Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
The Modern Mann is a multi-award-winning magazine podcast. It’s bagged millions of downloads and hundreds of 5-star reviews across its 13 seasons (and counting).
In other words, the team behind this hit show knows a thing or two about creating a successful podcast.
We had the pleasure of holding a live webinar session with The Modern Mann’s presenter Olly Mann, producer Matt Hill, and the show’s X-rated agony aunt Alix Fox. They shared their podcasting journeys and offered their top tips for fellow creators wanting to go far in the world of audio.
Here are 10 highlights from the webinar:
1. Have a clear structure
When it comes to creating a successful podcast, you need to make sure that all the foundations are strong and reliable from the start. This includes giving your show a clear structure that people will be able to follow – one that listeners will become familiar with over time, as they grow loyal to your show.
The Modern Mann’s structure includes:
- Starting with Olly reading out ‘letters to the editor’ from listeners
- Then it’s the Zeitgeist segment, where Ollie Peart tells us all about an emerging trend (from making his own vegan milk, to giving an open mic night a go).
- Record of the month
- Next, Olly leads the interview section, where we hear a remarkable story from an everyday person (from living in a thruple, to being a former child soldier).
- Finally, it’s is The Foxhole – the sex tips bit brought to you by Alix
Being a magazine show, The Modern Mann is crammed with a lot of content, but it never strays far from the show’s overall message: this is a podcast all about modern life.
What’s the overarching message behind your show, and are you sticking to it? If people tune into episode 10, 50, or 100, will they still understand what your show is about and what it aims to achieve?
2. Do your research
Podcasts are often educational – sometimes without even meaning to be. You might listen to a light-hearted chat show, only to come away with new ideas and new perspectives.
Alix, who leads the sex tips section of The Modern Mann, always has an educational element to her segment. Whether she’s spreading awareness for vaginismus, or offering advice to somebody unsure of their sexuality – whatever the scenario, it’s inevitably an opportunity for the listener to learn something.
And that’s worth being aware of because, from a podcasting perspective, with education comes responsibility.
“The advice that I’m giving isn’t just entertaining to listen to but is actually, fundamentally good advice too,” Alix explains during our webinar.
“Because I didn’t have a traditional background as a doctor or as a psychologist or anything like that, particularly when I get questions that are pertain to things like fertility, I do feel a huge amount of responsibility to really make sure I’m doing my homework.”
Whatever your podcast topic is, you need to do your research. Check your facts. Leave sources or further reading in your show’s footnotes. Listen to experts. Gain perspective. Differentiate between fact and opinion. Add disclaimers. These are all things to consider doing if you want your podcast to grow and remain responsible.
3. Measure your success the right way
How do you measure the success of a podcast? Is it the number of listeners? The number of awards? The amount of money being made?
In our webinar, Olly suggests that we shouldn’t be mega-focused on how many listens we’re getting, but rather on the loyalty of these listeners.
If you’ve only got a small pool of listeners but they are highly engaged – they tune into every episode, they recommend the show to their friends, and they line up nicely with your sponsors – then this in itself is very valuable.
“It is about quality over quantity” Olly comments.
And one way that The Modern Mann managed to up its quality game was by switching from being a weekly show to monthly.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why would they do that? Going monthly means less episodes, less listeners, less sponsors, less success. Surely?
Not necessarily. Although Matt describes this change as a “real leap of faith” for the team, they did it for strategic reasons.
“We were able to improve the quality of the stories, like we had longer to research each episode,” Matt explains. “That really helped us get the engaged listeners, who really did love what we were doing.”
“There was a point I think about 3 years in where the messages (from Modern Mann fans) started changing to from ‘I love what you’re doing’ to ‘don’t change a thing’.”
4. Build your audience
So, we’ve talked about how a high-quality podcast can bring in more engaged listeners. But what else can you do? How else can you build a strong, sustainable audience around your show?
The ‘letters to the editor’ section of The Modern Mann is a simple yet effective way that the show builds a relationship with its listeners. It makes people feel involved – they’re part of the show and contribute to its journey.
There’s also social media. This is the perfect place to find new listeners and nurture a community.
“We use more of the presenter and contributor social channels than we do like ‘the official’ Modern Mann social accounts,” says Matt.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have accounts specifically for your podcast – it’s good to have a base, and an easy way for your listeners to find you on social media – but don’t underestimate the power of using your personal channels to promote an episode too. These can offer a much more intimate approach, that can spark somebody’s interest in a different way.
“Alix will often reach out on her socials for advice for the next Foxhole recording, and that will I’m sure bring listeners from Alix’s social media community to the podcast just curious about what the answer was to the question she posed online,” says Matt.
5. “Story first, podcast second”
It’s important to utilise any guests on your podcast. They can share your content on their social channels, recommend their latest episode to their fans, or even potentially help out with some PR.
But what happens when your guests are just ‘everyday people’ with no big following behind them (which is typically the case with Modern Mann guests)? Or maybe, you don’t even have guests on your show. What are you supposed to do then?
One thing you will always have is a story – you just need to know how to get the most out of it.
