What’s the magic formula behind popular podcasts? Sven Preger spills the beans in his workshop at Prix Bohemia Radio

19. říjen 2022

It's not easy to create dimension and tension in audio documentaries – but famous creator Sven Preger knows how to make it happen. The podcast author joined Czech Radio in Olomouc for the Prix Bohemia Radio festival to share his knowledge and experience in storytelling through a dynamic workshop.

How do you get listeners hooked when telling a real story? How do you keep the tension from beginning to end? How many episodes is just right for a podcast? What is sound design and why is it so important for audio production? The search for the answers to these questions brought a sizeable audience to the workshop. Those attending including creators from radio, radio students, but also ordinary listeners who simply enjoy podcasts and audio documentaries.

At the beginning of the talk, Sven Preger introduced a number of podcasts, which are among the most successful in terms of quality and popularity. He mentioned, for example, the podcast Serial, which has significantly influenced the world of audio and brought the topic of True Crime back on the scene. Sven also spoke about S - Town and The other Latis. You haven't listened to them yet? Give them a try and see how quickly and easily they grab your attention.

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When the talk moved on to the creation and production process itself, Sven was very specific with his tips. He began quite logically. How do you start a podcast properly? Start with something special, something that surprises the listener and raises questions that only you and your podcast can answer. That's the only way to ensure listener loyalty. 

Other important elements that Sven mentioned are the careful handling of facts and good timing. "You can't shoot out all the important information right at the beginning. If you do, the listener will turn off the podcast after the first minute, and then what? You have to give the listeners a bit of a hard time at first, keep them in suspense, so that they are full of questions and hungry for answers, which you, as the author, will only tell them when you decide to, when the time is right," explains Sven Preger.

Play with your recordings. That's another piece of advice from the renowned creator: "If it makes sense, don't be afraid to use your track several times in a row, it gives the right depth to the subject and originality to your piece," he says.

Sven’s charisma added to his convincingness – he made the audience laugh several times. For example, when he stressed the importance of human empathy. "Play on people’s humanity sometimes, the audience will like you better right away if you say you are filming for the first time. Suddenly you're an ordinary person like them and you're much closer to them, you're not just some professional documentary creator who's been doing the job for twenty years." In a related point, Sven added another tip: "Don't take yourself too seriously. We're all just human, and it's okay to make fun of ourselves now and then."

Before wrapping thing sup, Sven Preger focused on one more crucial element: the soundtrack. According to him, a podcast can succeed only if its music and sound are good. The soundtrack is a magical thing that can evoke a sincere emotion in the listener. Between each tidbit of advice, Sven always played a short clip from a relevant podcast to illustrate his point. Immediately, the audience knew exactly what he meant. Often the selections were so poignant that even after the demonstration was over, the hall was dead silent.

The workshop with Sven Preger lasted nearly an hour and a half. Throughout the whole time, the audience was hooked. Sven captivated everyone with his storytelling – a true pro. At the very end of the engaging talk, it was time for questions from the audience. For example, they wanted to know how it is with commenting on the musical background in audio documentaries. Can creators comment on the music or should they avoid doing so? According to Sven, speaking about the musical underscore is done a lot in the comedy genre. In this realm, creators use the spoken word first and then sound. For entertaining the listener, this combination works great. But in regular podcasts, spoken word only fills in what the sound could no longer say.

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Another interesting question from the audience focused on the future of podcasting, specifically on what platform might replace it. According to Preger, the podcast will be with us for a while. But I will certainly evolve. Thus, we might be seeing podcast game sections or reality shows in the future.

At the very end of the workshop, a question was asked about the Czech Republic and podcast production. What should an aspiring creator focus on to make their podcast successful, especially in a small country like ours? Sven Preger has a clear answer: "The most important thing is to do market research before you start your project. You have to find out if it's worth it. Is there anyone in your country who is interested in your topic? How does the issue resonate within the society? Everybody does research these days – big media houses and multinational corporations. If you are creating on your own, you have a big advantage. You can always go with your gut. From my experience with podcasting, I can confirm that going with my gut has always paid off." With this advice, the successful creator concluded his workshop.

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