Showrunner ‘Short’: The 4 Essential Elements of a Remarkable Podcast

Do you want to create a podcast for listeners? Or do you want to deliver a remarkable audio experience to your audience? In this reprisal of his presentation at Authority Rainmaker, Jerod dives deep into the four essential elements of a remarkable audience experience.

You’ll learn:

  • Why the general perception of the term “showrunner” is too limiting
  • How Jerod’s method of proposing to his now-fiancee was a quintessential example of responsibility for an audience experience
  • The step you should take right now if you’re considering launching a podcast
  • What authenticity really is (and isn’t), and how to create an authentic connection with your audience
  • How to ensure that every single episode you publish is useful to your audience
  • Why sustainability is so simple to explain but so difficult to do
  • What the elements of podcast profitability are — and which one is most important

Plus a lot more — including an impassioned call to action at the end that you won’t want to miss. It might just change how you view your relationship to your topic, your audience, and your show.

Note: The presentation is meant to be viewed with the slides. You can watch with slides and listen using the video embedded underneath the email sign-up box below. Or simply use the player to listen to the audio, or grab it in iTunes. The stories and lessons paint a picture of their own.

Showrunner ‘Short’: The 4 Essential Elements of a Remarkable Podcast

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

You’re listening to The Showrunner, a podcast about podcasting that will teach you how to take your show from good to great. Ready?

Hey, there. Welcome to the latest Showrunner Short. This is an episode that we put out that’s not on our usual schedule of every Wednesday. If you’ve looked at the length of this episode, you’ll know that the term ‘Showrunner Short’ is a misnomer for this episode, because this is a decidedly long episode. It’s a recording of the presentation that I gave at Authority Rainmaker. It’s not a recording of the official presentation that I gave, but a recording that I did in my closet just a few minutes ago, actually, at my house after returning home from Authority Rainmaker.

I just wanted to let you know as you’re listening to this, that if you go to Showrunner.FM, and you go to the actual episode page, my slides are there. The presentation really is meant to be viewed with the slides. You can certainly get a lot out of it without the slides just from listening to the stories and listening to the information, but if you want the full experience, go to Showrunner.FM. Go to the show page for this show, and you’ll see the slides embedded right there for you.

Without further ado — I just wanted to let you know that real quick — now, here is me giving a reprisal of the presentation that I gave at Authority Rainmaker called ‘Become a Showrunner: The 4 Essential Elements of a Remarkable Podcast.’ Thank you for listening.

Thank you for being here, for listening, for watching this presentation. This is the presentation that I gave at Authority Rainmaker 2015. Ever since I got home from Denver, I’ve wanted to record this and share it with you, because so many of the ideas that are presented inside of this presentation are ideas that I’ve discussed on The Showrunner podcast and workshop with you. If you couldn’t be at Authority Rainmaker, I still wanted to share this presentation with you anyway. So hopefully, you enjoy.

Conventional presentation wisdom suggests that I should start out with some kind of story to break the ice, which I guess I did a little bit with the story that I just told. But I should regale you with a story, warm you up a little bit, break the ice. I’m going to do that because I do have a story that I’m going to tell you in this presentation, but I’m going to do that in a minute.

Why the General Perception of the Term “Showrunner” Is Too Limiting

What I want to do to start out is jump right in and challenge your notion, your perspective, of a particular term. That term is ‘showrunner.’ Now, in my presentation, I asked everybody in the crowd if they were familiar with the term ‘showrunner,’ if there was anybody in the audience who was hearing it for the very first time. There were actually more people who raised their hands than I thought.

You, being a loyal Showrunner listener, I would imagine are very familiar with the term, so we can skip ahead to the next slide, which asks people, “Okay. When you hear the term ‘showrunner,’ what do you typically think of?” Most people think of Damon Lindelof and J.J. Abrams from Lost. They think of Vince Gilligan from Breaking Bad. Maybe they think of Matthew Weiner of Mad Men. They think of television.

Now, some folks like you, I hope, think of Jonny Nastor, think of myself, and think of The Showrunner podcast when you hear the term ‘showrunner,’ but here’s the challenge. This is the challenge that I issued to everybody who was in attendance at Authority Rainmaker, and this is the point that I was trying to make. That is, “When you hear the term ‘showrunner’, do you think of Jessica Commins?”

Jessica Commins is our Executive Vice President of Operations at Copyblogger Media. She is the person who put Authority Rainmaker together. Not a lot of people’s hands went up. My guess is that you don’t think of someone like Jessica Commins when you think of the term ‘showrunner,’ because you don’t think of a live event, a conference as a showrunner, right?

That’s not a TV show. That’s not a podcast, yet I submit that Jessica is every bit the showrunner that Vince Gilligan was for Breaking Bad, that Jonny Nastor and I are for The Showrunner, because Jessica, she was the showrunner of Authority Rainmaker, just like she was the showrunner of Authority Intensive previously.

The point here is that the term ‘showrunner’ is bigger than any content medium. It’s bigger than television. It’s bigger than podcasting. It’s bigger than conferences. It’s much bigger than that. It’s much bolder than that. It’s more inspiring. It’s a more empowering term than that, because here’s what the term ‘showrunner’ truly means.

Those of you who have been listening consistently to The Showrunner podcast, you know this. That is that the term ‘showrunner’, the person who is the showrunner, is the person responsible for an audience experience.

Just like Vince Gilligan was responsible for the experience that you and I had on Breaking Bad, and just like Jon Nastor and I are responsible for the experience that you have on The Showrunner, just like Jessica was responsible for the experience that people had at Authority Rainmaker this year and Authority Intensive last year, and just like you — you, right now listening to this — just like you are responsible for the experience of your audience.

At least I assume that you’re responsible for the experience of an audience, because I’m not sure why else you would be listening to The Showrunner or interested in this presentation if there were not an audience whose experience that you are responsible for.

