“A young man in a jean jacket with a backpack and headphones smiles outdoors in Stockholm” by Yingchou Han on Unsplash

5 Universal Listener Experience (LX) Principles for Podcasting

Once an obscure and often overlooked design principle, the concept of user experience — UX — has taken its rightful spot front and center of many conversations about the digital world over the last few years.

Keeping users using is big business. Apps, website, software, services… All over the world teams of UX designers and developers toil away to ensure users keep using their thing, whatever their thing is.

Though recently, attitudes are changing. Too much of a good thing, it turns out, may be bad for you. And society. But let’s not worry about the bad just yet.

There’s an obvious “experience” analog for podcasting. If user experience is all about the user, then we can say that listener experience is all about the listener. And it’s rather a catchy name, too. LX. But a quick googling confirms that no one is really talking about it. That smells like opportunity to me! 🚀

Defining Listener Experience Design for Podcasters

UX is defined (by Wikipedia) as “… the process of enhancing user satisfaction with a product by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction with the product.”

That works for me, so why complicate things? A few simple word substitutions later and we have this, which I’m putting forth as the official definition:

Listener Experience (LX) design is the process of enhancing listener satisfaction with a podcast by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction with the episodes.

Improving the listeners’ pleasure through your podcast. What’s not to love?

As easy as it was to track down a definition of UX, it was much harder to get a definitive list of universal UX principles. Such lists do exist, but there are many of them, some short and some inconceivably long.

I prefer the simple over the complex, so I’m using a list of UX best practices compiled by psychology researcher Nick Kolenda as my starting point, borrowing heavily from them as I come up with a list of five universal principles of listener experience design for podcasters. 🎧

5 Universal Listener Experience Principles for Podcasting

While the principles are universal, I’m going to expand on them for a specific type of podcaster — the professional service provider➀. After all, they make up my biggest customer base, so I know their needs well. If you get lost; don’t worry. These same principles apply for all podcasts, from the simplest two-dorks-with-microphones shows to highly-produced audio dramas. 🎭

LX Principle #1 — Control The Listener’s Focus And Attention

Point of fact: The listener gives up their control as soon as your episode starts playing in their ears. More specifically, the listener is trusting you to control their experience for as long as that episode plays. Their future is quite literally in your hands.

Your listener wants you to be in control, so long as you provide an enjoyable (see: pleasurable) experience. So long as you continue to provide a satisfying experience, they are happy to cede control and trust to you on an ongoing basis.

Don’t violate that trust, because they can — and will — quickly reassert control and cut you out (of their ears or of their lives) completely. Don’t. Violate. Trust.

The best way for a podcasting professional service provider to demonstrate their commitment to that trust agreement is simple: Only provide great content for your listeners.

That means nothing unnecessary in your episodes. Nothing that distracts or doesn’t add value. Treat every second of your episodes with the same ruthless detachment that great film directors and newspaper editors use to keep their productions tight and on-point.

If you interview guests or feature experts on your show, do not let them control how your final episode sounds. Cut out the rambling (boring) “getting to know you” stuff that helped put your guest at ease. Drop the off-topic meander. Isolate the amazing sentence that summarized their 10-minute anecdote.

You — with the help of your editor and/or producer— are in control of the final product. And it’s the final product — the audio of your episode — that your listener is trusting you to deliver.

This first principle has applications in podcatchers and for your website, too. For the former, make sure you’re using clear and obvious Titles and Summaries when the episode is published, ensuring it gets noticed in the app and actually compels a listener to, well… listen.

And when they are listening, make good use of the Episode Details field to help guide their attention by adding callbacks in your narration when there are links or other items that can extend the experience beyond just listening.

Your podcast’s web page plays a role here as well. We all know that using a browser is (currently) a crappy way to listen to a podcast, but a lot of people do it. You already know that a web page has to have good UX, so expand on that and consider those who listen, not just read.

Maybe a good transcript can help. Are their other episodes you should recommend that continue to demonstrate your mastery of the topic? Don’t distract the web viewer/listener with a bunch of common links and other detritus that plagues all too many websites. Focus their attention by making episode pages that are, well… focused. 🔭

LX Principle #2 — Guide Listeners Toward The End Goal

Does your podcast have an overarching goal? Do your individual podcast episodes have their own goals? If the answer to both of those questions isn’t a resounding YES, then it’s going to be hard to guide your listeners, right?

