Listen up

Ben Shore plugs in his earbuds, delights in podcasting trends and warns on avoiding the pitfalls.

The rise in podcasting is one of the most striking changes in western culture in the last 5 years. The UK broadcasting regulator Ofcom estimates more than 7 million people in the UK listen to a podcast each week. In the US, the figures are staggering, with Edison Research estimating 62 million people listen to a podcast weekly.

I must admit this is a personal weakness of mine. In the golden hours, when the kids are in bed, I am a podcast addict, hoovering up everything from quirky business and economics stories from NPR’s Planet Money to the poetic and poignant vignettes created by Nate DiMeo at his Memory Palace.

Podcasting is now mainstream and heads of communication and corporate affairs have noticed. What they see is a convenient medium where their spokespeople can show thought leadership and reach out to new audiences. Goldman Sachs is up there leading the way and Google’s London-based Artificial Intelligence unit, Deepmind, has also created a podcast series, allowing it to showcase its technology and the personalities within the business.

At Bladonmore we’re regularly asked to produce content in this format and coach spokespeople so they can adapt their content and delivery style to podcasting.

We love this way of doing things. But there are potential pitfalls.

Firstly, podcasts can take a long time, certainly longer than any normal broadcast interview. My personal favourite is this four-hour marathon from Lex Fridman’s AI Podcast with Ben Goertzel.

But even if you are only being asked to do 15 minutes, there are significant risks:

Podcasting rule #1: Stick within the boundaries of your organisation’s defined messaging.

Sitting down and talking at length with someone creates the impression of intimacy and comradeship. Beware this impression! It can lead to sloppy or dangerous comments. The normal rules of external communications still apply, even if you are in a radio studio or, more likely in recent months, doing it from your home.

Podcasting rule #2: Sound like you’re enjoying yourself. If you don’t, nor will the listeners.

The second risk is tone. If your organisation is putting your voice into the public sphere and you sound bored, or nervous, or unenthusiastic, you will be wasting your time because the audience will turn off.

Podcasting rule # 3: Use simple, colourful language, that non-experts will easily understand

Finally, have some sympathy with your audience. The spoken word is different from the written word. Try to filter your language so that it is easy to understand even for a non-expert. If you can manage this for 15 to 30 minutes, it is actually excellent practice for the shorter, more constrained discipline of traditional broadcast media interviews. Podcasts are not only a great communications tool for organisations, they are also an opportunity for spokespeople to find their voice and sharpen their stories before telling them more widely.

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