Here’s what that means. What it means is that this presentation — whether you are thinking about starting a podcast or not, whether you’ve started a podcast or not — it’s relevant to you. You could, and probably should, think of yourself as a showrunner. Because if you are responsible for an audience experience, then that means taking on the mindset of a showrunner is going to help you, going to enable you, to create a more remarkable experience for that audience.

I want to preface the presentation with that because I’m going to dive deep into podcasting in this presentation. We’re going to talk about the four essential elements of a remarkable podcast. Whether you’ve started a podcast or not, this presentation is still relevant to you, because you can still be a showrunner. While the specifics, the particulars, may be a little bit different, if you’re not a podcaster, the overarching ideas, the general themes, those will be the same.

Now, about that story that I promised you at the beginning of the presentation. As I was prepping this presentation, I wanted to share a story that was indicative of an audience experience that I have been responsible for. So I thought of the experiences that Jon and I have had here on The Showrunner. I thought of the experience I’ve had with Demian Farnworth hosting The Lede. I thought of the experiences that I’ve had with The Assembly Call and some of my side projects.

But there was one experience that kept showing up in my head. It kept saying, “Hey! Pick me,” and I kept thinking, “No. That’s not really relevant for this presentation.” But as I thought more about it, the more I realized that it was perfectly relevant for a presentation like this, because it is the single most important and consequential audience experience that I’ve ever been responsible for. That is the trip that I planned last August for me and Heather when I proposed to her.

Those of you who listened to the very first episode of The Showrunner, ‘Why Right Now is the Perfect Time to Start a Podcast,’ you all have met Heather. I did an interview with her from my closet. For most people, she was the star of that first episode. I certainly agree. You’re going to get to meet her a little bit here over the next few minutes. It’s a quick story.

How Jerod’s Method of Proposing to His Now-Fiancée Was a Quintessential Example of Responsibility for an Audience Experience

Last August, we knew that we were going to go on vacation. We took time off, and I knew that I was going to propose. It’s something that we had talked about before. I had always planned on having a big, epic proposal. I wanted to do something that’s really meaningful, that would create a story down the road, so I decided to use this trip as the time to do that. My big idea was to make the entire trip a surprise. From our first stop to our last, I wanted it all to be a surprise. So I told Heather, “You don’t worry about anything. You just have your bags packed for Friday, and we’re off. I will take care of the rest. You just be along for the ride.”

What Heather had told me long before — I say long before, but a few months before — when we had talked about getting engaged, that if I was ever going to do it during a vacation, don’t do it at the end of the vacation. Do it at the beginning. Because otherwise, she would be thinking about it the whole time, she’d be preoccupied, and then, she wouldn’t really be able to enjoy the vacation, which is fair enough. That is why we left on a Friday, and on Saturday morning in Austin, on a bridge overlooking Lady Bird Lake, I proposed to Heather.

The reason why I did that is I wanted the proposal to be something authentic to our relationship. As you can see, we are not exactly dressed to the nines here. We’re not at a fancy restaurant. This is us on a Saturday morning, and on Saturday mornings, typically, she and I go for walks. Again, something authentic. It was very us.

I also knew that it would mean a lot to Heather if her sister, Coleen, and nephew, Connor, could be there. They live in San Antonio. That was why I chose Austin. When we left Lady Bird Lake and went back to the Airbnb that we were staying at, Coleen and Connor and Matt were there, and they were able to share the next couple of days with us. I knew that it would mean a lot to Heather, and it did mean a lot to Heather. She was surprised. She had no idea that it was coming, and again, it was just something very authentic for our relationship that I know she appreciated, and that’s how I wanted to kick off this great vacation/proposal week.

Sunday came, and I had our next surprise plan. I had Heather get into the car. We got up early on a Sunday morning. We got into the car. We drove to the Austin airport, and we flew to beautiful, bucolic Vermont. Vermont, again, this adds more authenticity to the trip. This is a place that she and I had talked about going to a lot ever since we had first met. I want to make sure when we got there that it wasn’t just, “Hey. We’re in Vermont. This is great,” but that we did useful stuff.

When I say useful, I mean stuff that was educational and entertaining and that challenged us and that was fun. We’re both outdoorsy people, so in this picture that you’re looking at right now, we hiked to the top of a small mountain near Vergennes, Vermont, which is where we were staying.

Another day, we went to Green Mountain National Forest and did some hiking, came upon this beautiful clearing here with a little lake, and we ended up going swimming in it and going out kayaking. Then another day, we took The Spirit of Ethan Allen cruise out on Lake Pontchartrain and watched the sun set. We even went to Ben & Jerry’s and saw how the ice cream was made. Heather, much to her dismay, learned that the Turtle Soup ice cream had been discontinued all the way back in 2010. You can see her sad face here.

The point was, “Let’s do fun stuff. Let’s educate. Let’s do, again, useful things while we’re in Vermont.” That took up more than half of the trip, but the next challenge is, “How do you make a trip that is built on surprises sustainable, keep the impulse up, keep the surprises going the entire week?” That was the next challenge.

We had a rental car in Vermont. We piled in the rental car. I told Heather we were heading to Boston because it was the nearest big airport, and that’s when we would be taking our next flight to our final destination.

We get to Boston. We dropped the rental car off, but instead of walking to the terminal, we walked down to the baggage claim. Heather is like, “What is going on?” We get on a shuttle. We head over to where the water taxis pick up, and that’s when I revealed the next surprise. You can see Heather’s face here as she realizes it, but you can see the water taxi pulling up in the background.

