According to a recent study, 32% of Americans listen to a podcast at least once a month. That’s right: one third of the US population, or roughly 90 million people, are monthly podcast listeners who expect and devour new content. Talk about a big market.
With those numbers, it’s not surprising that thousands of entrepreneurs, business owners, and thought leaders are starting their own podcasts. But with so much competition, how can you make sure that yours is one of the few that succeeds?
The answer is simple: by focusing on strong, thought-provoking ideas that consistently revolve around a core theme. Your core theme is the foundation your podcast is built on, and it should be something intriguing that your listeners count on week after week.
Which is easier said than done, of course. But that’s what we’ll talk about in this article. Over the next few minutes, you’ll learn how to determine what that core theme should be, and how to come up with strong ideas for your podcast that will keep people coming back for more.
Let’s get started.
Thought provoking ideas
What is a thought-provoking idea, anyway?
Generally, they’re big questions. Controversial statements. Or even hypotheses - think Galileo's idea that the Earth revolves around the sun, for example.
Thought-provoking ideas are ones that make a person stop and think. They’re the kind of ideas that make you reconsider your worldview, or that get you excited about the possibilities for the future.
And they’re essential for a successful podcast.
Why? People are drawn to podcasts because they want to grow. They would like to be entertained, sure, but they also want to be challenged. They want their minds to be opened up to new perspectives and new ways of thinking.
Unfortunately, this is exactly where most podcast hosts stumble.
Do you need to have an answer?
Most people think that every thought provoking idea needs to have an answer alongside it. Not true.
In fact, some of the most thought-provoking ideas out there don’t have answers - they’re just questions. And that’s okay.
Your job as a podcast host isn’t to find all the answers for your listeners. It’s to provide them with a platform where they can explore new ideas and ask questions that they wouldn’t normally ask.
does this perfectly. One of the most successful podcasts of the last few years, Lex's show explores big questions about the future that don't have easy answers. He covers politics, science fiction, artificial intelligence, and more.
The most charming thing about Lex is that he never claims to have the solution. In fact, he often admits that he doesn’t know what the future holds, or what the right worldview is.
But that doesn’t stop him from exploring the possibilities, and his listeners love him for it. He takes his job as a way to create a space for learning and growth - instead of giving you the fish, he wants to teach you how to fish for yourself.
Not having all of the answers is okay, and in fact, it's a refreshing take in a world where everyone is always trying to be an expert. Don’t let a lack of answers stop you from asking the question in the first place.
How to build a core theme
Now that we're clear on thought-provoking ideas, the question remains: how do we find one?
The answer lies in discovering a topic that lies at the convergence point of the three following concepts:
- What you are passionate about,
- What you have significant knowledge in, and
- What people find interesting
A lot of podcast hosts pick a trending theme and run with it. But it's clear as day when you're listening to one of those shows that the host is just going through the motions.
Their heart just isn't in what they’re saying. They might be an expert in your field, and others might find it interesting, but if they’re not passionate about the topic, it always shows in their delivery.
The Japanese have a similar concept to the convergence idea: Ikigai
. It's the intersection of what you're good at, what you love to do, and what the world needs. When all of those things overlap, that's when you've found your Ikigai.
Most people think these are hand-wavey concepts, but you can actually apply a systematic approach to determine the answers to these questions. Here’s how:
1. Determine what you spend the majority of your time doing when you're not working for sustenance-based reasons (answers the 'passion' question)
If you work 9-5, what do you do after you come home? Watch TV shows? Play basketball? Tend to your garden? Each of these are potential podcast themes in their own right.
For a week, write down the top three things you do after you’re done working for money. Review this list when you’re done, and you’re guaranteed to have several clusters that your time revolves around.
2. Determine what you're really good at (answers the 'knowledge' question)
Can you recite pi out to 100 digits? Are you a whiz at Excel? Can you make a mean paella?
We all have things we're good at, and those skills can be the foundation of a great podcast. Plus, odds are that if you've enjoyed doing something for a while, you're probably pretty good at it. This makes finding the intersection of #1 and #2 much easier.
3. Ask people what they're interested in (answers the 'interesting' question)
If you do something often enough, you tend to build a network of like-minded people that spend time on the same thing. Use those people as your focus group and ask them what particular sub denomination of your hobby or interest they're most into.
- If you love basketball and play with a group every week, ask them what they're most interested in; coaching tips, player analysis, etc.
- If you like to cook, ask your focus group what type of cuisine they find most intriguing. Italian? Thai? Indian?
- If you like to garden, ask your focus group what part gets them excited; growing cycles, types of plants, organic vs. non-organic?
Each of these examples is a great podcast theme. Every single one has a massive audience just waiting for the right, passionate host to come along and talk their ears off. That could be you.
Break down your core theme into questions
Now that you have a core theme, coming up with episode ideas is a breeze. By coming up with a core theme that you're passionate about, knowledgeable in, and which other people find naturally interesting, this part isn't even work - it's stuff your brain has probably been doing in the background all along.
Your core theme is Italian cooking? Every episode could be based around a different Italian dish, from lasagna to spaghetti carbonara. Invite fellow Italian chefs onto the show to discuss their recipes, or interview Italian expats living in your town about their favorite dishes.
Make it thought-provoking by challenging long-held beliefs about Italian cooking - ingredients that you might feel are actually not that useful, or ways to fuse other localities, are sure to stir up some controversy.
Your core theme is organic gardening? Every episode could be based around a different organic gardening technique, from companion planting to square foot gardening. Interview experts on the topic, or have listeners call in with their questions.
Make it thought-provoking by constantly challenging the organic community: is organic really better for people and the planet? What do the statistics show? How can we do this better?
If you're having trouble generating ideas, it's possible you're just not all that interested in the core theme you chose. That's okay - many podcast hosts have to run through the process two or three times until they find one that 'clicks'. Once you have your theme, though, you’ll know: ideas will come whether you want them to or not.
Hit record & give it the college try
At this point, all that’s left to do is hit record. That’s right: the best way to determine whether or not your core theme is on-the-mark is to simply start and see how you feel while talking about it. The road of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
If you get excited about the possibilities for future episodes, if your mind races with ideas as you record, then chances are good that you’ve chosen a strong core theme. On the other hand, if it feels like a slog to come up with ideas or if the conversation keeps veering off track, it might be time to run through your core theme finding process again.
Short-form podcasts are the best way to get in the groove while feeling out your idea. Minimal prep time and a loose structure will give you the freedom to explore different topics without having to worry about whether they’ll fit into a larger arc.
Looking for the easiest way to get started? Shortcast.club
is a simple, no-nonsense podcasting platform that makes it easy to get your show online in minutes.
Recording segments are capped at 180 seconds, which keeps your podcast purposefully impactful - by chopping up your episode into three-minute chunks, you get to the meat of your point faster and deliver a better experience for listeners.
You don't need fancy equipment, either: your phone's microphone will do just fine, and Shortcast.club
can automatically combine different speaker's segments into a cohesive whole (no crazy tech-skills required). And when you're done, you can distribute your podcast to all major podcast platforms with a single click.
To make a long story short, all great podcasts exist at the intersection of a thought-provoking idea, a passionate host, and an interested audience. You don't need to have all the answers to create a great podcast, but you do need to be asking the right questions.
If you can find a strong core theme, focus on creating valuable content, and market your show effectively, you'll be well on your way to a successful podcast.
And if you want a fast, easy way to get started, there’s no better first step than using the Shortcast Club
app. We’re committed to providing the simplest podcast experience available, and we can help you distribute your lovely words to all the major podcasting platforms with just one click.