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Today I’m sharing my process for writing outlines. If you’ve never written an outline for your podcast before, I’m going to teach you how in this episode.

What does a podcast outline do for you? It helps you stay focused. It helps to make sure you to hit all different angles and ask or answer the right questions. It also helps the show stay on track.

Listeners want to know what they’re going to get from a show. People will tune out if they don’t know to expect or what the point of the episode is. You could have an epic show prepared with tons of great advice and takeaways, but if you don’t tell the listeners in advance what they can expect, they won’t know what’s coming. If you don’t have an outline for your episode, you won’t know what’s coming either, and your podcast may feel directionless.

Community member James had said in the chat; I don’t know if you want me to name names but there’s one podcast that is consistently in the top 20 podcasts. He’s usually got 15-20 minutes of ads and he has some really awesome guests on his show. I guess his name recognition accounts for getting some of those big names on his show. I swear he has no outline and he jumps around from one random topic to the next taking zero advantage of asking the real questions we want answers to from this particular guest. I finally got fed up and stopped listening to his stuff.

I don’t want you to lose listeners. I don’t want you to miss out on getting new listeners because you don’t know how to do a good job of explaining the value of your shows.

Highlights, Takeaways & Quick Wins

  • The purpose of outlining is to keep you focused on the big picture things before you dive into the small details.
  • Start your outline with your big idea. This will be the main topic of the episode.
  • In your intro, tell your listeners what they can expect. Explain to them why this topic matters and why they should care.
  • You don’t have to do any real writing inside of a mind map outline. It’s just for laying out the main sections and big ideas of the episode.
  • Invest some time every week doing additional research on your topic.
  • Do some research and see what other people are saying about your topic. Find and address any counter-arguments.
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Show Notes

  • 2:59 I was lying in bed last night thinking about why outlining and mindmapping have really improved the way I write, and I came up with an analogy. Let’s say that writing a big blog post or an outline for your podcast is like building a house.
  • 3:17 I’ve never built a house from start to finish, but I have an idea about how it happens. You start with a foundation. Then you put up the walls, then the roof. Then you put in the guts of the house; electricity, plumbing, HVAC. Then you do the interior design work and lay down the flooring.
  • 3:54 There’s a step-by-step process. This, then this, then this. This is not how I used to write blog posts. To use my analogy, the way I used to write was the equivilent of building a house room-by-room. I would try to completely finish each room before moving on to the next. I would get stuck in the small details before I even really knew what the rest of the house was going to look like.

My Process of Outlining

  • 4:29 If you’ve never done outlines before for your podcast, I strongly recommend it. If you don’t have an outline, you won’t have structure. Your show won’t feel like it has direction. You might forget important things. If you’re doing an interview, you might miss important questions or forget to talk about certain things. While doing an interview, it’s ok to go with the flow and the conversation, but your listeners will appreciate if you prepare topics to talk about with your guest.

The purpose of outlining is to keep you focused on the big picture things before you dive into the small details.

  • 5:29 If you try to write out an episode from start to finish, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details of one section and lose sight of the big picture. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to what a couple of the Community members have to say about outlining:
  • 5:44 Scotty Russell said, I’ve been doing mind mapping to begin my process of outlining. I select the gold nuggets that I can focus on and then prepare the outline. Sometimes my mind goes off the outline but that’s alright. Mind maps have been huge to stop me from staring at the cursor blinking wondering where to start.
  • 6:12 Garrett Mickley said, Outlining definitely benefits me. It helps me get my thoughts organized in advance so I can just start typing away and get the rough draft finished. I do think it’s important to not stick strictly to the outline. Sometimes you’re writing and you realize the order should be different, or you need to add something, or remove something, and that’s okay. The outline isn’t the definitive.
  • 6:51 First, I’m going to run you through the sections of a typical episode outline for my show and then dive into more detail about each piece. Feel free to adapt this outline to meet your needs. This is how I outline and I hope it will give you a nice starting point but it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

How to Start an Outline

  • 7:17 Scotty asked, Do you have your headline set before you plan your attack? Or do you start to write your outline then form an engaging headline from there?
  • 7:28 Now, Scotty said headline, but I think he means title. I always start with the Main Topic or the Big Idea. This can also be the title of your episode, but you don’t have to have the title before you start writing the outline. You can change the title later if you want.

Start your outline with your big idea. This will be the main topic of the episode.