Then, way off in the background, this is Rowes Wharf. You see Boston. You can see the Boston Harbor Hotel back there. We stayed there for a couple of days. It’s a beautiful hotel, and I figured, “You know what? If everything goes wrong the rest of the vacation, at least the final couple of days, we’re staying at one of the nicest hotels in America. It will at least end on a nice, little crescendo.” Again, it just helped me to keep the surprises coming, keep those sustained throughout.

The final point I want to make about this trip is that it was really important to me that the trip was profitable. Clearly, I don’t mean that monetarily, because it was an expensive trip. It took a lot to plan. But I wanted to make sure that the memories that we got out of it, the experiences that we shared, were worth far more than any money and time that was spent going in to the trip.

That’s why I hired a photographer to take pictures of the proposal. These pictures now hang in our bedroom, and Heather, probably once a month, will look up at them and talk about how great it is that we have those, and how much they remind her of the trip, and how great that trip was.

She and I like to get Christmas ornaments when we go on trips. So we had this Christmas ornament made in Boston that commemorated the moment in Austin, obviously, when we got engaged.

When you’re in charge of an audience experience, when you’re responsible for an audience experience, especially when it’s an audience of one, as it was in this case, and that person tells you how much it meant to them, how much it still means to them, how much they think about it, how special it was, how special it is, that makes you feel great as a showrunner, as the person responsible for that audience experience. When I think about this trip with Heather, I think about all that went into it, how happy and how wonderful the experience was, and how great a match it was. It’s such a pleasant memory for both of us.

Now, you may be wondering, “Okay. Why in the world did I just have to sit through seven slides, and I don’t know, five, six minutes worth of you blabbering on about a vacation?” I know that looking at someone else’s vacation photos is not always the most exciting thing to do, so thank you for bearing with me. Now, let’s get to the point. Why did I tell that story?

I told that story, again, number one, because it’s the quintessential example of an audience experience that I’ve been responsible for and that has worked out well. The other reason is, you may have noticed that there were four particular words I used while telling that story that may have seemed out of place, but I use them for very strategic reasons. Those words were ‘authentic,’ ‘useful,’ ‘sustainable,’ and ‘profitable.’ When you flip those four words into their noun forms, you get ‘authenticity,’ ‘usefulness,’ ‘sustainability,’ and ‘profitability.’

What are these four words? You probably can guess by now, but they are the four essential elements of a remarkable audience experience. It’s not that I was specifically thinking of these elements when I was planning the trip, but as I look back on that trip in hindsight, I realized that it was special because these four elements were there.

Now, here’s the great thing about these four elements and why they’re so important for the purposes of this presentation, because not only are they the four essential elements of a remarkable audience experience, but they are the four essential elements of a remarkable podcast.

For the rest of this presentation, we are going to dive deep into podcasting, and we’re going to talk about these four essential elements. We’re going to break them down, and I’m going to give you a roadmap for how you incorporate this into your showrunning, into your podcasting, to create a remarkable audience experience.

The Step You Should Take Right Now If You’re Considering Launching a Podcast

Now, real quick before we do that, there is one more point that I have to get to, one point that is extremely important to preface our in-depth discussion of these four essential elements with. And that is this: you surely know by now that right now is the perfect time to start a podcast. This is the point that we’ve hit ad nauseam on The Showrunner, on other shows on Rainmaker.FM. Initially, I was going to do the presentation on that — ‘Why Right Now is the Perfect Time to Start a Podcast.’ Brian Clark smartly said, “Everybody already knows that. Let’s go to the next level.”

But I know that there are still people out there, there were people in the audience in Authority Rainmaker, there are people listening right now — maybe you, right now, listening or watching this presentation — who are thinking about starting a podcast. But you’re not quite sure. You’re a little bit afraid of getting behind the microphone. You’re wondering if the audience will really be there. Reason after reason after reason, you’re wondering.

I have one piece of advice for you, and that is start. You’ve got to start. Now is the perfect time to start, and you won’t really know if podcasting is right for you or right for the audience that you have in mind until you get out there and start. But I will tell you this: it probably is. If you are willing to commit to the four essential elements of remarkable podcasts that I’m about to talk about, you will succeed, and there will be an audience out there for you.

Just as the guy is here in this picture, sometimes you’ve just got to leap. Take that leap of faith, and use the roadmap that I’m going to show you, that other people have showed you, for how to create a successful podcast. But now is the time. It’s the perfect time, and you won’t know until you start, so start. Once you’ve made that decision, now we can start diving in to the four essential elements.

The first one is ‘authenticity.’

What Authenticity Really Is (and Isn’t), and How to Create an Authentic Connection with Your Audience

I have come to believe that ‘authenticity’ is one of the most misunderstood, or at least misused, terms in all of content marketing. I think a lot of times, we mistake authenticity for transparency. When we talk about authenticity, we actually mean transparency. They are two different things. Transparency is showing everything, and authenticity is showing that of yourself that is relevant to your audience.

A lot of people talk badly about social media and blogging like it’s, “Oh, yeah. Bill is telling us that he had waffles.” That’s not authentic. That’s just pointless. That’s not what authenticity is. Here is what authenticity is. There are three elements.

Number one is ‘know yourself.’ This is an element of authenticity that I think is too often overlooked, because the first step at having an authentic connection with your audience is having an authentic connection with your topic. That means understanding what topic will give you intrinsic value. What topic do you love? What topic do you love reading about, do you enjoy talking about, will you debate for hours? Do you think about it in the shower? What topic can you really dig into and love, and put yourself into?

For me, that’s podcasting, which I hope comes through as I’m talking right now and as I talk about on The Showrunner. Indiana University basketball is another one. It’s why The Assembly Call has been successful, and I will talk about that experience here coming up.

But you can’t have an authentic connection with your audience unless you have an authentic connection with your topic.

