The first three minutes are hands down the most important minutes of any podcast episode.
They’re the first impression every new listener has of your show and are often the sole data point they’ll use to decide whether to keep listening or leave in search of another podcast.
But despite their importance, almost no one puts any serious thought into their design & construction.
As a result, most podcasts end up missing out on hundreds or even thousands of first-time listeners who had the potential to become engaged subscribers.
How to Think About Hooking New Podcast Listeners
Think of your entire body of work as a highway.
- The first three minutes of any given podcast episode are the stretch between the on-ramp a new listener takes to get onto the highway and the first off-ramp they have the opportunity to take.
- The longer they stay on the highway, the more likely they are to keep staying on the highway, listening to more episodes, joining your email list, and maybe even buying your products or services.
- But a listener’s decision to stay on the highway depends largely on their experience before that first off-ramp they encounter.
If they enter the highway and immediately encounter a snarl of slow-moving traffic, they’re going to do everything they can to take the first available exit.
If the road is free-flowing and efficient, however, they’re going to stay on until they arrive at their destination or are otherwise given a reason to exit.
How to Measure Your Podcast Episodes’ Ability to Hook New Listeners
In podcasting, I like to measure the effectiveness of an episode’s opening using a metric I call Average Time to Value (ATV).
In short, people listen to podcasts to get some value from them.
The most common categories of podcast-delivered value include:
- Learning something
- Feeling something
Average Time to Value is the measure of how long a typical podcast episode takes to deliver listeners their first taste of the value they pressed play to get.
The shorter your ATV, the greater your ability to:
- Convert first-time listeners into long-term subscribers
- Increase episode retention rates for your entire audience
As such, ATV is one of the most important metrics to track and optimize when it comes to growing your podcast as a whole.
How to Improve Your Podcast’s Average Time to Value
Improving your ATV boils down to two steps.
- Identify the value listeners get from your podcast – Be specific about why people listen to your show in the first place. Is it to learn something? Feel something? Be drawn into a story? Decompress on their commute home from work?
- Ensure you’re giving people a taste of that value as soon as possible – The sooner you give listeners a hit of the value they came for, the more likely they are to keep listening.
Some ideas on how to shorten your ATV:
- Ditch the pull quotes from your guests – These are usually out of context and don’t do anything to hook the reader. Better to script and record a cold open yourself.
- Cut the monologue – There’s a time for personal updates and connection with your audience, but it’s not at the start of the episode. If you want to grow, you need to win over new listeners who don’t yet know or care about you personally.
- Get to the point – Identify the biggest takeaway from the episode and give it away up front. Show your listeners that listening is going to be worth their time.
- Make your first question count – Your first question to a guest should immediately jump into meaty, interesting, engaging territory. You want your listeners leaning in for more right off the bat. Nothing kills the potential for that faster than “So tell us about your backstory and how you got to where you are today.”
To start improving your ATV, take the following steps.
- Listen back to the beginnings of your past 5 episodes. If you’re feeling brave, ask a friend who will give you painfully honest feedback to do it for you.
- For each, write down how long it takes to get to something a listener would find legitimately valuable.
- Using the suggestions above, make a few notes on what you could have done differently to shorten the ATV.
- Apply one of the suggestions to your next episode and see how much you can reduce your ATV by.
Improving your ATV is one of the biggest growth levers at your disposal.
It’s the difference between earning 10 long-term subscribers for every 100 people who click play on an episode and earning 70.
The good news is that with a few simple adjustments, you can immediately cut your podcast’s ATV and start improving your retention rate.