  • 7:47 After you have your main topic, what is your hook? What perspective or opinions do you have that are unique or interesting about this topic? What are your listeners going to take away from the show?
  • 8:04 After you have your topic and hook, start writing your intro. Think about how you’re going to introduce this topic or idea to your audience.
  • 8:14 After you have your main topic and intro, start thinking about the main points related to that topic that you want to make. These will be your headers. These are the main sub-topics or ideas that will make up the meat of your episode. You should also address counter arguments after you’ve made your main points, but I’ll talk more about that in a bit.
  • 8:37 Finally, you’ll need to do a recap of what you talked about in the show, just to summerize everything. Then you’ll do your outro.
  • 8:46 Let’s get into the details of each piece of your outline. First, the intro.

Your Intro Should Introduce You, Your Show, and the Topic of the Episode

  • 8:49 If you’re just starting your podcast, it’s important to tell the listener a little bit about yourself. Tell the audience who you are, what you do for work. Tell them how old you are and if you have a family. Tell them what you do for fun in your free time. Talk about your hobbies. Talk about your goals for the future.
  • 9:17 You don’t have to go over all your personal details in every episode, but remember that new listeners join all the time. It’s not a bad idea to do a quick introduction at the beginning of every episode just for the brand new folks.
  • 9:33 Talk about why you’re doing your podcast. Tell your audience what your show is about. It’s ok to elaborate in your first episode, but try to describe the goal of your podcast in a single sentence in future episodes.
  • 9:48 Tell your listeners who your show is meant for. What kind of people do you want listening to your podcast? Is there anyone you don’t want in your audience?
  • 9:48 For example, my podcast is for people who care about making great podcasts. People who are interested in learning about audio and writing and technology and everything that goes along with podcasting. If you aren’t passionate about podcasting, this show isn’t for you. I’m not trying to reach everyone with my podcast; I only want the people that care intensly about podcasting.

In your intro, tell your listeners what they can expect. Explain to them why this topic matters and why they should care.

  • 10:23 Talk about what problem you’re going to solve for them, or how the information can help them. Tell them what they are going to learn about or takeaway from the episode.
  • 10:44 After you’ve introduced yourself and told your listener what you’re going to talk about, then it’s time to get into the meat of the show; the main points.

Key Points

  • 10:54 So you have your main topic. What do you want to talk about or share with your audience about this topic? Do you have any stories that you can share? Do you have any great blogs posts you can mention and discuss?
  • 11:09 This is where starting outlines in mind maps has been a game changer for me. For those of you wondering, I use MindNode for mind-mapping. It’s a great app.
  • 11:29 Before I start doing any real writing, I add all the key points in a circle around the main idea in the mind map. Sometime I’ll have an idea for a sub-topic inside of a sub-topic, so I’ll throw that in real quick, but I’m not doing any real writing yet. I’m just trying to brainstorm all the big points that I want to hit.

You don’t have to do any real writing inside of a mind map outline. It’s just for laying out the main sections and big ideas of the episode.

  • 11:51 After I have all my main points on the mind map, I start thinking about which order they should go in. Would it be better to start with this subtopic? Is there a chronological order that I should go in? What should go first? What should go in the middle? What should go last? It’s really easy to drag the little topic bubbles around and rearrage them in my mind map, which is another reason I like using mind maps for outlining instead of text documents.

Spend Time Researching Your Topic

  • 12:29 What are other people saying about this topic? You should do some research before you get on the mic. Bring a couple examples to share. Read related blogs posts. Watch videos. Even if you think you know a lot about a topic, there are still things you can learn from other experts.

Invest some time every week doing additional research on your topic.

  • 13:08 After you have all your sub-topics and sub-sub-topics laid out, dive in and start expanding those. This is the point where I export my mind map as a text document and import the text into my writing application, which is Typed (at the moment).

Talk About the Counter Points

  • 13:46 After you finish writing about your main sub-topics, think about counter-points or opposing arguments. This is something I learned about in writing class in college. You can strengthen your own argument by anticipating opposing arguments and adressing them before someone else gets a chance to bring them up. That idea really stuck with me. It doesn’t always apply, but it’s still a good habit to develop.
  • 14:20 In fact, I’ll do it right now. I’m thinking about counter arguments to my argument of “Outlining is a good idea.” What arguement could someone make that counters mine?
  • 14:33 You could argue that outlining in too much detail and reading from that outline can suck the life out of your delivery. Sean McCabe and I discussed this in episode five of my podcast.
  • 14:47 My counter argument to that would be; Yes, writing and then reading an entire blog post can sound stale and lifeless but only if you don’t write like you talk or if you aren’t good at reading what you’ve written in a way that is dynamic and interesting. Also, I don’t think that most formats need that detailed of an outline. When I start doing interviews, I’m not going to write out my thoughts about every sub-topic. I want it to be a conversation, not me reading out a paragraph and then letting my guest respond. That’d be pretty terrible.

