This definitive guide to creating incredible podcast episode intros starts in a surprising place: The primacy and recency effects.
These psychological concepts should be on our minds as podcasters, each and every time we create a new episode. People tend to remember information most specifically located in the opening and closing moments of an experience. The first and last moments matter most in shaping perception and memory — that is, primacy and recency.
So while most of the B2B marketing world overlooks the power of great intros and outros, at Sweet Fish, we believe a great experience starts at the beginning. (Nice when things work out that way, no?)
So today, we’ll focus on intros:
- Why you should care more about them
- What listeners needs to hear in order to stick around and become a fan
- Common mistakes found across B2B that you should avoid
- And our suggested approach to try instead
Creating gripping intros won’t cost you money and really much time at all. It starts in a simple place — yet too often for marketers, “simple” doesn’t mean “easy.” So let’s try to ensure both of those words become a little more synonymous, shall we?
What’s a Show Actually For?
The goal of any great show is affinity. Shows are like relationship accelerants. Anyone who listens should come away with a few things:
- An appreciation of the quality and value of your brand.
- An understanding of the key ideas, philosophies, and/or mission you explore and espouse – concepts they feel aligned with too.
- A desire for more time with you.
In the end, you want to create and retain superfans who trust and love you – and take action that benefits you, including taking the next step in their buyer’s journey with you and evangelizing your content, brand, or product/service to others (word-of-mouth).
To help increase the odds you see these kinds of results, it’s paramount that your episodes constantly HOLD their attention.
In showrunning, we have a golden rule: Get them to the end.
Once they hit play, you have ONE job: Ensure they don’t hit stop.
If That’s What a Show Is For, What’s an *Intro* For?
Reaping the rewards mentioned above all starts with your intro. The intro serves ONE purpose: to encourage continued, eager listening.
Currently in B2B, the way most marketers and podcasters approach intros reveals a troublesome inverse relationship between impact and effort. In other words, intros are the MOST impactful piece of the show typically receiving the LEAST amount of thought.
That’s a mistake we want you to avoid.
How B2B Shows Usually Approach Intros
Here are some typical ways B2B podcasts typically open. Again, the intro serves one purpose: to encourage continued, eager listening.
The intro is NOT for…
The full host bio.
To the listener, there’s a night-and-day difference between saying “today we’re talking about the latest innovation in ad tech” and saying “today I’m welcoming Billy Bob Briggs, CTO of the Advertising Conglomerate Corporation of America, who has 50 years of experience working on advertising platforms. Formerly, Billy Bob was CTO of Inventure, an invention company that invents things, and he has a lot of experience working with inventions over his many experiences. His company now…” etc. etc. The first is shorter and gives the listener a clear reason to care. The full bio is almost never helpful to the listener. Sometimes the title is even too much.
Build your guest’s title into your question: “I know you’re seeing a lot of innovation as the vice president of Innovators Anonymous, so what stands out to you the most right now?”
It’s up to YOU to lead that intro. Never ask “what have you been up to?” to start a conversation. Only ask about a specific experience if it’s fully relevant to the conversation.
Next in the list of common mistakes…
The goal of outlining what’s inside the episode to come is to convey to the listener: this is worth your while. Keep listening. But when we write articles, we don’t do this. We simply open strong, with a gripping story, or a big question, or a hypothesis worth exploring. We SHOW THEM it’s worth sticking around, because they are immediately invested. Do that in your episodes, and you’ll earn passionate fans far quicker.
The rationale makes sense in this case. You want to help the listener decide whether this episode is a good use of time. While we understand, we also believe: Don’t even give them a choice! The moment they hit play, it’s immediately clear that, yes, this is a great use of their time. They never feel the need to stop and wonder.
At best, over-summarizing is like over-selling. Someone is listening, but you keep hyping what’s to come. You get the Yes, and they want you to move to the good stuff, but you just keep selling/summarizing. At worst, however, these summaries are a poor proxy for the awesome value in the episode – a distant echo that listeners mistake for the actual caliber of conversation to come. A musician wouldn’t describe what their songs are about to sound and feel like before playing. They just start playing. You should too.