Your podcast — the overall show — should have a goal. And you should be able to clearly articulate it in a single sentence.

Each episode of your podcast — the audio file you distribute every week — should have it’s own goal. Not the same goal of the overall podcast, but they are likely linked. Just like each page of a website has a purpose, so does each episode of a podcast.

Sometimes those goals are rather direct, like “gain signups for my online course/newsletter”. Goals can be more nebulous, like “get more speaking gigs”. Whatever the goal, you need to know it.

Emphasis on the word “it”. While you may have multiple goals you want to accomplish with your podcast (“get more clients AND get on the speaking circuit”), any given episode should have a single goal.

One. Single. Goal.

Once you know the goal for an individual episode, make it abundantly clear and obvious to your listener. Don’t be subtle. Don’t beat around the bush. Tell the listener what you want them to do.

You decide how to do this, and I’m certainly not suggesting you beat them over the head with a message. Or that you should repeat it ad nauseam. There’s an art to being a storyteller. Just make sure the moral is painfully obvious when you’re done.

One great place to make that super-obvious goal actionable? The Episode Details in their podcatcher. If the goal is something that takes a click, put that click at the top of the Episode Details. Don’t make your listener scroll to the bottom or dig it out of a giant block of poorly formatted text.

The same goes for your episodes web page. Make the goal clear. You can do a lot more with a web page, but resist the temptation to over-explain, or clutter up a good LX as you try to shove too much stuff in front of your listener.

Remember the purpose of the episode web page is to provide an excellent listening experience. Everything else is secondary. 👂

LX Principle #3 — Make It Effortless To Keep Listening

So long as you don’t violate the trust established in the first LX principle, it’s already effortless for your listener to keep listening once an episode is playing in their podcatcher.

In fact, recent analysis seems to indicate that most people do, in fact, listen all the way through an episode.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to listen all the way through. Likely, it’s a reminder that it’s very difficult to stop listening to a podcast episode. Fishing the phone out of a pocket, unlocking the phone, opening the app, and hitting “pause” isn’t always easy or convenient.

When you realize that people tend not to listen with their fingers on the rewind button, you start thinking about the structure and content of your episodes differently.

That amazing point you just made… did you give the listener enough time to savor and reflect upon it?

Your guest just dropped the mother of all value-bombs on your audience. Maybe you should re-state it. Maybe a couple of different times in a couple of different ways.

It’s not easy to backup or rewind in podcasting. It’s even harder with smart speakers. Make sure your main points shine through in a single listen.

Here again you can use the Episode Details in the podcatcher to your advantage. If there’s a “Tweetable” moment, call it out in audio by telling your listener that you’ve isolated the Tweet for them. Better yet, you’ve made it a quick, single click to push it out. Yes, you can do that.

Two more tips here, summarized in a single word: Shorter.

You don’t win a podcasting contest for having the most-minutes-listened-to podcast. You win at podcasting by having listeners execute the goals you’ve set forth for your episode and overall podcast.

Sometimes that can happen in a shorter time frame than you might be considering. Shorter certainly helps you stay focused with your content, ensuring that your listeners’ attention won’t wander.

Shorter also means simpler. Do you really need to mention all your social properties, your main website, your current rates, your availability over the next few months, and your other laundry list of items at the end of your episodes? No, probably not. Simplify and shorten. 🤔

LX Principle #4 — Maximize Compatibility For All Listeners And Scenarios

The digital world offers unparalleled abilities to customize and niche-down content to make it incredibly personal. Sadly, these personalization gains are hard — really hard — for producers of audio content.

So since we can’t (yet?) take advantage of amazing personalization options, we podcasters have to make content that appeals to a range of listeners. In today’s reality, we can’t be sure of why someone is listening, or even who is listening, which makes it hard to narrow down.

Rather than focus on all possible listeners, I suggest focusing on two different spectrums: familiarity and commitment.