You also need to in some way curate your own knowledge and experience. One of the toughest parts about running a podcast is, as you get into it, as you get into episode 35 and episode 70 and episode 100, coming up with new experiences to share, new topics to discuss, new information to divulge. But you have great experiences. You’ve done interesting things that your audience would appreciate, but we can’t always be expected to have total recall of everything we’ve done, everything we’ve thought, that great phrase that you had.

Having a way to keep track of this and a way to go back, almost like a Rolodex, especially in the times when there’s nothing jumping off the top of your head for that episode that needs to be posted on Wednesday, and it’s Tuesday night, that’s all part of knowing yourself. And it’s an important first step in authenticity.

Here is the second step of authenticity, which is knowing your audience. All this knowledge that you have, and all this excitement that you have, that’s great. But unless there’s a focus on an audience, it’s just narcissism. It’s just selfish indulgence in a lot of ways. What’s most important is that you understand who your audience is, and you have an ability to empathize with them, so you understand what their thoughts are, what their fears are, what they’re thinking, what they’re dreaming, what keeps them up at night.

That section that I just had about telling people to start and trying to give people that little push to start, that was the last part that I inserted into this presentation, but I knew it needed to be in here because I’ve talked with people in The Showrunner audience. I know there are people listening right now who are wondering if it’s for them, who are wondering if they should do it, who are wondering if they should take that leap. I know their fears because I’ve been there. That’s why I knew that that part was essential to have in here.

That brings us to the third step in authenticity, which is finding the intersection between the two –between knowing yourself, knowing what you can speak competently and confidently, and enthusiastically about, and what your audience needs to hear — the intersection between that. What goal can you help your audience achieve? How can you make their life better because of what you know and can talk about? That intersection is authenticity. And that is the first step toward creating a real connection with your audience. There’s a match there, and there’s a reason for your audience to listen, and there’s a reason for you to keep going, and there’s shared enthusiasm. It’s very important for creating an authentic connection, which is the goal. That’s why we all podcast in the first place.

Now, here’s the next step in creating an authentic connection, and that’s to be candid, and don’t take yourself too seriously. When people listen to a podcast, they want you. When we’re listening to a voice, we want a real voice. The main benefit of podcasting is the connection that you get to make with a voice inside of people’s ears as opposed to flat text on a page in front of their eyes.

Think about when people listen to podcasts. A lot of times, they are inviting you into some of the most intimate moments in their lives: when they’re taking a shower, when they’re commuting to work, when they’re working out, when they’re driving to work.

When you’re walking with your friend, let’s say, do you want the buttoned-up, formal, guarded version of your friend, or do you want the natural, relaxed version? You want the latter, right? That’s what people want to hear when they’re listening to you. They don’t want everything to be formal and stuck up.

They want to hear you, because there are subtle little things that we communicate with our voices that tell people, are we speaking confidently? Are we speaking honestly? Are we speaking passionately? Those things aren’t always picked up on the page, but they’re impossible to ignore in the ear, in the headphones. That’s why being candid, being yourself, is so important.

Now, does that mean if you have to start out reading a script to get comfortable behind the mic that you shouldn’t podcast? No. I read scripts for a long time before I got comfortable enough choosing a topic, planning out what I want to say beforehand, and then getting there and saying that. You can’t compare yourself to someone who has produced 500, 600 podcast episodes. But you can get there, and you get there one episode at a time. And we’re going to get into that more in a second.

The other key here is don’t take yourself too seriously. Self-deprecation is a great way to put yourself on the same level as your audience, which is important, because people don’t want to be talked down to. They want to be involved in a conversation. They almost want to feel like they’re eavesdropping on a conversation with a real person. When you take yourself too seriously, sometimes, that puts a wall up between you and your audience, which you don’t want to do.

All of this, in authenticity, leads us to one thing, and that is connecting. Connecting is the most important thing that we can do with the podcast. What I’m hoping to do with you right now, connecting with a voice inside of two human ears where you can hear my passion, hear my enthusiasm for what I’m talking about. Hopefully, that comes across as a genuine willingness to impart the experience and the information that I’ve gained about podcasting to you so that you can become better and so that you can think of yourself as something even beyond a podcaster — as a showrunner — because that’s what gets me excited.

Your voice is so powerful as a way to do that, as a way to connect. Always remember that — that you have the privilege of your voice going into your listener’s ears. It’s a privilege, and it’s a responsibility. When you take it seriously, and when you work hard to get better at it, the power to connect is unbelievable, just as this gentleman right here is clearly connecting to an episode of Rough Draft by Demian Farnworth.

You get what I’m saying about the authentic connection? It’s so important. It’s such an essential element, especially for a podcast, if it’s going to be remarkable. But it’s far from the only one.

How to Ensure That Every Single Episode You Publish Is Useful to Your Audience

Let’s move on now to the second essential element of a remarkable podcast, which is usefulness. The essence of usefulness is respecting the time of your audience, respecting the time that they are investing to listen to you, to watch you, to learn from you. When you respect this time, you will make sure that people get something out of it.

There are three elements of usefulness. I will preface this by saying that every single one of your episodes better have at least one of these. It’s great if they have all three, but they’ve got to have at least one. The first is ‘educate.’ For you who listen to The Showrunner, you want to be educated about podcasting.

For a lot of the people who listen to Rainmaker.FM, they are listening to learn about digital marketing. Maybe they want to learn about writing, so they listen to Rough Draft. Maybe they want to learn about design and about a minimalist lifestyle and the combination of the two, the intersection of the two, so they listen to No Sidebar. Maybe they want to learn from the wisdom of Brian Clark. But education is one of the primary reasons, if not the single primary reason, why people listen to podcasts.

Heather listens to podcasts almost every morning when she’s getting ready, when she’s in the shower, when she’s brushing her teeth. She’s listening to Grammar Girl or How Stuff Works or a number of other podcasts that teach her something. That’s what she told me was the reason why she started listening to podcasts, in addition to, obviously, what I do on a daily basis, but that’s why she started. The reason why she continues listening is because she learns something.

