Lessons Learned from A Failed Podcast Event

This week, I hosted a podcast event. Australia’s a big country and many of the podcasters can be spread far and wide. One of my main goals in running OzPodcasts.com.au is to give podcasters a reason to come together and build a community of Australian podcasters. On Wednesday I held a trivia night for podcasters and podcast fans to get together, have a bit of fun, and hopefully, make some new friends. This is only the second time I attempted this, so we booked a small room in a bar, we put tickets online through Eventbrite and we sold about half of them. It’s a small room though, so it feels full pretty quickly.

Three people showed up.

Needless to say, I was disappointed. There were four people on the stage including myself, there were three people in the audience. We also had four walk-ins who collectively left after 20 minutes. I was ready to pack up and go home half way through, but everyone convinced me to push on, if nothing else, we were recording and making a great podcast for those who didn’t make it. I was gutted, but they were right. We carried on, we took turns on stage, everyone got involved, everyone had fun. As far as the venue is concerned, the night was very probably a failure. As far as my goals were concerned, I think there’s a lot of positives and a lot to be learned for anyone thinking of hosting their own live podcast.

It’s not about you. Although I didn’t intend for my event to be “The OzPodcasts Show”, that’s probably how it looked from my promotional material. The goal for the night was for local podcasts and local podcast fans to get together, have some fun, communicate and collaborate. On that front, for the people that came, it worked perfectly. The feedback I got was that I was the only person who understood this goal. I had billed it as “Pod vs. Pod” where two teams representing two podcasts compete in a trivia competition. Which it was, but the community element of the night, the driving force, was absent from my promotion. Instead of trying to entice an audience with promises of an epic podcast battle, I should have made it about the audience.

Even if your podcast is popular enough that you can draw a crowd on the promise of a live recording, there’s still a valuable lesson in engaging your audience. Imagine if you get up on stage, do your podcast as normal and go home, why would anyone come out to watch your lips moving? Make the audience a part of the experience as much as possible. Take the opportunity to make new friends. The event isn’t to feed your ego or boost your fan base, you’re there to entertain the audience, the ego boost is just a bonus.

Balance is key. Having run this event twice now, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that getting the structure and timing right is a tricky job. The first time I had a few performer constraints that messed with my run sheet and threw off the dynamic of the night, this time I tried to be tighter on my rules, but if anything I went too far. The open, collaborative nature of the event called for serious finesse in terms of structure. As the host, I wanted to drive things forward, but I also recognised that if the room collectively decides to take the discussion in a different direction, I shouldn’t force them back on to my predetermined path, I should pull my path closer to what the audience wants. This isn’t going to be true for every event, but in structuring the event, think about what you’re trying to achieve and write your run sheet accordingly.

Plan for the outcome, not the input. The other lessons all lead back to this. All my effort and planning went into what the event would be, how it would work and who would be involved. Although I always had the community outcome in the back of my mind, I never connected the dots. My promotional material missed the mark, because I described what the audience would see, instead of what they’d be talking about on the way home. My schedule was off because I was planning for what my role was, instead of planning what the audience wanted to hear.

Harrison and Phillipe on stage.
Harrison and Phillipe on stage.

Here’s my advice to you, should you be planning a live podcast event: start with the outcome. When you audience goes home, how do you want them to feel? What do you want them to be talking about? Work towards that goal. I missed that step in putting on my podcast event, but I have learned my lesson for next time. So I didn’t get the audience numbers I wanted, but everyone had fun and made some new podcast friends. Two cool people that came and are worth checking out are Phillipe Perez, and Harrison Engstrom. Follow them on Twitter and check out their respective podcasts.

Anyone in Melbourne, Australia in late June should keep their ear to the ground. I’m taking the lessons learned from this event and applying them to another event next month. Follow @OzPodcasts on Twitter for more details about this and other news from the Australian podcast community.

-Jackson Rogers