Familiarity: Brand new clients or potential clients probably aren’t all that familiar with you and the services you provide. But clients who have been with you for years likely know a great deal about you.

Talk too much “inside baseball” on your podcast and potential clients are left out in the cold. But talk too much about 101-level stuff and your long-term clients will see little value in staying subscribed to your podcast.

You and your podcast have to serve both audiences. How you do that is up to you. Segments? Maybe. Multiple shows? That’s a lot of work, but it could be lucrative.

Ideally you’ll find a way of creating content that is of value to both sets of listeners. No one — not even a beginner — wants to be talked down to. And no one — not even a long-term client — is too smart for a well-crafted refresher delivered by an empathetic pro.

Commitment: Listening to a podcast episode is an investment in time and energy. Some listeners take this seriously, clearing away any distractions and dedicating serious mental energy to the podcasts they choose to trust.

For others, listening to a podcast is just one more thing they have to do in a given day, and if it’s going to happen at all, they’re going to listen while they are distracted by other things.

How do you satisfy the needs of the “all-in” listener hungry for your content without asking too much of your distracted listeners? There’s no easy answer for that. As before, segments and a well-constructed show format can help. Listeners appreciate it when they know what to expect.

People are going to dip-in and dip-out of your podcast’s episodes. Other people are going to listen intently, perhaps multiple times. You can’t count on either to be your predominant listener. You have to engineer your podcast to satisfy the needs of both. 👋

LX Principle #5 — Help Listeners Minimize And Overcome Potential Errors

News flash: There are plenty of errors listeners encounter with podcasting. They’re just less obvious without a fancy 404 error page showing up on a screen.

Podcasting is a breeding ground for errors. Huge audio files. Multiple players. Legacy compatibility issues. Streaming. Content distribution networks. Bandwidth caps. Buggy RSS feeds. It’s a wonder any of this works at all.

But it is 2018, and a lot of the kinks have been worked out. Savvy professional service providers who podcast don’t have to worry about those problems because they’ve made smart investment decisions rather than power their podcast with cheap solutions. Or free. [shudder]

You get what you pay for.

Most podcasting problems are avoided simply by using professional services. I’m not saying you have to use a podcast hosting company that’s financially solvent and has been around for 14 years… but $20 a month seems a reasonable business expense.

Sure, you can stick with a free blogging platform as your website. Or you can drop $29 a month on a fully managed system that ensures your content always looks amazing on every device.

As I said, you get what you pay for.

Speaking of that, you should pay for someone to double-check your work. It’s embarrassing when little mistakes creep in. Worse, it makes you look unprofessional. You. A professional service provider. You can’t afford to look or sound unprofessional.

(Side note: I didn’t take my own advice with this article, but I’m in the market for a proofer and QA person!)

One easy way to make your show and episodes less error-prone? Become a listener yourself. Actually listen to the episodes after your producer is done with them. Before they drop in the feed. If that means you have to stretch out your production process and timeline… fine.

Seriously. Listen to your own show. Even if everything is perfect, your editor caught all the flubs, and your producer made the whole thing dance, listening to the final product will make you a better podcaster. Podcaster; know thyself. 💯

Applying The Principles of Listener Experience (LX) Design For Your Podcast

This article was designed to give you, the podcasting professional service provider, something to think about. It’s a framework, not a detailed blueprint. It’s a concept, not a series of tactics. Those will come later.

Firm Voice is soon to be a collection of advice, lessons, articles, videos, and even audio podcast episodes designed exclusively for professional service providers who want to keep podcasting. It serves the dual purposes of keeping my clients informed and starting to build a community around an underserved segment of the podcasting world. No, it’s not another “how to podcast” service. It’s something more. If you want early access and a behind-the-scenes look, give me your email and I’ll keep you posted. 📥

➀ - Professional Service Providers are doctors, lawyers, accountants, consultants… and a litany of other professions. You get the idea.

Evo, with fake glasses and watch

About Evo Terra: Evo’s an OG podcaster who provides strategic podcast consulting services to select clients. After traveling the world and living abroad for over three years, he’s headed back to his home country to take up his biggest challenge yet: being a grandfather. [gulp] 👴🏻