How to Listen to a Podcast | 2311

Unravel the concept of attention density, and learn why it is essential for a valuable podcast experience. Seek out shows that offer more.

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How to Listen to a Podcast

I recently read the classic “How to Read a Book by philosopher Mortimer J. Adler. First published in 1940 and revised in 1972 the book bootstraps the reader through various levels of reading skill. Whilst reading it I wondered, can we apply the book’s principles to podcasts? I think we can.

How To Listen To A Podcast:

Before you hit play on any podcast, it’s essential to understand *why* you’re listening. Are you listening for entertainment, information, or understanding?

Podcasts are often produced with these categories in mind. But it’s important to remember that a show might serve a different purpose for different people. For example, a podcast might be informative yet listened to for entertainment. Or, an entertaining podcast might bring about a certain kind of understanding in the listener.  I find that criticisms of certain podcasts often arise from a misunderstanding about this kind of cross mode consumption.

Before listening to a podcast, the first thing one must do is look at the cover. In almost all cases, a podcast’s cover will be an image 3000 x 3000 pixels square, with a DPI of 72. Usually, the cover will be eye-catching involving bold colours and a memorable logo. Because of the nature of algorithmic platform capitalism, a shows cover must be memorable and recognisable. To better catch the eye of the listener as they scroll their podcatcher’s feed.

Beyond these similarities, a listener must ask themselves what does the show’s title suggest about its contents? What does the cover?

From the cover image and show title alone, Before a single second is even played.  A relationship between the show’s creator(s) and the listener is already forming.

Next the listener must read the show’s description and browse its back catalogue. The description will reveal the podcast’s genre and topic. One should be able to glean valuable information about the show’s content, style, and approach. They may even discover ways to support the show, like visiting

The listener should refrain from making a decision about which of the three modes of listening will be the most appropriate to adopt at this stage. But they should have formed an initial opinion.

Before committing to an episode, a listener should also consider the following:

Episode titles:

Some podcasts use informational keywords in their titles to improve search visibility. Others opt for poetic titles that reference the contents of a show in an oblique or tangential way. To gain better understanding, the listener should identify which of these strategies are in play 

Show notes:

Look at the show notes. Does the show provide links to materials discussed during the episode? This can be an invaluable resource for further exploration.

Episode length, release frequency, and structure:

Pay attention to the show’s format. Does it require sequential listening, or can one pick and choose based on preference? Is it episodic or serial? Are there guests, special content? Are some episodes shorter than others with full episodes behind a paywall? Some podcatchers may highlight this information. But it can also be discovered by paying attention to the show’s details in an inspectional manner. 

The listener should now have a good idea of the podcast as a whole. And also understand the level of commitment required of a frequent listener. 

The listener has now come to terms with the show and it is now time to engage with the show itself. 

The listener may choose to listen to the newest episode. Or select an episode from the back catalogue that piqued their interest earlier. They may also choose to hit play on the episode they arrived at after clicking a link shared on social media.

From the first few moments of the show, the listener should consider its aural qualities. How is the show recorded? Is it well produced, or does the show suffer from poor audio quality? Aesthetics of course play a part. LoFi audio doesn’t necessarily mean bad, it may be a stylistic choice. The listener must also consider their personal tolerance for ear fatigue.

As the show continues the listener should now decide which listening mode to adopt. Is the show made for entertainment, information, or understanding? And how are they choosing to listen?

Unlike reading, podcasts are a linear and time-bound format. It’s okay to hit pause. Give yourself a moment to chuckle at a joke or digest a particularly thought-provoking statement or concept.

After all these steps have been followed. The most important thing for the listener is to now discern what I call the show’s attention density.

Attention Density:

Regardless of the shows mode, and how the listener is listening, if the show’s attention density is poor, this should be urgently identified.

How much attention is the show’s host or producer giving to its subject and production mode. And how much attention is required of the listener in return. 

For example: In interview formats, it is common to detect the host only half listening to the guest. The guest half listening to the host and waiting only for their turn to speak. And the listener is only half listening as they go about their day.

In these situations attention density is very poor. Between all three of you, no one is actually listening to anyone, so you might as well not be listening at all.

Other shows like this one, commit to their attention density. They try to pack as much in as possible, and try not to overstay their welcome.


The script above is the original script I wrote for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in the episode in the edit.

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