June 2021
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TD Magazine

Mic Check

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Could podcasts be the next big thing for employee development?

Podcasts have reached a point of general familiarity in popular culture. They pop up in movies and TV, and you probably hear them referenced in many conversations. In fact, Apple Podcasts has more than 1 million active podcasts, and The Infinite Dial 2020 report reveals that 55 percent of Americans have listened to a podcast, and more than 100 million Americans listen to at least one podcast each month.

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You may even be one of those listeners. But has it occurred to you how podcasts could relate to talent development?

Organizational benefits

Companies can use podcasts in numerous ways, including:

  • Sales enablement
  • Onboarding
  • Microlearning
  • CEO updates or leadership fireside chats
  • Team, product, or service updates
  • Employee or customer interviews and stories
  • Role plays
  • Leadership development
  • Stories from leaders or different departments that give employees a sense of the larger organization, rationale for decisions, and company direction
  • Just-in-time updates for fast-paced industries
  • Preparation for a training session or a reinforcement or companion piece to an e-learning course or in-person training
  • Interviews with experts in the field (internal and external partners or vendors) and TED Talk-like communications on key areas
  • Replays of meetings, webinars, and other existing content (or taking select pieces to reinforce key learnings)

Podcasts for internal communications, training, and leadership development are paralleling general podcasts in growth for many reasons.

Efficiency. Podcasts are easy to consume anytime and anywhere. Additionally, they can be easy to create and distribute. Thus, companies can be nimble with timely updates and keep everyone connected—without added inconvenience, scheduling issues, or long production cycles. Podcasts can enable employees to use time more effectively, always having various learning opportunities at hand.

Effectiveness. When people read text, they only decode about 7 percent of meaning. That increases to 38 percent when listening. So, switching a piece of content from an email or a written guide to a podcast could lead to 500 percent better understanding.

In addition, data from podcast advertising studies show high retention and high action resulting from what people hear in podcasts. Combining mediums—that is, using podcasts to reinforce or work hand in hand with other modalities or enhancing programs with unique pieces of audio content—can have an even greater impact on results.

Increased engagement and appeal. Audio is an intimate form of communication. Podcasts can use storytelling principles and conversations to reach a variety of employee development goals. Listening to a podcast can give learners' eyes a break—and enable learners to bypass Zoom fatigue—while their brains take in knowledge.

Given the popularity of podcasts, this medium can be quite attractive to learners. When employees prefer a particular medium, that alone is reason to investigate the option. When it's appealing, they're more likely to use it and be engaged.

Accessibility. Listeners can consume podcasts on demand and on the go, making them an especially convenient medium for communications, training, leadership, and more. Podcasts enable learners to get content they need at their fingertips, so it's always there when they need it. If employees spend a lot of time on the road, podcasts are a must-have for your organization.

Use case 1: On-demand sales training

Software company VMware creates podcasts to enable distributed employees who are often traveling to listen to vital training information and technical updates on their schedule. As Marty Boyzuck, director of enablement technology architecture and design, explains in an interview for the Podbean Blog, VMware found that its learning management system and other communications tools didn't have a good offline playback experience. Now, "everyone loads up some podcasts to have available for their plane ride" or wherever they may be.

The motivating factor was that the company couldn't deliver what teams needed in any other way. It also knew that employees enjoyed podcasts.

After a successful initial pilot podcast, VMware has grown to having more than 10 podcast channels divided by audience, with topics ranging from product updates to interviews with executives and employees sharing knowledge.

Approximately 60 percent of the episodes involve communications and development, and 40 percent are required training. The podcasts integrate with the LMS, and many of them connect with a corresponding learning course.

The different departments that have podcast channels primarily take responsibility for content development and creation. Several of the channel administrators were self-professed "podcast geeks" who taught themselves editing and best practices. They also use existing tools such as Zoom and Captivate to make it easy to create podcasts.

Additionally, VMware has been able to leverage internal talent, with employee subject matter experts creating podcasts for training their peers. The company has found that "the key is finding the passionate amateur" and enabling them with some equipment and budget. Boyzuck says that has made a big difference in building the podcast culture and keeping it going.