Podcasts don’t require ocular attention, so you can learn something during those times when you’re doing something else, and that’s why the education portion is so important. But it’s far from the only way to be useful. Some people listen to podcasts to be entertained. When I listen to This American Life, I’m not listening to learn something. I’m listening to get wrapped up in the story. I want to hear a skilled, talented storyteller tell me a story, and whether I’m working out or whatever I’m doing, transport me to the world of that story.

Now, does that mean that I don’t want to be educated or that I’m not open to learning something? Absolutely not. In fact, the combination of these two — the combination of education and entertainment — infotainment, is one of the reasons why podcasts are so successful, and especially why binge consumption of podcasting is so prevalent. Right? Like Serial.

You’re entertained. You’re enthralled by the story. You’re also learning a little something as you go about Baltimore and about these people, and about the criminal justice system, and for people who podcast like me, even some subtle ways about how a story is told. Sean D’Souza, I think it’s episode 39 of the Three-Month Vacation Podcast, he talks about this concept of infotainment.

Now, here is a word of caution that I will present about this idea of infotainment, and that is that I would not treat them as 50/50 partners. Your show is most likely going to be focused on one element or the other. Your show is either going to be mostly education or mostly entertainment, and you want to supplement it with the other.

We hope on The Showrunner, our goal with every episode is to be educational. If we can only be one, we want to be educational because we want to teach you something about podcasting, but we hope along the way that through our banter, and hopefully through the silly jokes that we tell and the format, that it’s also entertaining. You don’t listen to The Showrunner for entertainment. You listen to it for education.

Again, as much as you can infuse both of them in there, the better off you’re going to be, but don’t forget what your show is at its core. If This American Life all of a sudden just starts trying to teach, they’re going to lose their core audience who goes there for the story, so make sure you know what you are.

The third element of usefulness is inspiration. Think about Lewis Howes’ podcast, School of Greatness, and how even from the first few notes of the song, you’re ready to go out and start working out like Rocky, or Michael Hyatt’s podcast about living your best life. There’s certainly education in there. It’s a very educational podcast, but above all, it’s a podcast that inspires you to take the next step, to become a better leader, to become a better spouse, to become a better man or woman.

This idea of usefulness — educate, or entertain, or inspire — if you can do all three, man, that is great. I will tell you with The Showrunner, that is our goal. We want to educate you about podcasting and about running a show. We want to entertain you hopefully with the connection that Jon and I have, and some of what we do with the format, and hopefully we inspire you to take the next step as a showrunner. Above all, we want to educate.

Be useful as much as you can in all three ways, but never forget what your primary usefulness is, not what you think it is, not what you want it to be, but what it is to your audience, which gets back to that idea of authenticity and knowing your audience — what they want and what you can truly help them out best with.

Okay. Let’s take a quick break. Let’s have a quick aside here, and let’s talk about audio quality. Is audio quality important? Do you need a minimum level of audio quality?

The answer is pretty simple. The answer is yes. I’m not going to get into mics and a whole bunch of things here. Audio quality didn’t really fit specifically in to one of the four elements of a remarkable podcast because frankly, it’s all of the elements of a remarkable podcast. If you don’t have a minimum level of audio quality, you’re putting up a wall between you and your listener, because they’re not hearing your voice clearly, which inhibits the authentic connection. It also erodes your audience’s ability to find your show useful, because if someone is straining to hear your words and they are three words behind, how are they learning anything? They’re not being educated. They’re not being entertained. So your show has got to reach a minimum level of audio quality.

Now, that can be both empowering and discouraging, I know. But don’t let it be discouraging. Now, if you’re not committed, if all you want to do is record with your computer microphone, and you think that’s good enough, then you should be discouraged. The great thing is, if you’re committed to doing a podcast and to doing it right and to doing it remarkably, it doesn’t take more than a hundred bucks to do it. Are you going to get perfect audio quality? No, but you can get the minimum level. You can get a mic that’s good enough. There are plenty of free editing options out there.

I am recording this right now from my closet at my house. I can’t afford a studio. The office that’s in my house has wood floors. It has high ceilings. It’s not perfect. But I want to create a remarkable audience experience. I want the audio to sound as good as possible. I’m sitting in my closet right now, staring up at jackets, staring up at Heather’s dresses, staring up at other things, but this is the best place to record in the house, and I have my mic with me, and I’m ready to go.

If you’re committed to doing a podcast the right way, number one, hopefully you have a better room in your house than I do to record. But number two, it just takes creativity and a little bit of want-to. It doesn’t take investing thousands of dollars in equipment.

I didn’t want to go through the whole presentation without mentioning audio quality, but I also don’t want to spend too much time on it. Invest enough to get that minimum level, strive to get better as you can, as resources allow, but just make sure you get that minimum level. As long as you have all of these other elements in place, you’re going to be just fine.

Let’s move on. Let’s move on to essential element number three of a remarkable podcast, and that is ‘sustainability.’

Why Sustainability Is So Simple to Explain but So Difficult to Do

This is both the most simple of all the elements to explain, and clearly the most difficult to do. Sustainability is about attitude, and it’s about showing up. It’s about, “Hey. You’ve done four or five episodes. That’s great. Now, get to 15, and now get to 30, and now get to 100.”

It’s about the understanding — in some cases, the realization — that you’re not going to build anything remarkable in four or five episodes or 10 episodes. To build something remarkable, to build something meaningful, to build a loyal, responsive audience, it takes time. You’re trying to build the know, the like, and the trust factor, not just to sell people something, just to sell yourself, to sell yourself as someone who should be in my normal rotation for podcast listening, in your audience’s rotation for podcasting.

