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Active Listening

By Ban Barkawi, You’ve listened, but have you really listened?

There you are sitting with your proverbial pen to paper ready to brainstorm what your brand new podcast is going to be. It sounds like a great first step, and it very well may be. But arguably there’s an often overlooked step before this in the podcast creation process that could unlock a whole new creative vision for your brand or business. And it’s actually quite simple but massively effective.


That’s it, listen. Before getting into the nitty gritty of your soon-to-be podcast, spend some time doing some active listening to other podcasts out there. Try to put a list together of a variety of shows with different formats: some lighthearted, some more serious. Some serialized shows and maybe some interview-style pods. If you want some inspiration to get started, check out our latest episode releases for a varied mix.

So what is active listening anyway? What makes it different from passive listening and how do you know what to listen out for?

Carve out the time

The thing with podcasts is you can’t really skim through them. Well, you can but you probably won’t derive much joy in the process. Find a time and space that complement your listening experience and gradually make that a habit. Maybe you take an episode along with you on your morning walk, or your commute to work. A lot of people like to listen while they’re doing busy work or chores. The key here is to do this during your alone time. This is your experience and you want to be fully immersed and comfortable in your audio journey.

Notice all the details

Regardless of how simple or complex a podcast is, if it’s a good production, there’s a lot more than just the spoken words you hear. As you listen, see if you can hear the different layers: the background music, any effects or fades in the dialogue, the loudness or quietness of someone’s voice. Notice how long or short a soundbite is and how frequently the person speaking changes. Perhaps there are ambiences from the recording environment that give you a sense of place. These details are usually intentional – they are designed to draw you into the story in a certain way.

Hear between the lines

The delicate craft of silence. What happens when no one is speaking? A whole lot, it turns out. As a brand you may feel the urge to fit in as much information as possible in the shortest amount of time to ensure that your audience receives your message loud and clear. Resist this urge. When we listen, we may not consciously notice the pauses in the audio but try to make an intentional effort to notice how and when they’re being used. It’s in these moments that we internally reflect on what we just heard, or come to terms with a feeling or thought it gave us. It’s in these silent spaces where we our sentiments toward the characters, the story, and the message start to form.

Ride the emotional roller coaster

Allow yourself to feel whatever comes up as you listen. In a well-produced show, episodes should be evoking not only thoughtful reflection but also, hopefully, emotions. It’s not always easy because it’s not the kind of thing you could, nor should, force onto your listeners. It’s a subtle art that you may be able to hear in the energy and pace of an episode, shifts in mood and tone. And maybe in bits of active tape or in descriptive narration that help listeners build a rapport with the characters. Check in over the course of an episode and ask yourself what emotions you experienced.

Get back to the drawing board

As you come back to your podcast design process with more inspiration you may find yourself thinking about your product very differently. You may be considering things like tone, style and identity before you think about content and messaging. With a better sense of what you admire about audio, imagine yourself as your audience listening to your show – what would engage you? If you start with the premise and collaborate with like-minded creators, the other parts of the puzzle will come together more smoothly.