Why You Should Consider Podcasting for Your Corporate Training
The explosive growth in long form podcast listening was years in the making. I was at the gym one day in November 2014 when I realized the breakthrough had happened.
As I walked among the rows of cardio machines, seeking an available treadmill, no one was watching their built-in TV. Each cardio exerciser wore earbuds, leading to a phone, which displayed a large S in a black square. All down the row, treadmill after treadmill, S after S after S.
Everyone was listening to the murder mystery / true crime podcast, Serial.
Starting in October 2014, Serial created a sensation, quickly escalating to two million downloads per episode. Episodes from Serial have been downloaded 340 million times, establishing an ongoing world record.
When I hosted my first podcast back in 2006, it seemed only high tech professionals and music hipsters listened to podcasts. But with Serial, podcasting finally broke through from the technorati to the mainstream.
What Do You Mean by “Podcasting”?
Technically, a podcast is audio or video content that people can subscribe to, distributed over the Internet. Here, I’m using “podcasting” sloppily, in the way most people mean it: as audio content that extends across multiple related episodes, consumed via mobile device.
Thus, by definition, a single audio file cannot be a podcast. When you think “podcast,” think episodes.
Seriously? People Listen to Podcasts?
Yep. In the four years since Serial debuted, the amount of US podcast listeners has nearly doubled, from 12% of the population to 24% today .The listening audience skews young, with 28% aged 18 – 34 (Gen Z, Millennials) and another 31% aged 35-54 (Millennials, Gen X, Boomers) .
About two-thirds of podcast listeners just began listening in the past three years making podcasts a growth medium. And Forbes describes the growth of podcasting as “limitless,” in part because it’s getting progressively easier to listen. Most new cars have interfaces to facilitate podcast downloads. Podcasts can now play from Apple watches.
Audience numbers for radio are down. Big gorilla advertisers such as Pepsi, Starbucks, Google, and Microsoft have increased their spending on podcast ads. Follow the money!
But What Do Podcasts Have to Do with Learning?
Simple: podcast listeners want to learn.
Research commissioned by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) asked active podcast listeners, “Why do you listen?” Uniquely among all other media, the number one answer (71% of respondents) was, “To learn, be entertained.” No other medium – news, videos, music, social media – drove that answer to the top.
Further, despite the fact that the average podcast length hits 45 minutes, 85% of people who listen to podcasts listen to the end .
Let that sink in for a moment. Why are we tap-dancing ourselves silly tempting audiences to finish a five-minute video, if most of them will gladly listen to us for almost an hour?
If you address a younger audience or a female audience, you really need to consider podcasting. A study by Westwood One found that:
- The overall podcast audience has been 55% men / 45% women, but the women slice is growing faster. Average listening time for women grew from 4.6 hours per week in 2017, to 5.5 hours per week in 2018.
- Heavy female podcast listeners are young (66% Millennials), upscale (74% earn more than 75K per year), and married with children (72%).
- Time spent listening to podcasts, between July 2017 and July 2018, grew in every demographic except Baby Boomers (aged 50+).
To most Millennials, podcasting is mainstream. Radio and broadcast TV are fading legacy media.
How Do Podcasts Fit into My Training Curriculum?
Audio podcasts are typically informal, and have no set length. How might that mix into your courseware?
If your new hires typically ask the same few questions, record the answers as one podcast file each at a “snackable” length. New employees can listen to them on their new commute.
Got a sprawling sales line full of products? Field sales people can cram on features, benefits, and answers to objections by listening about a specific product on the drive to their sales call.
Do your instructor-led classes have breakout sessions, where some students finish assignments much faster than others? Have the over-achievers slip in earbuds and keep learning while the others finish up.
Most obviously, you can repurpose the audio content you have. Got click-through eLearning courses, heavy on text and voiceover? If they’re lacking a strong visual component, they’re practically audio content already. Split your audio-video files into audio only, and distribute.
These are just quick examples. The possibilities abound.
Wow! How Do I Start Making Podcasts?
Technical details on how to record and publish podcasts fall outside the scope of this blog, however, here are a couple of helpful resources:
- Producing Professional Podcasts, by Rich Harrington on LinkedIn Learning
- How to Start Your Own Podcast, on Lifehacker – very low-budget, DIY.
How Do I Write for a Medium if I’m New to It?
Apple confirmed at the June 2018 WWDC that there are 550,000 podcasts, so you have plenty of podcasting role models.
You will mostly learn by doing, but here are practical hints:
- Treat your podcast like a magazine, with short recurring segments subdividing each episode; nobody wants one long boring ramble.
- Choosing guests? Don’t book big shots unless they are actually interesting; instead, tap the most charismatic, best explainers in your org.
- Use stock music liberally for color and verve.
- However long your first episode runs, trim it by 20% so it is all killer, no filler.
- Writing for courseware, as opposed to a stand-alone show? It’s okay to cover only one idea per audio file. “When in doubt, cut it out.”
Try these exemplary podcasts:
- Reply All. A Millennial take on technology and Internet culture, driven by excellent reporting and storytelling. Favorite segments: “Super Tech Support” and “Yes Yes No.”
- Pop Culture Happy Hour. NPR critics host a lively, exemplary approach to making the “panel discussion” format work.
- WTF with Marc Maron. From his garage, comedian Maron chats with everyone from Joan Jett to President Barack Obama in a virtuoso display of long-form, in-depth interviewing.
- Radiolab. This pioneering popular science podcast thoroughly explores the sonic potential of the medium.
And lest we forget…Dell’s podcast:
Trailblazers. Noted biographer Walter Isaacson hosts this examination of how technology that is disruptive may also be uplifting.
Using addictive storytelling power to debate whether a high school student strangled his 18-year-old girlfriend, Serial kicked off an era when your students consume audio content every week. Since most podcasts listeners are Millennials, and podcast-savvy Gen Z is rushing up right behind them, it’s time to figure out where audio content fits in your corporate training mix. Would you ever release training as a podcast? Do you use audio content now to enrich current courseware? What else are you doing to make your training more mobile-friendly and appealing to younger workers?
I look forward to seeing your comments and would love to learn of your favorite podcasts.
Figure 1: Edison Research
Figure 2: Westwood One