Have a think about the key message in your latest episode – what’s the stand-out moment? What will really spark people’s interest? That’s what you should be leading with. So, for example, in for The Modern Mann’s recent episode which discussed using marijuana for medical purposes, Olly reached out to journalists specialising in this topic. They have contacts, even if your actual guest doesn’t.
6. Trust your editor
When you’re speaking on a podcast, it can be easy to go overboard. We want things to be perfect. And so, we often over-script things, which can turn an authentic chat into a robotic, rehearsed-sounding speech.
Alix confesses that she often over-prepares for The Foxhole segment of the The Modern Mann: “I’m a very thorough person and I feel it’s part of my responsibility to try and cover every nook, cranny and crevice about sex. (Matt and Olly) have to talk me down when I worry I can’t be entirely comprehensive in an 11-minute segment.”
But she does offer a solution – one which Olly actually taught her: “think of the 3 main things that you want to say.”
If you are similar to Alix, there is something else worth remembering. You do not have to be perfect. Your work will be edited. And if you trust your editor to tidy things up after recording, people will often let their guard down. They can relax – and speak much more authentically – because there’s no pressure to sound flawless.
“I trust Matt to cut me in a way that makes me look like some kind of beautiful origami rather than a crumpled piece of metaphorical paper,” says Alix.
TOP TIP: If your editor has cut something you really wanted to be included in the final edit, use social media. This is what Alix often does – she extends her story and shares extra ‘bonus content’ on her social platforms. This is a great way to ‘give back’ to hungry listeners, and they may pass this content on to their followers, consequently drawing more eyes towards you and your show.
7. Find your rhythm
It can take some time for a podcast to really find its feet. Even if you’ve spent days, weeks, or months planning your podcast, there will always be things that need changing. Perhaps a series in, you’ll realise one segment should be a little shorter, or you’ll start introducing mid-roll ads.
Impulsive, irrational changes aren’t the way to go, but there’s nothing wrong with making tweaks if they’re for a good reason. Don’t be afraid to let your podcast evolve.
In order to assess your podcast, and work out what is and isn’t working, Olly advises you “listen like a listener and just think about the rhythm.”
Listen to your podcast while you’re out for a drive, doing the housework – whatever you’d expect your target audience to be doing – and ask yourself: am I engaged? As a consumer, do I think this episode flows well? Am I hooked, or drifting off? Has it got enough laughs, or has a serious section dragged on for too long? Sometimes, you need to think like a listener, not a creator, to find the faults in your work.
8. Think sustainably
You might have a great idea for a podcast, but will it last?
To create a sustainable podcast, some things you need to consider are:
- Will you be able to keep making content for your show, or will your idea dry out?
- Will the workload be realistic for you to keep up? If you’re doing a daily podcast and each episode is an hour long, chances are you’ll fall behind.
- Is it economically sustainable? How are you funding your podcast?
- Is it sustainable for your listeners? Can they make listening to your show part of their routine? For example, if you host a running podcast that people tune into while they’re out on a 5k route, making the podcast 2 hours long probably isn’t appropriate.
9. Think smaller
Shortform podcast content is on the rise (in fact, you can check out our YouTube video all about it here).
Admittedly, Olly says this is something The Modern Mann “hasn’t done, but should.”
If you’re trying to entice new listeners, a 30 min+ podcast episode can be a big ask for people to check out. But a 10-minute snippet? People are often more inclined to give this a listen because they don’t have to invest as much time. And so, creating some shorter content can be a promising way to bag some more listeners.
It’s also a chance to repurpose old content. As Olly explains in our webinar, there’s no reason why you can’t bring a short clip back from an old episode and give it a second lease of life.
“Diary of a CEO do that,” says Olly. And he’s right – one of the world’s most popular business podcasts ever, hosted by Steven Bartlett, publishes episodes that can be an hour, or more, long. But it also condenses their episodes down into 5-10 minute versions, which are available on the same podcast feed. And so, they’re catering for more people – those who want to sink into a longer, more detailed story, and those after shorter content.
10. Be smart with monetisation
But it can be awkward asking your listeners for money. So, how does The Modern Mann get around this?
Firstly, rather than having a ‘Buy Me a Coffee’ scheme, The Modern Mann went for something a bit more relatable: Beer Money.
“If you met us in real life you’d buy us a beer,” Olly explains. And so, those wanting to support The Modern Mann team can do so by heading to their website and giving them a donation resembling the price of a pint. Simple yet effective, right?
But if you still feel uncomfortable asking your listeners for a donation, you can always turn it into more of an ‘exchange’ so you’re providing something back. You could send a personalised letter, merchandise, or discount codes to those who give you money. Answer Me This! which is another podcast presented by Olly released a spin-off book back in 2010.
On the other hand, something as simple as offering your podcast fans a shout-out in your next episode can be surprisingly effective.
“It’s very community building,” says Alix. “People love having their names read out on their favourite podcasts. It gives them that thrill, you know, of hearing themselves spoken about. So, I don’t think it’s necessarily, it’s not just that money’s flowing one way. It’s a really pleasant exchange.”
That’s 10 highlights from our webinar with The Modern Mann. Although, we’re only really scratching the surface. The team have plenty more tips, stories and info to share with anyone wanting to make a hit podcast.