The Power of Writing a Ten-Word Description For Your Podcast
Focus is a powerful thing. The lack of focus is equally powerful...but probably in a way you won’t like.
An incredibly effective tool for building focus, intention, and clarity fast is the Ten-Word Description.
I’ve seen a lot of people (including myself, I might add) invest a lot of time, money, and energy into podcast ideas that never had a chance of succeeding. The primary reason they were destined to fail, almost to the exclusion of other reasons, is that they didn’t have a clear idea of what they were doing.
Here's your challenge: describe your idea in no more than ten words, and do so in a way that describes nothing else in the world. Literally nothing. “Me interviewing others about film” won’t cut it. There are literally thousands of those, if not tens of thousands.
How do you improve it and make it your own, get more specific on “Me,” “others,” and “film.”
“A new filmmaker talks to veterans about starting a career.”
Better, probably not perfect.
“Career advice from veteran women filmmakers to those starting out.”
Better still. I just made that example up on the spot for you--but I’m sure how you can see things coming into focus. With a bit more time and thought--I could come up with something that literally is unduplicated--and probably unduplicatable.
Here are some examples from other shows I’ve worked on:
West Cork: An unsolved murder exposes the underbelly of a rural Irish town.
Ask Me Another: An hour of puzzles, word games, and trivia.
Invisibilia: A narrative journey through the invisible forces affecting human behavior.
Sincerely, X: Anonymous TED talks.
TED Radio Hour: Fascinating ideas, astonishing inventions, fresh approaches to old problems, and new ways to think and create. (This was when the exercise was ten seconds, instead of ten words.)
Now it’s your turn. Write a Ten-Word Description of your show or your concept in a way that distinguishes it from everything else in the world.
Reviewing Your First Draft
Of course, I have no idea what you just wrote. It would be weird if I did. Nonetheless, I can still tell you something about what you wrote: You weren’t specific enough.
In years of doing this exercise with creators, I’ve never seen anyone who didn’t try to describe their idea with the broadest possible language that they could fit into ten words. That’s not surprising. Being specific is hard. Defining things in language so simple and clear that a stranger would understand, that’s even harder.
Other common problems with first drafts of Ten-Word Descriptions are using empty modifiers (like “thought-provoking,” “fantastic,” “in-depth,” and “unique”) as well as jargon that probably won’t make sense to a lay audience.
The answer: identify these empty modifiers and jargon, then replace them with more common, specific language (say specifically why is it fantastic).
Now give it another try--and really try to come up with something that describes your show and NOTHING else in the world, and use language that a stranger would clearly understand.
Again, I’ll wait...
Dial-In Your Ten-Word Description
Good. I’m sure you are getting there. A few more cracks at it and you should have something that really helps you articulate what you are (and what you aren’t).
After doing this, you may be wondering, why is this Description so important? Because once you’ve finished it, that Ten-Word Description will be your North Star.
For example, let’s say that you are working on an idea for a podcast featuring kids talking about their favorite books. The only voices heard are those of kids. So let’s then say that someone suggests that we could have R. L. Stine as a guest to be interviewed on the program. Is that “kids talking about books”? No. And that should be your answer to the booking suggestion as well.
Let’s say that your podcast is telling the story of a championship sports team from the 1990s and what happened to them after their victorious season. Should you include a scene in an episode on the history of the stadium where they played? If it has at least a metaphorical relationship with the teams’ post-championship lives, then sure! If not, skip it, even if it is a great story.
Most of your favorite podcasts and radio programs have not done this exercise, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have that sense of purpose.
Ira Glass never set out to create a short description of This American Life, but he states it at the beginning of every single one of his almost 700 episodes: “Each week our show has a theme, then we present several stories on that theme. Act 1. . . .”
Joe Rogan doesn’t have a Ten-Word Description, but there is a clear sense of purpose, perspective, and editorial vision of what his show is, what types of things he talks about, and what type of guests he has on his show.
Ira and Joe spent years coming up with that clear editorial vision. That’s one way to do it, but most people, probably including you, don’t have the time or resources to figure it out as you go, especially in a hyper-competitive world of 906,000 other podcasts (that’s the number...I just checked it).
Your favorite shows probably got theirs through a lot of trial and error. So why not skip all the trial and error and start with a clear idea?
Writing a Ten-Word Description isn’t a guarantee that you’ll have a successful podcast, but it will certainly increase your chances and can highlight some of the roadblocks that might have tripped you up along the way.
Your Ten-Word Description captures your vision, a clear distillation of your creative values. It should be treated almost like a piece of scripture. It’s your purpose. It is a filter that everything has to pass through. It’s what you stand for. Ten-Word Descriptions are exact and precise; they find a specific nerve and then pinch it.
And remember the old phrase: “If you don’t stand for something, you stand for nothing.”
Eric Nuzum is the co-founder of Magnificent Noise, a podcast production and creative consulting company in New York City and the author of Make Noise: A Creator's Guide to Podcasting and Great Audio Storytelling, available now.