When your CEO phones in from her Texas ranch, asking, “Got tickets to Podfest 2024; you in?” there’s really only one correct answer.

“Put me in, coach!”

And that’s how, with just a few days to prep, I found myself at a conference with an audience that had nearly zero focus on or interest in lawyers, the law, or the legal industry at large.

I’m not gonna lie: I panicked.

It’s been a while since I felt like the new kid at school, wondering if, despite having successfully produced a handful of shows, I’d be able to keep up with the other attendees – or have anything meaningful to add.

Thankfully, it was just a momentary glitch.

I’ve been supporting lawyers through this same momentary gut-clutch for nearly 20 years, so putting the basics I preach to them into action for myself just emphasized how effective – and what a relief! – pre-conference work can be, even after all these years.

Find business development prep and practices overwhelming? Check out What “The Princess Bride” Teaches Us About Avoiding Business Development Pitfalls for a little lighthearted roadmap through your own uncertainty.

One Sentence, Three Stories, and Many Questions

I didn’t want to miss a trick in giving my law firm clients the latest info for the success of their own podcasts. So, with my one sentence (I help lawyers sound human so real people will trust them), my three stories (first Podfest, launched my own show during the pandemic, and got a few law firms enthusiastic about their own shows), and a host of exploratory questions for attendees I’d meet (if you want those, feel free to email me!), I set off to join thousands of other podcasting pros in sunny Orlando, Florida.

What I found was a genuinely welcoming, inclusive, supportive community filled with leaders who listen – and definitely empathize – but aren’t going to sugarcoat the challenges facing hosts, producers, featured speakers, vendors and others who include the podcast medium in their business plans.

Instead, they recommend getting real with why podcasting is your goal, ensuring you’re making the most of all available resources to help increase your efficiency while maintaining your sanity, taking time to consider that a podcast can be just the beginning for your particular conversation, and making a deep commitment to mastering the basics even after your show has launched.

Mindset Matters

I was very surprised at the number of mindset-focused sessions that were sprinkled throughout the two-day agenda. That surprise, I think, may be rooted in the legal industry’s underdeveloped promotion of mental health; I’m just not accustomed to seeing these conversations elevated in this way – or discussed from the variety of angles each panel chose to examine. From developing clarity of purpose to defeating imposter syndrome, experienced podcasters took groups through the gauntlet of how the success of a show is rooted in the focus of its creator(s). Key takeaways included:

  • There is no imposter. Self-identifying as having imposter syndrome has become a bit of a trend, rather than an actual diagnosis. Don’t fall prey to peer pressure. Even if you have a moment of self-doubt, like I did, you don’t have to let it be more than a footnote. As you develop your show concept, questions may arise about whether you are the right person to lead the show. It’s okay to explore different show formats that allow for co-hosts or revolving hosts to relieve some pressure, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t be part of that mix.
  • Value your voice. According to Podcast Index, there are an estimated 4.1M active podcasts in operation today. And yet there is still a place and an audience for yours. Nobody is going to tell the story of your practice area from your perspective – and it’s highly doubtful that your unique perspective on applying legal knowledge to business practices and family legacies can be exactly duplicated. Don’t let the crowded marketplace deter you from launching a conversation you think is helpful just because “it’s already been done.” You haven’t done it before, and your approach may be just perfect for an audience that has yet to find a home.
  • Numbers, schmumbers. Yes, 4.1M podcasts makes for a lot of noise, but that doesn’t mean YOUR show won’t be heard. Remember the scene in “Horton Hears A Who!”? It was just that one voice that was necessary to break through and be heard by the crowd beyond the barrier. However, you may want to examine your expectations around audience engagement and response. Are you worried about not going viral from episode one? Real talk: Unless you’re featuring Beyoncé, you won’t. Do you have a subconscious standard of success? Some arbitrary number of downloads or social media shares that will indicate your show has made it?  A lot of podcast gurus were quick to push back on those, emphasizing that your “why” should drive the show – and it shouldn’t be all about monetizing or ad sales.