“We’ve got a great episode for you today!” Oh? As opposed to… what? The other episodes which were all terrible? When we TELL the audience we’re excited, or that something is great, it falls flat. Again, we want to SHOW them. If you’re excited, don’t just tell them you’re excited. BE excited. Rattle off a few SPECIFIC details that made you excited. Describe the complicated, lengthy, years-long process to finally book this guest. Increase the speed at which you’re speaking or the tenseness the listener feels as you crescendo into a big reveal. SOMETHING is worth hyping. It’s not “the episode.” It’s something about the episode. What is it? Talk about that, or better yet, merely start strong and show them.
This is like being a public speaker who thanks the audience, then immediately says, “I’m excited to be here!” Oh? As opposed to… what? Being sad you’re on stage? Wishing you could end the talk early? Of COURSE you’re excited to be there. Of COURSE the episode is great today. But if there’s a reason to hype something, focus less on the hype, and more on the things that you are hyped about.
Not only are listeners not all “guys,” but they’re also not listening in a group. Just like writing a newsletter, you’re speaking to ONE person. Picture them. Make it an actual human you know, if you can. But better than “you all” is “you.” Better than “you, the audience,” is “you, my friend.”
Podcasting’s most enduring, potent trait (and most-discussed, at that) is the sense of intimacy that a voice-driven, on-the-go, in-your-ears medium creates.
Vague hype often torpedoes that very substantial benefit before you even have a chance to reap the rewards.
This includes multiple calls-to-action running together talking about multiple things of importance to your brand, reminders to rate/review the show, and so forth.
That stuff is for you, not the listener. And by the way: that’s fine! Put stuff for you second in the order of content listeners hear when they hit Play. Or put it last. Just don’t put it first. Open with actual content, not a CTA.
If you have something truly monumental you need to tell the audience, then and only then, put it first. Doing so will cause the listener to think, “Oh, wow, an unusual update. A break in the action. This must be super important. I should listen.” But doing it every episode? They’ll reach for the skip button, or worse — the stop button.
The first moments of an episode are for the listener, not for you.
Catching up or easing in.
This is when the voices on the episode start talking about things the listener doesn’t care about as a form of easing into conversation, as we would over coffee or drinks. But this isn’t a networking call. This is a show, and there’s an audience present – even though you can’t see them. (examples might sound like, “Hey, Pam! I haven’t seen you since SXSW!” or “How was the weekend?” or “Boy, the kids were crazy last night…” or inside jokes that lead to yuks.)
Listeners don’t care about any of this. They’re going to ask, “What’s in it for me?” If the goal of catching up is to help the listener learn to like the voices they’re hearing as people, there are other ways to do so in the flow of a great conversation. If the goal of easing in is to establish the right early tone, so they can slowly make sense of the material or build into your smart insights, again, there are better ways to establish that warm, welcoming feeling – if that even is the right approach (sometimes, it’s not). The intro is not the place for any of this.
The host’s narration welcomes you to the show and describes the show/the guest briefly, then the first moments of the interview audio play – during which the host once again welcomes you to the show and describes the show/the guest briefly.
(Is there an echo in here?)
(Is there an echo in here?)
The dead-end greeting.
This is a small but common moment that, once you hear it, you won’t be able to un-hear. When a host says, “Thanks for coming on the show,” there’s only one response a guest is forced to give in return: “Thanks, excited to be here.” This adds nothing at all to the listener experience, while the guest isn’t set up for success by the host.
Thanking the guest is a good idea! And if you genuinely are excited to have them on the show, then genuinely be excited. But these things can be achieved in other ways – for instance, thank them before you hit record.
The first things a guest says should be INTERESTING and VALUABLE … not a throwaway line. We cut out Ums and Uhs because they are “verbal debris” that clutters the show. This type of common introductory moment is the same. (Apologies in advance for ruining part of your own podcast listening experiences to other shows. This moment is just that ubiquitous, despite being wholly unnecessary. You won’t be able to un-hear it!)
* * *
So, if these are some common ways B2B shows usually open, and we want to create something more powerful, refreshing, original, and beloved, what can we do to open episodes better?
The Most Important Technique to Know
Remember, the first moments of every episode are to encourage continued, eager listening. The various ingredients at our disposal to do so are listed below. But they are all various ways of executing the same technique – a technique used proactively by the world’s best producers, hosts, storytellers, and interviewers: open loops.