Do some research and see what other people are saying about your topic. Find and address any counter-arguments.

  • 15:28 Try to find people who disagree with your opinion about your topic. What are they saying? What arguments are they making? Are any of their arguments valid? If not, why? Address them in your show. Try to put yourself in someone else’s head. Why do they think that way about that topic or idea?

Recap Your Episode

  • 15:59 After you touch on your main points, go back through and collect the most important thoughts and points for your recap section. Think of this as the Too Long, Didn’t Read section of your outline. Make a quick summery of the best ideas of your outline. This is your last chance to give your listeners some takeaways that will stick with them.

Outro

  • 16:39 There are a few things you need to do in your outro.
  • 16:46 1. Thank your listeners. They just invested time listening to you. Make sure you tell them that you are grateful.
  • 16:55 2. Ask for reviews. Create a link on your site that redirects to your iTunes page. In my case, it’s thepodcastdude.com/itunes. The best time to ask for a review is right after you’ve provided a bunch of value to your listener. Many of your listeners will want to help you out. Remind the listeners that iTunes reviews helps your show get new listeners which will build the community. Good for you, but also good for them.
  • 17:28 3. Read an iTunes Review. This creates a personal connection and shows the other listeners that you pay attention to your audience.
  • 17:39 4. Tell people where they can find you online. Don’t assume that people know where to find you. Share your website, Twitter, Instagram, Linked In, Facebook, anywhere that you want your audience to find and interact with you online.
  • 17:58 5. Ask for feedback. Ask for your listener’s thoughts and opinions. Ask them for permission to share those things on future episodes of the show. It might even become a topic for a future episode.
  • 18:17 6. If you know next week’s topic, tease it. TV shows do this all the time. It’s a great way to get people excited for your next episode. It gives them something to look forward to. Of course, this only works if you have topics planned in advance.

Episode Recap:

  • 18:47 Listeners want to know what to expect before they listen to your show. An outline can help you discover what the important takeaways are. Then you can share those takeaways in the title, show description, and intro.
  • 19:01 Don’t start filling in the details before you’ve written your intro, main points and sub-points, and outro.
  • 19:26 For your intro, tell your audience who you are and what you’re going to share in the episode.
  • 19:32 For your main points, thank about and share the most important things you can think of that are related to your topic. Do some research and see what other people are saying about the topics. Try to find and address any counter-arguments.
  • 19:45 For your recap, collect the most important thoughts and points. Summerize the best ideas of your outline. The recap is your last chance to give your listeners some takeaways that will stick with them.
  • 19:58 For your outro, thank your listeners for listening to your show. Ask them for questions and feedback. Read an itunes review. Ask for iTunes reviews. Tell them where they can find you online. Tease the topic for your next episode if you know it.

Q&A

  • 24:53 Christopher asked, How do you approach outlines for material that works best with visual aides? Like screencasts instead of podcasting.
  • 25:10 I think it works the same way. There are some topics that I’m not going to do podcasts about; things like mixing and mastering are very hard to teach without visual aids. I haven’t tried outlining for my screencasts yet, but I’m going to start because the ideas are the same. It’s still important to introduce the topic, talk about the takeaways and main points, and then do a recap and an outro. Even if I’m not writing a super long and detailed outline, it’d still be helpful for me to plan a screencast using the process I described in this episode.
  • 30:04 There was a great discussion about mics in the pre-show of episode 131 of The Accidental Tech podcast. Go check that out.
  • 30:52 I had a thought yesterday that I posted to Twitter:

Pro tip for growing an audience; focus on what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.

— Aaron Dowd (@thepodcastdude) August 23, 2015

  • 31:15 I was thinking about this because it’s really easy as a podcaster (or writer, musician, etc) to focus on what we’re getting out of the work we’re putting out into the world. We think a lot about how what we’re doing is going to benefit us. I’ve started thinking about it differently. Instead of focusing on what I’m going to get out of something, I want to focus on what I can give to my audience.
  • 33:03 It frustrates me when I see podcasters whose main motivation for growing an audience is so they can sell ads. If your focus is on getting to 15,000 downloads per episode so that you can get sponsors, it’s not going to happen. Focus instead on delivering something valuble to the audience you do have, and answer questions for people who aren’t listening to your show yet. That’s how you grow an audience.