Digital Communication: How to grab them by the ears

You don't have to have worked for the BBC to create great podcasts for your organisation, says Jude Habib. There are a number of simple steps you can take to help put you in a similar league.

If Channel 4's Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer were podcasters, their mantra wouldn't be "Location, Location, Location" but "Content, Content, Content". The biggest challenge for would-be podcasters is getting the content right. And the worst crime is to be boring.

If you succeed, people will subscribe, continue to listen, tell their friends and take action. But it's not as simple as just picking up a microphone. Thousands of podcasts are jostling for position out there, so how can you get yours to stand out from the crowd? Here are five things to do before you start.

1. Get listening

Get an idea of different formats and styles by downloading or subscribing to some of the wide range of podcasts available. You'll soon get a sense of what works and, most crucially, what doesn't. If it's dense, dull or indigestible, you'll switch off pretty quickly.

What elements make audio boring? A voice like a railway station announcer? Endless facts? Badly chosen subject matter? Work out what doesn't work, then think about the ingredients in podcasts you have enjoyed. These should help form the recipe for your own project.

To give you some ideas, try listening to podcasts produced by Medecins Sans Frontieres, the RSPB, Cancer Research UK and the Blue Cross.

2. Contemplate your message

What do you want people to feel after listening to your podcast? More importantly, what do you want them to do after they've listened? Establish your motives early on, and use that as the basis of your podcasting strategy. Personally, I don't think that podcasts should be about asking people for donations. However, I do think they're a great way of raising awareness about a charity and extending the brand.

3. Engage colleagues across the charity

Gather staff from across your organisation to create a steering group. This way you will secure buy-in, and possibly gain some unexpectedly inspired ideas and some new microphone-wielding recruits.

Staff feedback can also help to shape and sharpen your podcast. You could be labouring over the editing process only to discover a colleague already has a secret passion for soundwaves. Let people know what you are doing and encourage them to offer ideas.

4. Compile your listener profile

Try to picture your listeners and think about how best to grab their attention. What are their characteristics? What moves them? Just because you're fascinated by a certain subject doesn't mean your listeners will be too. Brainstorm some 'typical listener' profiles with your team and ask some of your supporters what they'd like to hear.

5. Consider story content

Every charity has stories to tell that will grab people by the ears and won't let go, and the most powerful voices tend to belong to the people those charities serve.

Go to your beneficiaries or service users and tell them that this is their opportunity to be heard. A story told in their own way and using their own words will stand out a mile.

The most powerful content I've ever heard was a short vox pop that was recorded by the service users of a homelessness charity.

SIX TIPS FOR TOP PODCASTS

Presenters: A presenter can make or break your podcast. If you're creating a presenter-led podcast, ensure the style or tone fits the content. Bad presenters will lose your listeners immediately, but good ones will engage with your audience. Try listening to Dr Kat Arney on Cancer Research UK's podcast - she's great.

Music: Music is often too loud or too prevalent in podcasts. Avoid using music as a sticking plaster to cover bad recordings or boring content. Music can set the tone, punctuate the podcast and move the listener between different subject areas, but use it carefully. Remember, also, that there are licensing issues with music: do you have the rights to use it?

Over-recording: Have a clear idea of the questions you want to ask and be confident about when to push the stop button. A typical beginner's mistake is to record hours of material; you won't want it all when you get home. Be brutal. If you want only three minutes of finished product, don't record for more than 15.

Podcast length: My view is that shorter is preferable to longer, but it all depends on your content. Recently a 15-minute podcasted interview with an ex-prisoner kept me rooted to the spot. Ask friends and colleagues how long they would listen in order to get an idea of the right timelines.

Podcast frequency: Don't raise expectations if you can't meet them. Podcasts, like blogs, should be regularly updated to keep them fresh. The key word here is 'regular'. This could be weekly, monthly or bi-monthly. Work out how many hours of work it will take to put out your podcast and decide if it's sustainable.

Promotion: Make sure people can easily find the links to your content. Ensure you have labelled and described your podcast and each episode very clearly. You'll need to promote and market your website, too.

- Jude Habib is creative director of media production and training company sounddelivery.

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