Open loops are moments that create intrigue or questions on the minds of the audience which the storyteller answers later.
That’s an open loop. The reason the loop is open is, of course, the missing detail of what I saw down the street.
The very name “Game of Thrones” implied an open loop. (Who will win the throne?) The word “but” is the tiniest form of an open loop. (“We love to say that marketing should be authentic, BUT…” And now you can’t wait to hear what the next words are.)
Open loops are why people continue with an experience. They have questions. You have answers. We are hard-wired to seek closure to something that, so far, is unsatisfying. (That’s another reason over-summarizing is so bad as an intro. It risks actually satisfying the listener with everything they need to know – so why listen? Why spend more time? Why even make a show? Just give them a box of key takeaways or a blog post or the episode transcript to scan. Save yourself the time and stress of running an entire show, if you plan to satisfy the listener in the very first moment.)
No, what should feel satisfying is their choice to listen. What has not yet been satisfied during the intro of an episode is the completion of a story, or learning about an important person or topic, or getting an answer to a question.
Now, unlike purely hyping something in an empty way (“We have a great episode!”), and unlike slogans and other advertising descriptions that describe the value we offer (“Top-ranked! Making sales easier than ever! Nike: Just Do It.”), open loops are not promises of value. Hyping something or using slogans or advertising-like descriptions are forms of promising value, but open loops actually begin to deliver a little bit of value … before leaving something unanswered or unresolved … until later.
When we experience something like that (e.g. a sequence of events which lacks the final conclusion of it all, or a big, open-ended question posed by a host), our brains go, “Wow, I could reaaally use some closure right now.” That prompts you to push forward and seek that conclusion.
On a podcast, that means listeners keep listening.
Intros are for one purpose: encouraging continued, eager listening.
Open loops serve one aim: create tension or questions or intrigue enough that they want closure.
Intros and open loops are like peanut butter and Nutella. Delicious, and if you’re just trying the combination for the first time, prepare to have your mind blown. (“OMG, where has this been all my life?!”)
So how do we put the idea of open loops into action? If we’ve just made clear the types of typical intros that DON’T encourage continued, eager listening, and we know open loops do just that … then how do we use this technique in our episodes?
Here is Sweet Fish’s suggestion for B2B podcasters for both your intro’s tone and your intro’s content.
Your episodes are EVENTS. Convey as much.
This is not just some more content. This is not a podcast. This is a SHOW.
Too often, however, B2B hosts feel bored on their own shows, or else they fumble to get started. Even though it’s their show, not the guests, they still seem to need some warming up. That’s fine! What is NOT fine is they use the first moments of recorded content — or even the first few moments that make it into the final edit — to be the place where they find their groove. They warm up during the game.
This is a disservice to the listener.
Two quick additional thoughts to ensure your tone matches the importance of the intro:
1. Don’t act like a Human Red Bull
You don’t need to overdo the energy or sound like a booming announcer. Nobody likes the person who fabricates how they feel. At Sweet Fish, when we work with hosts, we look to establish the balance between too much and too little. Finding one’s natural voice on a microphone can feel unnatural, so practice + production support can make things easier.
The goal isn’t to make each episode an event the size of the Super Bowl, but rather to convey (however you would naturally convey such a thing) that today’s episode matters — to you and to the audience.
2. Reflect the emotion you want the listener to feel.
This tidbit goes beyond “excitement.” If you start discussing something that is confusing or stressful, in order to tease a solution coming in the episode later, then your voice needs to sound confused or stressful. They will take their emotional cues from how you sound.
If you want the audience to understand that something feels urgent, convey that stress and speed in how you speak. If you want them to feel like they’re taking a deep breath to join you for some relaxing learning or storytelling, take a breath yourself. If you want them to sense something is serious, or sad, or exciting, or frustrating – then your delivery aka the way you speak must feel serious, or sad, or exciting, or frustrating.
If you want both intros and future moments of the episode to really hit home and feel gripping and memorable, then you must dictate how they feel. WHAT you say can help. HOW you say it? That helps even more.
As a host, you control just one creative tool: your own voice. That’s enough, because it’s so dynamic and powerful – if you know how to use it.
