Using digital tools

Lessons learned producing a podcast series

By 28/08/2017

After hosting a webinar series and fastidiously editing down the recordings to upload to the Vimeo channel, we realised that Research to Action hadn’t produced a podcast series in a long time. To remedy this, we decided to turn the ‘Cup of Tea’ webinars into shorter and more accessible audio podcasts, to give a flavour of that fascinating series of discussions about research uptake.

Podcasts are a great way to reach a wide range of audiences. They offer a useful way to get complex research messages across in short and concise formats to an intended audience, whether they are policymakers, journalists, or the public.

During the process of producing the podcasts, I learned a lot of new things about sound formats, how to make audio more accessible, and some tricks to make podcasts sound more professional. In the spirit of continually sharing our learning and practicing what we preach here at Research to Action, I wanted to share some of my reflections on improving the process of podcasting:

  1. Ask yourself: who is (realistically) going to listen to the podcast? How long is their attention span and how expert are they in the topic you have chosen to podcast? Policymakers have less time than the public, while journalists might be generalists. If your target audience is specialist, then your podcast length should be longer or the content more detailed to cater for their pre-existing knowledge.
  2. Ask yourself: how good is the pre-existing audio, or how good is the recording equipment? If you intend for the podcasts to be very short, or to reach a general audience, then sound quality might not matter so much. But if you are trying to reach high-profile audiences and produce longer podcasts then the quality matters a lot. Make sure to record in a sound-proof room, and if you are recording from a computer hook up an external mic instead of relying on the built-in computer microphone. You can always ask for professional help editing the audio to get rid of glitches and improve the quality, but there is only so much a professional sound editor can do if the original quality is poor!
  3. Find the right platform to host your podcasts and think seriously about file sizes. Some platforms with free accounts have a length limit, but it is also important to think about your target audience, the length of the podcasts they would have time to listen to, and the implications for bandwidth. The longer the podcast the larger the file size, and the less likely it is to be accessible over a limited bandwidth. The smallest file format which maintains good sound quality is generally MP3, and there are a number of things you can do during production to ensure audio is accessible.
  4. Remember that people listen to podcasts whilst multitasking and travelling. This will inform the type of content and conversations you include in the podcasts. Your target audience will not always appreciate the nuance of your research whilst commuting, ironing, or even running, so remember to present information in an interesting way. Even if you are presenting very serious research findings keep the tone and style interesting and engaging.
  5. Avoid jargon and acronyms. Unlike in a text article, you can’t necessarily search for something if you don’t understand it when you hear it via audio; or even worse you can’t search for it because you can’t spell it! Avoid any global development jargon or acronyms, and explain each truly necessary acronym as you go. Don’t take it for granted that everyone listening will know what DFID is or how it is pronounced, and at an even more basic level, that they will know what the acronym stands for.
  6. Have a standard intro and ending for each episode of the webinar series to add some consistency. This could include music which fades in and out – a low-cost way of making the podcasts feel more professional. Remember to check copyright and permissions though!
  7. Think about accessibility. This doesn’t just mean file size and download times, but accessibility for people with audio impairments. Consider having a transcript for your podcast which can be read instead of the podcast or alongside it. Transcripts are also useful as they can be translated for those who speak multiple languages.
  8. Promote the podcast. Use every available channel through which you have a pre-existing audience to promote the podcasts. Your target audiences will not necessarily flock to your newly set up podcasting platform without signposts. Use email, social media, write blogs, and ask for institutional help (if you have it) to promote the series.
  9. Track the downloads and learn from any monitoring and evaluation metrics. Most podcasting platforms at a basic level allow you to see how many downloads there have been. But you can’t always assume that people have listened to the full podcast, or even played it after downloading it to a smartphone or computer. Consider creating a specific hashtag for your series to track mentions of the podcast across social media, allowing you to get a better idea of the audience exposed to or engaged with the series.
  10. Convinced? Think twice about starting again and producing another podcast series. The world of podcasting has become extremely busy, unless you have a proven and innovative format, an engaged audience and an efficient way of promoting the podcasts, think twice about starting a second series. Editing audio and responding to your audience can take up a lot of time. Consider clubbing together with other researchers, programmes, or similar initiatives to showcase your research together.

More resources:

Dr Katie Linder has written a two-part series about producing a research podcast for the Research Whisperer Blog, find out why you should podcast in Part 1 and how to do it in Part 2.

Cheryl Brumley has written a three-part series ‘the simple guide to academic podcasting’ on the LSE Impact Blog.

Research to Action’s podcasts on Audioboom