A common question I get asked by people either thinking about starting a podcast or have been producing one for less than a year is, “How do you NOT run out of ideas?”
It’s a great question with a ton of answers. But first, some context.
I’ve released weekly episodes of Getting Work To Work for over six years, including a topical monologue and an interview. At one point in the show’s history, I released three weekly episodes. The show initially started as monologues only, but after 12 episodes, I felt the dreaded fear of running ideas. So I added interviews. But that’s not the only way.
I was recently asked this question on the show—”From BBQ to Branding” with Phyllis Williams-Strawder (GWTW641)—and my answer lacked the breadth and depth required of the question. I talked about consistency and discipline, but you can use many more tactics.
Here are 15 ways to ensure you never run out of episode ideas for your podcast.
- Add another episode format to your show. I started with monologues and then added interviews as I got comfortable with the medium. You could do reviews of your favorite books or podcasts, give testimonials for your clients, share the problems your clients have had and how you solved them, and tell stories about your business journey. If you are solely non-fiction, you could use elements of radio and fiction, such as ambient sound and sound effects, to bring in more engaging elements. You could even dissect an old episode of your show and share how your thinking has changed.
- Keep a list of topics and thoughts readily available. When you feel creatively empty, come back to your list and see what stands out. Start outlining an episode and see what happens. Lists are great as long as you continually add to them, so make sure you write them down when an idea pops into your mind.
- Get out of your creative space and go someplace new. Sometimes, we lack inspiration from our same old workspace. Go to a coffee shop, have lunch with a friend, walk, shower, or even tidy your desk. Your creative brain will thank you.
- Read a bunch of books, take notes, and write down quotes. I love to read and always have several books—print and digital—going simultaneously. As you read, what are the connection points between the different books? What are you curious about as you encounter the different ideas presented by the author? What questions would you ask the author about their book? Quotes are also a springboard to creativity. I have handwritten journals of quotes that I turn back to get ideas.
- Pay attention to your emotional triggers on social media about topics you’re passionate about. I follow a lot of creative people and coaches on social media. Sometimes I get pissed off by what they say. So, I turn that frustration into an episode. Other times, I get inspired by the joy present in their work. Responding to emotional triggers only works if you know yourself and can sit with your emotions.
- Flip the script on your usual process. Podcasting, like most creative pursuits, is all about the repetitive process. You get an idea. That turns into an outline. Maybe a script. You record the episode. Edit, then release. Nothing is more freeing than to have a process that becomes internalized and a function of muscle memory. If you know your process, make small changes to it, just this once. For example, I love to write out the entire script. But sometimes, I’ll outline my thoughts or even turn on the mic and ad-lib my thoughts. I don’t do this every time. Just when I feel stuck.
- Get ideas from other podcasts and add your thoughts to the conversation. I don’t listen to many podcasts, so sometimes I like to turn on other shows and see what they are talking about, how they’re formatted, what resonates with me, and what turns me off. Doing this can turn into new ideas but also reinforce that what I’m doing is working.
- Don’t stop if you are blocked. Sit down and write or turn on the mic and talk. A great way to start is by saying, “I have no idea of what to say…” Then list all your fears. See where your improvisational spirit leads you. Not every episode needs to be gold. So, get out what you have to say and move on.
- Release an episode, even if it’s the last hour of the day. While I prefer to release podcast episodes early on Wednesdays and Fridays, that doesn’t always happen. However, I try to release my episode, even if it’s the last hour of the day.
- Take a break, but schedule your return. I have taken several breaks over the past six years. I made sure I was clear on when I was coming back each time. That gave me the freedom to enjoy the time off. But one thing to note: your show might be over if you don’t know when you’ll come back or if you feel done. And that’s okay.
- Relieve the pressure of perfectionism and other unrealistic expectations from your production process. In the early days, I wanted my show to be perfect and liked by everyone. I needed every episode to be free of flubs and flaws. But over time, I learned to let perfectionism go and enjoy the process. The unrealistic expectations and perfectionism feed the fear of not having things to say.
- Have conversations with friends and colleagues to see what bubbles up to the surface. I have several podcasting friends with whom I love brainstorming ideas. We know one another’s voices. And when one of us says to the other, “that sounds like a good topic for your show,” we make a note of it because it’s probably a good idea.
- Challenge yourself to do more (or less) each week. Complacency fuels fear. So make a change to how much you’re doing in a week. Maybe dial it back to two weekly episodes if you’re doing a daily show. Doing two episodes a month, increase to one weekly episode. Challenges can help you bust through the fear because they help you see everything you know and yet allow you to explore and learn new things.
- Ask your audience what they want to hear. When in doubt, ask your audience. You don’t have to do what they say, but it can always trigger new ideas.
- Be a guest on a podcast. Being on your own can be an isolating experience. Reach out to your favorite shows and be a guest. Share your stories in a new way. Then go back to your show and compare the two experiences.
Did I miss anything? Let me know if there is something you do that I should add to the list.
Credits: Photo by Radu Marcusu on Unsplash