Zero to Podcast: Turning Your Research into an Audio Programme

In her second blog post, Kira Allman offers advice on turning your research into an engaging podcast.

If you’re increasingly convinced that podcasting is a great tool for public engagement, you might be contemplating how to get started. Translating academic research into an audio programme may initially seem daunting, but the process is really only a variation on skills that many researchers are already exercising in the form of conference presentations, lectures, and seminars. Like any formal talk, podcasting is most effective when it is well planned, which means making key decisions about audience, format, and theme.

Audience.

Knowing your audience is perhaps the most important preparatory step in creating your podcast. Start by asking: who will be listening? Not only will your audience affect how you present information, but it might also influence what you choose to talk about. Academic podcasting may have many different target listeners: academics in your field, academics in other disciplines, the general public, school children, policy makers, etc.

The tone of a podcast will differ greatly depending on who will be tuning in. This TORCH post is part of a series on podcasting, informed by my own experience developing the RightsUp podcast for the Oxford Human Rights Hub. We wanted RightsUp to be a programme on human rights for informed and interested non-experts as well as policy makers and other academics. As we learned, structuring a podcast for non-experts requires including more context, more explanation, and more signposting throughout an episode than you would for an audience of academic colleagues.

Most importantly, remember that your audience is listening to your programme. In the absence of visual aids, podcasts benefit tremendously from repetition and simple sentence structure. Multi-clausal sentences may work well on paper, but they are difficult to follow in an aural format. Clear transitions from one segment or topic to another and repeated themes provide indispensible guiding auditory markers for listeners to follow.

Format.

There are countless ways to structure a podcast, and the best method for deciding which format is most appealing to you and the subject you’re covering is to listen to a few successful podcasts of all flavors and varieties. Fundamentally, podcasts break down broadly into scripted and unscripted formats.

In scripted podcasts, the entirety of the audio content that will be recorded has been pre-written ahead of time. Scripted podcasts may take an interview-based narrative form, or they may take the form of a single-author essay. Unscripted podcasts, on the other hand, are generally more free flowing and conversational and often involve live commentary from a few individuals or panelists. Scripted or unscripted, podcasts universally require planning and editing.

You can hit the ground running quickly with podcasting by using the structure of an existing lecture series or conference as the format of your podcast. Simply record a public talk, acquire the appropriate permissions, edit it for sound quality, and post it online. iTunesU arguably made its name doing just that, and it’s a powerful way to give people access to university talks.

Theme.

The theme is the glue that holds your podcast series together. If you are producing a single podcast episode, think of the theme as the thesis statement of your episode – it is the reason that listeners will want to tune in.

If you are producing a series of podcasts, the theme is the source of inspiration for each specific episode topic, which may vary widely. Framing your theme is crucial in attracting and hooking a wide audience. This framing may take the form of a catchy title or an intriguing tagline, but the goal is to retain a loyal audience of subscribers who will listen to more than one episode, even if they are unfamiliar with certain episode topics.

Spending time thinking about audience, format, and theme at the beginning of your podcasting project will pay off later in the concept development and production stages. It will set the course for your audio programme and provide the guiding principles that you can return to as you work on individual episodes.

kira-squareKira Allman is a DPhil candidate in Oriental Studies and co-produced a podcast series called RightsUp funded by the AHRC-TORCH Graduate Fund. See here for here first post on this blog: ‘Podcasting for Public Engagement: Why Podcast?’

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