Your boss wants you to develop a learning solution to help supervisors deal with workplace conflict. But there's very little budget, and supervisors are based all around the world. The cost of flying them all in to your corporate headquarters for workshops is prohibitive. So what do you do? A series of podcasts may solve your problem. You could produce eight 10-minute podcast episodes to help supervisors with workplace conflict. You could record one per week as you would a regular radio program. But how do you do it? What equipment do you use, and what are the key processes to get your podcast right? Most importantly, how do you make sure it reinforces learning?
What is it?
Let's start with a definition: Podcasts are media files distributed episodically using syndication software such as RSS. In everyday terms, they're audio or video programs content. And while podcasts can be audio or video, many people use podcasting to refer to audio.
What is a good use of audio podcasts? Audio is a powerful method for communicating information. It's strong for narrative-based content such as storytelling. Dealing with workplace conflict is a perfect topic because there is the potential for lots of stories.
You can interview subject matter experts, share stories of everyday workers, create role plays to illustrate adult relationships, and really bring the topic alive. By mixing music and sound effects, you can engage the listener's imagination.
Once you've produced your audio, you can use it as many times as you like. It's also remarkably cheap and quick to produce compared to video content.
Audio is great for learners on the move. Learners can listen anytime they like - on an iPod or mobile device while commuting in traffic or sitting in an airline lounge - and podcasting saves time and money, because people don't need to travel to a seminar because the learning travels to them.
What is not a good use of audio podcasts? While workplace conflict may be a great subject for a podcast series, there are many topics that won't do so well. For example, if you want staff to memorize chapters of HR policy or learn how to set up a mail merge, you may find that podcasts fail to keep your listeners' attention.
That's because our brains don't process complex information or abstract theories very well when they'red conveyed auditorily. Have you ever noticed how it's easy to listen to the weather forecast or financial news on the radio, but then we almost instantly forget it?
To make a podcast you'll need some basic equipment.
At the very basic level, you'll need a PC, microphone, and set of headphones. You'll need to install a software package such as Audacity or Adobe Audition onto your computer to record and edit your audio.
If you decide to add credibility and interest to your podcast by interviewing subject matter experts, you'll need a portable digital recorder. If you'd prefer to interview SMEs from the comfort of your own office, you can use Skype and the recording software Pamela to interview them over the phone.
Once you have your equipment sorted, it's time to prepare your material. Preparation is key to efficiency, as is writing a script. When I started in broadcasting 20 years ago, I was taught that the best ad-libs were scripted.
I know that many people believe they're 'natural ad-libbers.' But these folks spend more time editing out their stumbles, "ums," "ahs," and poorly chosen words than they would have spent writing a script.
Once you have recorded your commentary, interviews, or role-play activities and gathered music or special effects, you'll mix it all together, probably using Audacity. A great way to give your podcast energy is to add music to it. You can use music for an intro and outro as well as periodically throughout the podcast to break up speech.
If you do plan to use music or sound effects, check the copyright. Never use music in your podcasts unless you have permission from the copyright owner. I suggest that you buy royalty-free music because it's geared up with easy-to-use licenses.
Next, how can you take your podcast from being merely media content to learning content? The three keys are focus, structure, and repetition.
Focus. Many podcasts lack focus and are full of waffle that goes nowhere. This may sound harsh. But what's harsher is the fact your listener's mind will wander too. Be very clear about your episode's purpose. Ensure every interview, role play, and piece of commentary in your podcast supports your purpose. The purpose of a didactic podcast will be best defined by a learning objective. Learning professionals don't design seminars without learning objectives, so we shouldn't plan a podcast without one, either.
Structure. Break your content down into easy-to-digest chunks. Remember to avoid abstract theories and lots of detail because they'll be quickly forgotten. Instead, build stories that vividly illustrate your learning objectives and help listeners form mental models that they will remember. Stories with application work best.
Repetition. If you want people to remember your content, repeat it. (That's why you hear phone numbers repeated so many times in radio commercials.) Regularly repeat your key learning points. To avoid the repetition from becoming boring, use different voices from different perspectives. For example, a customer, boss, and stakeholder could all repeat a key learning point from their individual perspectives.
Next time you're faced with the challenge of delivering learning to staff from different locations, think through a podcast series. Podcasting offers loads of opportunities for flexible delivery. And they can be very powerful with careful planning and a clear focus.
Online Only: Editorial Tips From Jonathan Halls
Focus on conveying one simple idea in your podcast rather than cramming in too much information. That means one learning objective per podcast. The more you say, the more your listener forgets.
Never start planning or producing your podcast until you have clarified the learning objective. That objective must be the yardstick you use to decide whether or not an interview, commentary piece or other element is to be used in your program.
Always write a script. It will save you time in the long run. It will also ensure your commentary is focused. It also means that when you record yourself on the microphone, your brain can devote its energy to helping you sound good, rather than figuring out your next word or sentence.
Write your scripts in a conversational manner. Don't be overly formal. Avoid jargon, and use the language your listener speaks.
Keep your podcast short. Edit interviews down to their most essential points and keep your personal commentary short. It takes really experienced media producers to keep people attention for long periods of time.