Me when I start a new podcast project: “OMG this idea is so awesome it should be a hundred episodes long, I’m so excited to make this show!”
Also me, two days into a new podcast project: “OM(*%#)G why did I pitch this idea I can’t even decide on a pilot let alone 6 episodes, how are we going to make this show on deadline?”
If you have been there, if you are there now, you know this place all too well. This is The Trough of Disillusionment.
But never fear, there is a path forward. Someone has even mapped it out for us.
Who’s afraid of the big bad trough?
While it sounds just enough like the Princess Bride’s Pit of Despair to seem thoroughly enchanted, The Trough of Disillusionment is actually just a dip in a line on a graph.
The graph is called the Gartner Hype Cycle. It was developed by an information technology research company for purposes that don’t relate at all to making podcasts. The closest the graph gets to how we are going to use it here, is that it plots how perceptions and expectations of success change over time.
It’s important to keep that ebb and flow in mind so you can think objectively about what comes next, whether that’s in technology investments or producing a podcast.
How is a graph going to help me make a podcast, exactly?
What’s awesome about using models from economics or markets is that most of them illustrate that over time, there are ups and downs — but cycles eventually resolve, often returning the system to some kind of balance.
They’re not predictive, but they do show that this has happened before, enough for a pattern to emerge, even. And no, the universe isn’t singling you out.
This is the whole reason I find comfort in the rollercoaster trajectory of the Gartner Hype Cycle graph: there may be some soaring highs, some disconcerting drops, but there is a way out of the trough and back to a better place.
So with apologies (and much credit) to the folks at Gartner, I give you the Podcast Hype Cycle.
Let’s begin at the beginning
It starts with The Trigger. For us that is usually a new client reaching out to say “Hey, let’s make a podcast!”
Next stop, is that post-brainstorm, just-pitched-the-best-show-ever, everything-is-awesome phase. In Gartner’s graph, this is called The Peak of Inflated Expectations, and it’s the highest point we’ll get on the vertical axis. Some might say…too high.
Now, it’s time to start the work of actually delivering on this amazing show. There is a blank slate in front of you. You don’t have a host yet. Or a title. Or a chase list. What you do have is a budget and deadline, and a feeling like there’s a lot of work to do and you aren’t sure where to begin. Yep. Definitely in The Trough of Disillusionment.
But this is where you need to keep the faith. The Trough isn’t as bad as it might seem. It just feels that way because you’re comparing it to that overinflated peak.
If you can keep that perspective, you’re already halfway out of this gloomy place. It’s time to use all the method and the magic you have at your disposal to find your way to higher ground.
Getting out of The Trough
Here at Pacific Content, we rely every day on a set of tried and true best practices. We work hard on Program Development to arrive at the best show for each client. We produce a show Playbook so everyone shares the same vision of the show we’re making.
With these as your compass points, you can be confident you aren’t working with “inflated expectations,” but well-planned, well-articulated and aspirational expectations. Pair that up with all your best creative magic, and that is where you start climbing up The Slope of Enlightenment.
On the graph, The Slope is where the line steadily moves skyward as time goes by. You put in the time to build a show, build a team, and build a relationship with the client. You communicate, exchange ideas, get feedback, and actually learn what’s possible when you work together.
Suddenly, you’ve got all the interviews in the can for Episode One. Maybe the tape was a little wobbly on Cleanfeed but we can fix it in post. A great anecdote just fell from the sky and the cold open basically just wrote itself.
Then you finally get to hear the first mix, and suddenly it’s not theoretical anymore. What you could “hear” in your head, matches up with what you promised on paper.
Welcome to The Plateau of Productivity.
This is the part of the project where expectations are realistic and rightfully optimistic. Once you reach The Plateau of Productivity, you can actually start working on Episodes Two through 100 with a smooth path forward.
Yes, there will still be interviews that fall through, writer’s block, and maybe some long hours on mix day. But at least the roller coaster is on the tracks, and the next loop you get thrown for might even feel a little … fun?
How do you get yourself or your team out of the Trough of Disillusionment?
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