. Keep listeners thinking ahead
Each episode of Serial ended with Sarah Koenig ruminating on stark inconsistencies in the case, raising new questions and doubts—essentially teasing out what the next week’s installment would focus on. These sneak previews never failed to amplify listeners’ anticipation, fueling water cooler commentary and reddit.com hypotheses for days.
Any conference call needs context, especially going forward. Send out meeting agendas early enough so attendees have time to digest them; look for opportunities to “tease” any announcements that will be covered to build positive excitement. At the end of any call, participants should be aware of their post-meeting to-dos, and have some idea of what will be discussed in future follow-up calls.
If you InterCall’s Reservationless-Plus® conferencing service, on its own or combined with a web conferencing service, you can record your meeting for people to listen to any time. Or, if you want to create your own podcast for download, you can do so using Operator Assisted conferencing. Either way, you can follow the tips listed above to increase the life and reach of your meetings.
Which of these tips have you used to make your conferences more engaging?