More and more organizations are interested in developing informal learning channels for their employees, and Podcasts can be an inexpensive way to provide high-quality information for both on-site and mobile audiences. As is true of other media, however, user expectations for Podcasts revolve around other concerns. Here are five tips that can help you meet users’ expectations and build a more engaging Podcast.
Keep it conversational
Some beginners and corporate Podcasters try to create a program with a single speaker reading from a script or speaking off-the-cuff on a topic. Charismatic and engaging speakers may be able to carry an entire Podcast on their own, but such speakers are rare. It’s easier for speakers, and more engaging for listeners, to create a format that requires exchanges of information.
There is one caveat to this recommendation. When selecting participants for an audio Podcast, it’s important to remember that listeners won’t be able to see the speakers, and may have difficulty distinguishing between them if their voices are similar. Choosing speakers of different genders, or remembering to use one another’s names frequently makes it easier for a listener to follow the thread of the conversation.
If a user can’t subscribe to it, it isn’t a Podcast
Worse, it becomes less usable. Much of the power of a Podcast comes from the fact that you push the content to a location convenient for the user. It’s true that users can play and download an audio file that that isn’t offered in an RSS feed, but even listeners who had a positive experience might not remember to look for the content a second time. No matter how interesting and exciting your content is, if a user has to remember to search for it, they’re less likely to access it.
A corollary to consider is that you should update content offered as an RSS feed frequently; once a month at a bare minimum. If a feed looks dead, users unsubscribe, and they probably won’t look for it again without prompting.
Choose a theme for the Podcast
No, not music, although you can use it if you like. Like their counterparts in formal learning situations, Podcast listeners like to have some idea of what to expect from a Podcast before they listen. Establishing a theme for the series can help the users determine what’s in it for them.
Choosing a particular program format can help as well. A Podcast of a roundtable discussion with a panel of experts, or a conversation between a host and a subject matter expert, is very effective when covering hot topics. You can facilitate language learning with a series of short conversations in the target language, followed by opportunities for learners to practice words or answer practice questions.
Once you’ve settled on a format, stick with it. The more users understand what to expect beforehand, the easier it is for them to focus on the substance, rather than the style of the Podcast.
Soft-skills topics work especially well
Because listeners tend to listen on the go, Podcasts aren’t the ideal format for highly detailed technical information. Soft-skills topics, on the other hand, can be especially memorable when presented in Podcast form.
One way to attack a program on soft skills is to start with a story or a dialog that illustrates the problem you want to address, maybe something like telephone skills. After you have established the example, it can become a touch point for the rest of the program. Best practices hold more weight when they can be evaluated against an example or counter-example.
Choose a set amount of time for the Podcast
A Podcast doesn’t have to be long to be effective. In fact, you can cover most topics thoroughly enough for a casual audience within 15 minutes, and you can consider most informal learners a casual audience. Because Podcasts are in a series, each following program in the series offers the opportunity to cover material that was covered incompletely or left unexplored. As you begin to collect feedback from the listeners, you’ll be able to gauge whether your series is meeting their expectations, and adjust accordingly.
A final thought
Although the design of most of the communications channels we use every day was not as instructional technologies, they all offer opportunities for incidental and informal learning, Podcasts included. Keeping your Podcast consistent with users’ expectations helps ensure that your content will reach its intended audience.