So that’s how we suggest you approach your episode’s initial tone: ensure others recognize the episode is part of a SHOW. It’s an event. It matters. And match the emotions you want others to feel with the emotions you use in your delivery. This is all about HOW you say something.
Next, let’s talk about the question you’re most likely thinking about: WHAT should you say to ensure the episode intro encourages continued, eager listening?
Share your vision for the result.
Don’t over-summarize but rather share what your listener will know or what they will be able to do better or differently by the end of the episode.
People arrive to any experience wondering, “What’s in it for me?” Another way of saying this (when the experience is linear and time-consuming, like a podcast): “What will be different when I’m done?”
Your job as host is to guide the listener through the entire experience. A great guide first anchors the audience to the destination — the purpose of the exploration. It’s not as important to share WHAT you will discuss so much as WHY: to help the listener. (Great! Help them do … what, exactly? Ensure they know. From the very first moments.)
Here, you’ve hooked the audience not by outlining lots and lots of things you will explore throughout the episode but by anchoring them to the desire outcome or the goal you and they share.
“THIS will be different when you’re done listening” – and they already know they want that.
Even if you and/or your guest is sharing something that they NEED to hear, you still need to begin with what they already know they WANT to achieve. If you run an episode about the importance of, say, brand affinity, but you believe your audience obsesses too much on brand awareness, you can’t ignore that existing desire or goal. Rather than saying, “Today, we learn how to resonate deeper with your prospects and customers to earn more passionate fans of your brand,” you might have to begin, “Today, we learn how to spark word of mouth growth and increase your brand awareness more efficiently — all without ever thinking about awareness.”
(Question: can you can spot the open loop in that example? I added it as a little bonus.)
(Answer: “without ever thinking about awareness.” People will naturally wonder how that could be. They have questions. We’ve got answers. Coming up in the episode. Keep listening!)
So, an effective way to start is to anchor people to the ending — not simply what happens at the end, but what will be different for the listener as a result of reaching the end.
A major key to this working:
The real key for this approach to work? You need to know your customer.
The example above said this: “Today, we learn about X and Y, two of the hardest challenges we all face as marketers, and how to make them easier to get the buy-in you need to tackle them at your organization.”
If that’s how you open an episode, then you need to be certain that X and Y are truly important and challenging things to your audience. You also need to know that, in order to attack those problems or opportunities, they’ll need internal buy-in — and maybe struggle to get buy-in typically. (This also means you know they are the types of people who are frustrated by the status quo, believe in pursuing something better, and are not THE decision-makers. They therefore need permission in the first place.)
To really excel with this type of intro:
A way to really seal the deal that listeners are intrigued and want to keep listening: add a few big, burning questions in a row at the end of the intro. Continuing our example from above, that might sound like this (additions in bold):
These questions (two of which are straightforward, one of which is a twist) cement a listener’s feet — err, ears? — in place. They aren’t going anywhere. You’ve opened a few different loops. They know what will be different by the end — and they want it. They also have questions, which you overtly handed them — and they want answers. One of those questions is even a bit more entertaining or curious than the others (the one about the coffee company).
You’ve added some drama and raised the stakes.
You’ve served your own cause better by serving the listener first and foremost.
Intros Have a Lopsided Effect on the Overall Experience
How you start often determines whether or not they finish. And that’s the goal: get them to the end. Marketers may obsess over grabbing attention, but if we don’t hold attention, we don’t earn the trust and love we need to turn a prospect into a customer and a customer into a passionate, vocal fan.
As B2B podcasters, we can’t keep throwing away the single-best opportunity to grip people, to impress them, and to build a relationship. As marketers, in the noisiest era in history, we earn a living not simply by cutting through the noise but by becoming the object they choose. Being visible isn’t enough. Today’s best B2B brands are built by being memorable.
If you do nothing else to improve your show’s experience and the results you see, improve your intros. From the moment they hit Play, ensure they don’t ever think about hitting Stop. They understand what’s in it for them. They know what will be different when they’re done. And they have questions they can’t wait to have answered. They crave the closure of the initial open loops you communicated.
It’s easy to shrug and hide behind that old adage: “It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish.” And that might be true over the long arc of time. But inside your episode’s runtime, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s how you start.
Thanks for reading! If you are a Sweet Fish customer, contact your team about working to improve your episode intros — without magically finding more budget or time.
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