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|Bonus Focus - Podcasts for Business: Connecting with People|
By Chris Grabowski
"What can you do to set people on fire?”
That’s a question posed in the article, "Storytelling that Moves People,” from the Harvard Business Review website on the subject of persuasion and motivation. The authors of the article, suggest storytelling as a means to a more personal, emotional and engaging method for connecting with people in the business world.
The goal of this article is to help you gain an understanding as to the potential of high-caliber audio storytelling to deliver internal business messaging. First, why is this relevant? In a March 2013 article on DailyDot.com, the author quotes a popular podcast producer who said, "There’s something like 31 million people that are downloading at least one podcast a month in the United States.” This illustrates the popularity of podcasts in general. So why should a business think about podcasting when communicating to employees?
One reason is to cut through the noise. Employees are bombarded with emails, snail mail, presentations and texts. It’s easy for an important message to be missed, lost or ignored. Tone and emphasis can be difficult to gauge from an email, which can lead to confusion or misunderstanding. Podcasts, as opposed to written messages, can lend sincerity, personality and also humanize the experience.
Another reason for businesses to consider podcasting is the variety in creativity they offer. Content can be developed to create messaging stories by interviewing and recording senior company leaders, marketing, HR, or sales leaders on topics such as best-selling practices, new hire training, new company initiatives, core values or industry trends. The only caveats are to ensure the topic is vital to your company and to interview someone both knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the topic you wish to cover.
Reach and convenience are further reasons a company would choose podcasting for their messaging. Podcasts can be listened to in the car, while waiting in line, at the gym, at the desk and often while doing many other tasks. If it’s a place you normally use a tablet, MP3 player, smartphone, laptop or desktop, you can listen to a podcast.
What does a great podcast sound like?
Chances are you’ve heard a podcast created by professionals. National Public Radio (NPR) is an example. The sound quality is superb, the content is well-written and the topics are interesting. They have an advantage of course. NPR has deep pockets employing passionate audiophiles schooled in the art/science of audio production. Kind of like a high-end restaurant is positioned to produce fabulous food. Carrying this analogy a little further, we’ve coined the term "audioTapas,” to convey a tight, refined, savory podcast outcome.
Here are hallmarks of a flavorful podcast. It starts with a passion for excellence. If you don’t have an interest in this medium and a desire to achieve a great outcome, don’t bother. After passion, comes exceptional planning. Listen to a few podcasts. You can tell when someone has taken the time to develop one. Or not.
A well-planned podcast is both concise and limited to one topic or theme. Next comes the interviewing to capture the content. People love to hear stories. By delivering your message through a story, you will delight your target audience. Top-notch writing can’t be overlooked. While the interviews will flow freely other portions of the podcast will be tightly scripted. The production process weaves the whole thing together. This includes the announcing, editing and sound effects. The next section looks closer at each step.
Don’t Produce Junk, AKA "crudCasts”
Nobody wants to listen to a cruddy podcast. It’s embarrassingly akin to reading a memo with typos and bad grammar. With that in mind, here is how to create a great podcast for business messaging, using the story method to convey the information. Before you begin, select one topic, and then map out a format. Let’s say you’re interviewing someone about what makes them the #1 salesperson at Company X. This provides a recognition opportunity, which top performers crave. Plus it can motivate others and increase their seller acumen, too.
Effective interviewing begins with preparation. Write down your goal for the interview. Create questions that answer who, what, where, when, why and how surrounding the topic you wish to explore. When thinking about types of questions, consider the following.
Certain questions yield a succinct answer and are good for clarifying a point but not for expanding on a thought: "Do you attribute your selling success to sales call quantity or sales call quality?”
You’re leading your interviewee into a corner. If you open it up and ask the question differently, the response can be very different: "What do you contribute your selling success to?” The person being interviewed is now free to elaborate and be authentic, even funny, giving you a better story to work with.
Transcribe each interview word-for-word. This is essential in determining which parts of the interview you will use. It is also easier to move the interview segments around in print first. Often the responses are edited to make them sound more succinct or to account for the completion of an earlier thought.
The next step is to create the script. Most of the content will come from the interview itself, but you will need to create an introduction, segues, a closing, and any other dialogue relevant to your topic. Remember, we speak differently than we write. Many people fail to take this into consideration when creating a script and the results can be robotic or awkward. Also, have someone else proofread your script after you’ve done so. "There is no such thing as good writing, only good re-writing.”
While developing a script, decide whether or not you’ll hire a professional announcer. They bring expertise and will raise the podcast quality several notches. Search the Internet for local talent. With the script ready and your announcer chosen, it’s time to talk recording equipment. The equipment makes a difference.
In-person, in-studio interviews are the gold standard. You can’t beat the quality produced by a good audio engineer and studio. This isn’t always feasible. It can be expensive and impractical if you’re interviewing people in varying geographies. At the very least, spend the time and money to have a studio record the announcer and edit the podcast for you.
Poor audio quality will detract from the effectiveness of your message. If you are going to do it yourself, do the research. You will need a good microphone like a Heil PR 40 and recording interface such as a Tascam US-1641 along with audio editing software such as Audacity. Everyone has their favorite gear and will argue against these choices but one thing is for certain: learn how to use it all.
If in-person interviews aren’t possible, another method is to record from a landline phone. You can attach a phone line-recording adapter to your computer via USB. It isn’t perfect but if you have an audio engineer or audio editing software to help create the best sound, it is a good alternative. One more option is to record the interview using Skype or other VoIP service. Again, the connection quality isn’t optimal but it does work.
After recording and editing, add in your music and any sound effects keeping in mind that less is more. Then, listen again. Have team members critique and revise it as necessary. Incidentally, the shorter the podcast, the more precision is required. It’s like landing a jet on an aircraft carrier. (Well, not exactly.) An outstanding 3-minute podcast can be a thing of beauty.
The final step is distribution. Decide on your audio format. Podcasts are generally MP3 but some businesses prefer the smaller file size a WMA (Windows Media) offers. Keep this in mind, the smaller the file is, the more the sound quality suffers.
There are a few options to get the podcast to your team such as placing them on the company intranet, a password protected website, or learning management system (LMS).
Podcasts can be uploaded to iTunes though some firms shy away from this for fear that non-employees may be able to download proprietary information. Another option is to use a mobile app. This is expensive, especially if you’re developing an app of your own. Also you can email the podcast or link to the podcast. The consideration here is that you’re sending an email and that offsets the benefit of creating less clutter for your employees. So include a WOW subject line.
There you have it, an introduction to producing a great business podcast. When you need to communicate a critical message to rally the troops, try audio to inspire your team. They need and deserve good brain food! And if you can’t find the time required to make it great, find a trained communication professional to assist.
Chris Grabowski is a project manager with Solutions Unlimited USA, harnessing 20+ years of experience in all facets of creating engaging, custom audio programs for business messaging. For more information, visit audioTapas.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.