Resources at the Ready

Another common thread in many sessions was that podcasting is a marathon, not a sprint. Whether you’re launching a new show or helming one with many episodes already out there, you need to create a support team that can help you sail through the non-glamorous parts of podcast production, like editing the audio file, researching and vetting guests, and managing a marketing plan and social media posting cadence.

The Human Side.
No successful podcast is created in a vacuum. Showrunners were encouraged to join podcast-specific networking groups, like The Podcast Academy or Buzzsprout’s community page on Facebook, to stay abreast of production hacks and best practices. These groups welcome questions from newbies and veterans alike, and typically have solutions to fit myriad comfort levels.

Strategic use of freelancers (from fiverr or UpWork) was recommended, especially when facing necessary-but-annoying tasks. There was resounding agreement in the audience that having partners can help produce more episodes, consistently, but emphasized that it’s important to have clear agreements in terms of scope of project, expectations, and fees.

The Tech Side.
Even if you remain on the fence about partnering with other people, showrunners who don’t explore software solutions or tech tips are missing out on a gold mine of virtual support. Buy bundled recording equipment. Explore virtual recording studio options and online editing software (like Descript). Use Google’s predictive text function to collect potential questions in your niche, and possibly identify an expert on that topic as a potential guest. Explore ways to incorporate AI with some of the heavy lifting in terms of drafting shownotes, social captions, email newsletters, and so on. And don’t forget general learning opportunities through educational platforms like Skillshare.

A Big, Bright, Beautiful Tomorrow

The untapped potential of a podcast was, perhaps, my favorite conference-closing message. A podcast itself could be just the beginning — the first hurdle in a creative process that could see your show turned into a book, a movie, or something….else. There were several conversations about why turning a podcast into a book actually increased the longevity of the podcast, as well as exploration of how best to go about drafting said book. As an example, TV and film producer Justin McGoldrick and entertainment lawyer Matthew Dysart walked the audience through the process of taking “The Horror of Delores Roach” from true crime podcast (for mature audiences only, please) to an original series now available on Prime.

While most lawyers will naturally be cautious about considering a Hollywood treatment of their podcast conversations, you might readily consider submitting certain episodes for CLE credit for listeners, hosts, and/or guests. You might only be in the beginning stages of building your podcast, but it’s good to keep in mind that the sky’s the limit!

Want to start small? Consider joining your favorite podcast as a guest speaker. Check out Perfecting Your Podcast Pitch for helpful tips on how to approach a producer in the best way.

Backstage Basics

Speaking of lawyers! (You didn’t think I’d forget who might be reading this, did you?) I couldn’t pass up the legal issues Q&A session led by Gordon Firemark (aka The Podcast Lawyer ™) and Jack Baldini of Baldini Law. The dynamic duo offered some best practice quick hits about content ownership, the importance of guest releases, the value and challenge of podcast insurance, and the case for setting up a podcast as a separate LLC. Audience questions seemed to center on trademark concerns and fair use of music or movie snippets. The biggest advice from these guys was to get your legal ducks in a row sooner rather than later – or run the risk of needing a more aggressive and costly service from legal counsel. Definitely check out Gordon’s approach, and get a free guest release form, here.

Final Thoughts

Podfest Expo 2024 was a blast, and I returned with more ideas about how to better produce and promote the shows in my care. Confirming that even non-law firm podcasts experience certain challenges was a relief to some of my lawyer-hosts, and knowing that there are a few different solutions to consider brought back the childlike delight in continued production. My favorite recommendation, and one I have already implemented for Heartbreak & Hope’s anniversary episode, is that, while having industry experts on the show is great for additional credibility, the audience is tuning in for YOU (the lawyer-host). Don’t be afraid to feature a few episodes sharing your thoughts – it matters so much to the audience that adds your show to their queue!

Interested in showcasing your thought leadership through a podcast and need some help with the process? Reach out to me, Steph Maher, at slmaher@jaffepr.com.