That’s not always an easy sell, because at the end of the day, this is people that are investing — whether it’s money or not — their time in your show, and you’ve got to earn that. You earn that with sustainability because the essence of sustainability is making a commitment and keeping it so that people trust you and so that people learn to count on you.

Here are the elements of sustainability. I told you, they’re simple. Number one, show up. We covered that. You’ve got to start. You’re never going to build an audience, you’re never going to get to episode 100 if you don’t get to episode 1. I know a lot of people want the perfect plan, and they want to have 20 episodes in the can, and they want to know three years down the road where this is all leading. You might now know. Most people don’t. You’ve just got to show up and start. Record that first episode.

How excited are you? How enthusiastic are you? Let a couple of people listen to it. How do they respond? This is before you even launched. How do they respond?

You’ve got to show up. You’ve got to do it once. You’ve got to start to sustain. Once you show up, now you’ve got to show up reliably. When can people be looking for your show?

Hack the Entrepreneur comes out three days a week. Showrunner comes out every Wednesday. The Assembly Call, that’s not on a daily or weekly schedule, but it comes out after every IU basketball game. Those shows show up reliably. It’s a big reason why they’re successful, but just showing up reliably isn’t enough.

Actually, before we move on, let me make one more point about showing up reliably. Here’s why that’s important. If you come on Wednesday, The Showrunner’s normal slot, and we don’t have an episode for you, what are you going to do? Number one, you’re going to be disappointed, because there was an implicit promise made that we’re going to be here, and we’re not. Now, you may not say out loud, “They betrayed me. This free podcast that they put out there, it’s not there, and I feel betrayed. I want my money back.”

You didn’t pay any money, so you’re not getting your money back. Actually, what we lose is worse than that, because we lose your trust. You were there. You were invested. You were excited to take the next step in The Showrunner journey, to learn about podcasting.

What do you do? Maybe you go to another podcast. Maybe you don’t listen to anything. Either way, you’re disappointed that our show isn’t there, and you’re doing something else for the time that you would have invested in us.

Yes, you may show up again the next week, but we’ve lost a little bit in your eyes, whether consciously or subconsciously, which is why we never want to do that. That’s why showing up reliably is so important. Part of an authentic connection is trust, online or off. If there’s a promise there, and it’s not kept, trust erodes, and you never want the trust to erode in your audience. That’s the importance of showing up reliably. Then, you’ve got to show up reliably over time, so kudos to me and Jon.

We’ve put out nine, ten episodes of The Showrunner, whatever it is. That’s great. Frankly, if I want to be candid here, since I did instruct you how to be candid earlier. If I’m going to be candid, I think the episodes that we’ve put out of The Showrunner so far are remarkable episodes. I really do. Because we’ve worked hard on them, and I think our format has gotten better, and I think we use music well. I think we do things with these episodes, and we present lessons and ideas that are remarkable.

But all we have right now are some remarkable episodes. We don’t have a remarkable show yet. We’re on like episode 10. Whoopty doo.

ITunes is littered with shows that have put out nine, 10 episodes and have never done anything else. You don’t know yet that you can count on us. You think you do, and some trust is starting to build up, and that’s great. But you’ll really know after 30 episodes, after 60 episodes, after 100. That’s when it’ll be remarkable. That’s when that relationship will really be deepened. It happens over time.

The Assembly Call, our relationship with our audience, it didn’t happen after four or five games. It’s happened because for four straight years, we’ve been there after almost every single game. That relationship develops, and there’s trust, and there’s a two-way commitment that’s built. There is no way to duplicate that, to replicate that, without showing up reliably over time, time after time, so that it can build.

Here’s what the sustainability does. It allows you to do what I have found, in my time in creating content online, is the single most important thing that you can do to build an audience. Because here’s the truth that I have learned: the battle for audience attention is a war of attrition in which attitude is greater than aptitude.

Let me say that again without stumbling: the battle for audience attention is a war of attrition in which attitude is greater than aptitude.

You can start out in the same place as somebody. Maybe that person is smarter. Maybe they have more experience. Maybe they even started out with a bigger built-in audience, and they jump out to the lead. Guess what? If that person doesn’t work as hard as you, if they don’t show up as reliably as you, if they’re not as audience-focused as you, if they’re not as enthusiastic as you, who’s going to win out over time? You are.

You’re going to win out over time, because your audience will trust you more, and more goodwill will be built up. Here’s a funny thing that happens to your aptitude, and to your talent, and to your ability when your attitude is really good: all those other parts grow. Your attitude drives development of your aptitude and of your talent and of your ability. That person that you started out in the same place as, and who jumped out ahead of you in the short term, if your attitude is better, you’ll eventually beat that person in the end. I have seen it time and time again online, and I’ve experienced it.

The projects I have approached with the right attitude, those have grown and they’ve sustained. The projects that I didn’t approach with the right attitude, they’ve fallen by the wayside. I bet if you look in your past as an online content creator, you’ll probably find the same thing. I bet if you look at your peers, you’ll probably find the same thing.

Ask Chris Brogan why he’s so successful. He certainly isn’t going to mention aptitude. Now, his aptitude has grown over time, and he’s become one of the smartest people out there about online content and about building audiences, and about helping online business owners, but that all happened because of his attitude. Chris cared more, and he showed up more, and he was there more. As that connection with the audience deepened, so too did his aptitude, and his abilities and his talents improved.

This is something I think that we all have trouble getting. I have trouble getting it sometimes, and I’m the one who put the slide together that said, “This is the truth,” and I forget about it sometimes. We think that we’re not as good, or we think that there’s some magic pill, or we think that there’s something else that this person is doing. Guess what? Most of the time, it’s just attitude, and it’s just showing up, and it’s the war of attrition.

Do you have the stomach for the war of attrition, and if you do, and if you have the attitude for it, then you can win. If you don’t, then you may fall by the wayside while someone else does. That’s why this element of sustainability is — again, it’s very simple, I mean, this whole explanation was very simple — the hardest one to do, because it’s the one that requires consistency and showing up day after day.

