What I've learned from 300 podcast episodes

9 Powerful Lessons I’ve Learned for Personal and Professional Growth from Recording 300 Podcast Episodes

by Ro

9 Powerful Lessons I’ve Learned for Personal and Professional Growth from Recording 300 Podcast Episodes

by Ro

by Ro

Yesterday’s episode celebrates a momentous milestone — it was our 300th episode of the Successful Nonprofits Podcast! 

I want to start by thanking each and every one of you who has ever downloaded and listened to an episode of my podcast. I call you and other listeners “friends” because you’ve allowed me into your life and to be a part of your growth. 

For me, this has been an incredible journey of learning and exploration. It’s hard to believe that in July 2016, when I posted the very first episode, I was ecstatic to have just 43 downloads. I never could have imagined a month with 15,000 downloads.

Creating that first episode was a lot of work , as I did everything myself: booking the guest; writing the script; recording it; teaching myself to edit audio files; and figuring out how to make it actually go live on a feed that reached phones and computers throughout the world. 

Creating one of the top nonprofit podcasts has taught me a lot more than just the technical side of podcasting. I also learned about marketing, personal productivity, and myself in the process.  While it wouldn’t be possible to share every professional and life lesson, they can be distilled down to nine. And I believe they are lessons we can all apply in our own lives. 

          1. Believe the experts.
          2. Pay experts.
          3. Be grateful for the critics.
          4. Simple and sustainable is better than ambitious and unsustainable.
          5. Batch your work.
          6. Consistency keeps listeners.
          7. Produce meaningful content.
          8. Stand by my values.
          9. I’m better after a good night’s sleep. 

Lesson #1. Believe the experts.  I did a lot of research about podcasting before recording the first episode and I read a lot of good advice: invest in a good microphone; don’t record using your cell phone; record on two tracks or files; batch record podcast episodes; record 6 to 12 episodes before launching. I’m not proud to admit that I ignored most of that advice. To say the very least, the podcast would have grown faster and larger had I listened to that free advice from the very beginning.

Lesson #2. Be grateful for the critics. Toward the end of my first year as a podcaster, I was startled to read a one-star review. The reviewer thanked me for the interesting topics, insightful guests, and probing interview style. But she also said that my audio was almost unlistenable! While I thought my audio quality was “OK” at the time, I asked some trusted friends for their opinion. They agreed – – – the audio quality was terrible.

That bad review sent me on a journey to dramatically improve my audio. I hired a professional editor, purchased a high-quality microphone, and made incremental improvements to my home office. When we moved into a new home last year, I built a small recording studio across the hall from my home office. 

Because it took me over a year to have high-quality audio, hundreds of prospective listeners probably downloaded an episode, stopped listening after five minutes, and haven’t thought about the Successful Nonprofits® Podcast since. This reviewer’s honest critique ensured that thousands of future listeners would get hooked by our great podcast instead of turned off by our poor audio. 

Lesson #3. Pay experts. The podcast started as a DIY project, and I spent about 20% of my workweek producing each episode (booking guests, editing audio, and writing show notes requires way more time than actually recording an episode).

If I was starting on my podcast journey today, I would have immediately paid an audio editor and web person instead of waiting a year. And, I would have also hired a podcast coach to help me create and launch the podcast (see lesson number one: believe the experts). 

Lesson #4. Simple and sustainable is better than ambitious and unsustainable. Initially, I envisioned my podcast format in the style of a 30-minute NPR news show. The first dozen episodes had a primary interview, and several additional segments with additional guests.

There’s a reason NPR needs a small army of producers and audio engineers to produce a half hour show with multiple guests — it’s a lot of work. And if I were wed to that format, the podcast would have died in its first year. 

Over the years, I’ve simplified and slimmed the podcast to its current format – a short intro, a great conversation, and a short outro. And no intro or outro music! It’s a simple format that is easier to execute. 

Lesson #5. Batch your work. Hours after editing my first episode, I released it to the world (despite the fact that experts advise against releasing your podcast with just a single episode). But I sat back in my chair feeling great and watching the downloads roll in over the next couple days (in the single-digits). Then my glow of achievement quickly faded after realizing that I had to release an episode again next week!

Throughout my first year, I came to think of the podcast’s “need to feed.” The podcast was fed by booking a guest, recording an episode, editing that audio, and releasing it with social media posts. I quickly learned that recording five to six episodes a single day each month enabled me (and eventually my team) to pace their work better. Today, we typically record episodes 6 to 12 weeks before an episode is released. We no longer have the need to feed. 

Lesson #6. Consistency is key to growth. Our listeners love the podcast and the incredible guests we have each week. And they’ve come to expect seeing the podcast in their feed every week.

Several years ago, we had a staffing challenge and the prior producer wasn’t able to maintain our production schedule. We switched to producing an episode every-other week, and we saw a decline in listeners. Consistency really does keep the podcast growing while chaos causes people to lose interest and faith in the podcast. 

Lesson #7. Produce meaningful content. Here’s a dirty secret: about three or four times a year, we record an episode that just doesn’t meet our standards. Sometimes the guest has terrible audio, engages in too much self-promotion, or is just too dang boring. We won’t bring that kind of drivel to your ears because your time is valuable.

This does require having a tough conversation with our guest, though we usually offer a do-over if the guest is willing to correct the issue. Occasionally, guests feel like we wasted their time with the first interview and have no interest in trying again. But I would rather disappoint one guest than disappoint hundreds of people who trust me to bring an insightful conversation that will help their nonprofit thrive. 

Lesson #8. Stand by my values. I’m not agnostic about my values and proudly wear them on my sleeves: I believe black lives matter; women, trans people, and BIPOC people have a right to control their own bodies; civil rights are human rights; equity is more important than equality; and everyone deserves respect.

Listeners hear these values from me as the podcast host, as well as from our guests. When someone responded to a BLM-focused episode with a one-star review, we shared the review far and wide. When a booked guest was incredibly disrespectful to my colleague, Lexie, we immediately cancelled the recording session — and explained the reason for cancelling.

Not everyone is aligned with the Successful Nonprofits® values. And there are plenty of other nonprofit podcasts those folks can record with and listen to. 

Lesson #9: I’m better after a good night’s sleep. I am often on an afternoon flight back home to record the podcast the very next day. Occasionally, weather or mechanical issues will delay my flight — causing me to arrive home late at night to only get 5 or 6 hours of sleep before recording day.

As a life-long insomniac, I always believed that I could function well with just six hours of sleep. I was wrong — I can see a dramatic difference in my hosting abilities when I get eight full hours of sleep. 

Why I’m Writing About This

In addition to 300 episodes being a big milestone in my life, I also hope some of these life lessons will help you on the journey to becoming your best nonprofit professional or Board member. And if you haven’t listened to the podcast before, I would suggest starting with one of the episodes below: 

Episode 268: The Secret to Building a Rock Star Leadership Team with Allison Mayfield

Episode 250: Making the Impossible Possible with Jack Fuller

Episode 288: Unlimited PTO Experiment with Dolph and Lexie

Did you know you can listen these, along with all of our other amazing episodes, on our website, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite streaming service?

Additionally, check out the following Successful Nonprofits® resources if this post was helpful:

Blog:  Don’t be a Nonprofit Sisyphus

Podcast:  Podcasting for Nonprofits with Kristan McMahon

Podcast: Make a Greater Impact with Felix Oberholzer-Gee

Feel free to share your thoughts!

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