Let’s move on to the fourth essential element of a remarkable podcast, which is profitability.

What the Elements of Podcast Profitability Are — and Which One Is Most Important

Just like I did at the beginning of this presentation when I challenged your notion of the term ‘showrunner,’ I want to do it again with ‘profitability,’ because what do you think of when you first hear the term ‘profitability?’ You probably think of monetary profitability, as in, “We make more revenue than our cost, and so we’re profitable.” This is important. I mean, you can’t run a show or a podcast that’s draining money and expect it to sustain. If it doesn’t sustain, now all the authenticity and usefulness in the world don’t matter. So you see how all four of these are linked together.

If your podcast is draining money, you’re not going to be able to keep it going, and so actual monetary profitability is important. As you’re going to see as we go through the three elements of profitability, the monetary part of it is only one part. The part that deals with you is only one part.

I think it’s important that we think of profitability also in terms of our audience, and we think of what they’re investing into their time listening, consuming our content, and what they’re getting out of it. What they’re getting out of it better be more than what they’re investing into it. So the tips that you give need to make small business owners more money, or the entertainment value that people get from listening to your show needs to be greater than what they’re investing into it.

There are two elements of profitability, two profit masters, that must be served here: you and your audience. We can even split all of those up more as I’m going to do right now. The first one, the easiest one to get, is direct. How do you profit directly off of your podcast? You can sell sponsorships. You can sell access to your archives. You can have a donation model.

Jon Nastor with Hack the Entrepreneur, he sells his sponsorship to FreshBooks. He’s making money directly off of his podcast. This is certainly a proven model. There’s a lot of people out there who do it. It’s also the most rare way for a podcast to make money, because there’s only a select few podcasts that are actually making a legitimate profit directly off of their show.

I’m not saying that to discourage you. You should certainly pursue direct-profit avenues. There’s no question. I think that they will get better and that they will become more accessible to the general podcasting population as we move forward, but I think there’s another element of profitability that the smart podcaster, the smart showrunner, is going to think about even more, and that’s indirect profitability.

You’re not making money directly off the episodes, but you have something else that the episodes are leading to that is making money. With The Showrunner, the podcast is free. It will always be free, but we created The Showrunner Podcasting Course. The Showrunner podcast acted as lead generation for the course, and now, we have people who are paying us $295, $395 depending on when they signed up to be a part of the course. No money is coming directly off the podcast. A bunch of revenue is coming from the course, so as you can see, the money from the course wouldn’t be coming without the actual podcast. There’s an indirect relationship there.

This is what most people are going to do. This is the model you probably want to follow. To make whatever you can off of your podcast, that’s fine, but think about the indirect models more, kind of a content marketing perspective. How does a podcast fit into your overall content marketing strategy? Are you selling services? Are you selling consulting? Are you selling courses? Are you selling a membership program? What are you selling?

A podcast, a lot of time, helps you attract the audience. It helps you build the audience that eventually, you can put into funnels, and then make your offers more relevant. Now, we get into the third element of profitability, which in some ways is the most important. You’re going to think I’m crazy, because you’re going to think direct and indirect are more, but I can make a case that intrinsic profitability really underlies everything that you’re going to do if your show is going to be remarkable.

If you’re just out to make a buck, you can do it, but I don’t know that you’re going to create a remarkable, long-term show. You may be able to make a quick buck in the short-term, although, podcasting really is a long game, so I would really caution against you thinking that. But to really build something remarkable, which I think needs to be sustained over a long time with usefulness and with an authentic connection, there’s got to be intrinsic profitability both on your part and your audience’s part.

You may notice that we’ve come full circle here, because when we started with authenticity, I talked about the importance of understanding what topics give you intrinsic value. For you to truly sustain a podcast and to continue coming up with useful episodes, and to continue having the enthusiasm you need for authenticity, you’ve got to have an intrinsic connection to that show. That means that what you get out of it is more than what you put into it. Add up the money, the time, the resources, the mental energy, all of that that you put into it, and you’ve got to get more out of it than that intrinsically to keep coming back with the right enthusiasm.

Your audience is the same way, because again, profit is a two-way street. You can’t profit in any way, direct, indirect, or intrinsic, without an audience, and to keep an audience, they’ve got to get more out of your show. They’ve got to be educated and entertained and inspired to a degree that is greater than what they put into it, than what they invest, in time and/or money if they somehow have to pay to listen to your show. This lesson crystallized for me with the last season of The Assembly Call.

The Assembly Call is the IU basketball postgame show that I do. We go live after every game. Last year was our fourth season doing it. At the end of every season so far since we’ve started, I’ve said, “I can’t do this anymore.” I’ve told my co-host, “It’s exhausting. The schedule is tough, and we’re not making any money doing this.”

We’ve spent four years where we’ve made $200 bucks from putting a couple of affiliate links in ad at Christmas, and that’s it. We’ve paid for Blog Talk Radio accounts and hosting, and then when you take into account all of the time to watch the games, to produce the show, to write the blog posts, to write the emails, I mean, have we made like five cents an hour? I don’t know. That’s probably overshooting it.

Why have we kept coming back? Why do we come back season after season? Because at the end of the day, we love it. As silly as that may sound, a show about a college basketball team, it’s about something more. Because as the show is going on, we’ve started to get emails from Brazil and from the Philippines and from all over the world from people who are displaced Hoosiers who tell us that their one connection back to the community they love and miss is The Assembly Call. They know they can hop on there after games, and we’re going to have a Google Hangout, and they can see our familiar faces, and see us talking about the game, and it’s like being at the bar with their friends back in Bloomington.

There’s a higher purpose. Again, I know that’s going to sound crazy to some people, but we all have our own tribes. We all have our own communities that we fit into, and for us, that’s ours. We feel in a lot of ways like we’ve been given a privilege to do this. I mean, when we decided to do the show, it was a random decision. It was almost serendipity that the idea hit us, but now, we’re stewards of this community that continues to grow. So there’s that, and there’s the joy that we get from watching the games and from talking about them afterwards. That intrinsic profitability has kept us going.

Here’s why that’s important. As last season ended, we started to get a lot of messages of people asking us, “What don’t you sell sponsorships? Why aren’t you guys making money from this? How do we donate to you?” People just started sending us $50 because they wanted to donate. They want to support what we’re doing.

Here’s the funny thing that you may not expect about profitability from a podcast. Direct profitability usually comes last. It really does a lot of times, if it comes at all. We’re starting to experience that with The Assembly Call to where we never thought about money. Intrinsic profitability kept driving us through, and now, as we enter our fifth season, we’re entering a point where there’s a legitimate chance that the show may be directly profitable. But it was the intrinsic part that came first.

It was that authentic connection that we had to our topic that led to the authentic connection that we had to our audience that led to usefulness. We were able to sustain it because we had the right attitude and because our audience feedback kept us going, and now, the profitability part is all coming.

When I talk about podcasting and about showrunning, and I get excited and get enthusiastic about it, it’s these experiences that I’ve had that led me to that. I want you, if you haven’t already, to get that email from somebody that you don’t know, that you’ve never seen, that you’ve never met, totally out of the blue where they thank you for what you do. There is nothing better.

When you pour your heart and your soul and your energy into creating content, and someone writes you and thanks you and tells you how much it means, when you’re responsible for that audience experience and the experience drives somebody to thank you and tell you how much they appreciate it, there’s nothing better. There really isn’t.

If that’s not something you look forward to, that you would appreciate, that would be important to you, I would caution you about podcasting. My guess is you’re a human, and that is going to mean something to you, and I don’t think you’d even be listening to this if that isn’t something that you aspire to.

We’ve it with The Assembly Call. We’ve had it with The Lede. We’ve had it with The Showrunner, and that’s how I know that we’re on the right track with those shows. That’s how I know that those shows, whether they’re remarkable or not right now, they’re on the path toward it. That’s why this presentation was so important to me to give because that’s something that I want to share with you as well.

Let’s review real quick. Let’s review the four essential elements of a remarkable podcast.

Authenticity: knowing yourself, knowing your audience, finding the intersection between the two, and then being candid, and not taking yourself too seriously so that you can connect.

Usefulness: making sure that every single episode educates, entertains, or inspires, or does some combination of the three, and of course making sure that you have that minimum level of audio quality.

Sustainability: show up, show up reliably, and show up reliably over time so that your attitude can carry you through in that war of attrition.

Profitability: direct, indirect, and intrinsic.

Those are the four essential elements of a remarkable podcast and of a remarkable audience experience. As you’ve seen these four elements pop up here on the screen, you may have noticed that the first letter of each essential element when you put them in order, forms a nice, appropriate little acronym. That acronym of course is AUSP. Now, here’s the thing, and this is the one change that I have made in this presentation from when I gave it at Authority Rainmaker to right now, because when you think of USP, what do you think of? You think of ‘a unique selling proposition.’ Right? That’s essentially what I mean by this.

I should also say — and I implore you to believe me because I am telling you the truth — that when I set out to create these four essential elements of a remarkable podcast/audience experience, I was not going for this acronym. It was a happy accident, and I love serendipity, so I’m happy to leverage it and exploit it as much as I can. It was an accident.

Here’s the thing. Instead of this being ‘a unique selling proposition,’ which is how we usually think of it, Jon, on a recent episode of The Showrunner that we recorded, came up with this, which I like even better: ‘a unique show positioning.’

This is AUSP that is specifically tailored for showrunning. What this means simply is that there’s got to be something different and unique about your show for it to stand out, because for all this talk about why right now is the perfect time to start a podcast, that means that a lot of people are starting podcasts. That means that the audience for your show probably has five, six, 100 different options depending on what the market is, depending on what your topic is, for what they’re going to listen to.

Why are they going to choose you? What makes you different? What makes you better?

Like Sally Hogshead said at Authority Rainmaker, “Different is better than better. Don’t change who you are. Become more of who you are.”

Think about it this way. How many different podcasts are there out there about entrepreneurship? Fifty? A hundred? Two hundred? There’s only one that hacks the entrepreneur that’s profiled in every episode.

How many shows are there out there about Indiana basketball? I mean, there’s five, six, seven podcasts, and there’s other sources of content for Indiana basketball. There’s only one that is a postgame show that goes live immediately after every game, and the day after a game is there waiting in iTunes or on the site for people for their morning commute.

That is why those two shows are successful, which leads me to this point, which is extremely important, and that is this: it is the elements of your show that are uniquely authentic and useful that will create the sustained audience attention that lead to profitability.

Okay. Let me say that again: the elements of your show that are uniquely authentic and useful are what will create the sustained audience attention that leads to profitability. What makes you different? What makes you stand out?

Now, here’s what’s interesting, which is that a great way to differentiate your show is actually with your mindset. How do you view yourself? How do you view your topic? How do you view your relationship to your topic and your relationship to your audience?

Are you a podcaster who talks into a microphone and records it and drags and drops audio files in GarageBand and types up show notes for listeners and readers, or are you a showrunner who consistently creates a remarkable audio experience for your audience?

Podcasters produce episodes that attract listeners that drive vanity metrics. Showrunners develop, launch, and run remarkable shows that build audiences, that drive action over time.

The question is, which one are you going to be? I say be like Jessica.

Became a showrunner, and give your audience a remarkable experience.

Thank you very much for listening. I appreciate it.