Use case 2: The power of stories

Consulting firm Slalom knew podcasts would be the perfect medium to convey success stories and carry the company's people-first culture forward. "We were looking for a way to connect all of our teams, share our stories, our impact, in our own voices," says marketing manager Vimal Parker in a podcast interview for the Podbean Blog. "But ultimately, we wanted to connect our people and share our knowledge. But the whole thing about it was that we wanted it to be personal."

The firm produces multiple podcasts covering strategy and culture, organizational effectiveness, customer engagement and experience stories, and tech stories focused on key areas (for example, data architecture and machine learning).

"We have a ton of different channels, or I guess you could call them flavors, of stories," Parker explains. "For example, we have something that's called Wins to Know. It's a channel where we share all of our recent wins across the company. We work with our account leads to share how we partner with our clients to solve their biggest and hairiest challenges." Among the other podcast content is a leadership series where Slalom shares company strategy, and the Raising Your Voice channel focuses on topics related to diversity and inclusion.

To develop its podcasts, the firm has a storytelling team that collaborates on stories that would make for a great episode. The team meets to discuss ideas, has an exploratory conversation or preinterview with the individual or teams behind a particular story, and develops questions and an outline for the episode.

"We don't want to overscript, but we also don't want anyone coming in wide open saying, ‘Oh yeah let's just do it on the fly,'" Parker says. "Maybe just a little bit of a script—so we have some questions we kind of narrow it down to … and the questions are relevant to their stories."

Use case 3: Role plays at employees' fingertips

Several companies create role-play podcasts either for sales or customer support. They are ideal for listening to, modeling, and gaining ideas for how to handle different customer scenarios, objections, and common scenarios. What's been especially useful is that employees can listen to the podcasts repeatedly or reference them when they're running into difficulty. It's a valuable resource for them to turn to and ideal for what are primarily verbal interactions.

Organizations can take different approaches. One is that the learning team creates fully scripted role plays and either acts them out themselves or recruits different employees to play the roles. Another is to record an in-person or virtual training program in which participants role-play. Sometimes the sales or support team managers do such podcasts on a more casual basis and record role plays around specific situations their teams are encountering.

Creating a successful podcasting program

If you want to get started developing a podcast, first consider how it will benefit your company and employees. Then develop a content plan. Determine what you want the podcast to be about and how you plan to meet talent development goals with it. That may mean outlining episodes for one pilot series (a pilot program is one of the best ways to demonstrate the value without a huge commitment) or creating an editorial calendar for the podcasts for the year. Many times, this will be part of your overall employee development content plan so you can determine where to strategically use podcasts.

Next, identify who needs to be involved in planning and decision making. Get key stakeholders involved early. Involve IT, purchasing, and others who may need to ensure technology meets certain criteria. Identify podcast champions in the organization.

Consider the format you will use. Formats may include interviews, solo talks, stories, role plays, microcasts (five- to 10-minute learnings, for example), a cohosted discussion, or a leadership fireside chat. Tailor the format to what you want to convey. Remember that in many cases, a conversation between two or more people rather than one voice keeps things engaging. One-person talks can work, but they tend to do better if short or highly focused (think of something like a TED Talk, which is engaging).

The content will be based on your goals. Don't forget there may be opportunities to repurpose content or use it to reinforce or connect to other learning modalities.

The format and content will also drive decisions such as how often you publish episodes and their length. A common adage in podcasting is that a podcast should be "as long as it needs to be." In a business setting, keeping podcasts digestible works best.

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You can release an ongoing podcast on a consistent basis to set expectations, such as a weekly team update. But podcasts also work well for releasing an entire series on a topic. There is no one way to podcast. Like any development tool, it's all about making it work for the need.

With the content and format established, next consider the necessary equipment and technology. The process can be as simple as recording from a mobile phone; however, most times you will want to invest in (or repurpose) a microphone and headphones and some basic editing software. You can also record a Zoom call and convert it into a podcast episode.

A podcast hosting platform designed for businesses has all the built-in capabilities you'll need to deliver podcasts securely and conveniently to employees. Do a demo or trial of any platform you're considering to get a feel for the user experience and what tools the platform offers that can save you time. Understand how the vendor keeps your content secure. Does the platform offer single-sign-on integration, an attractive app, collaboration tools, detailed listening analytics?

To determine who will handle the different aspects of podcast production, look at roles and responsibilities and how to use internal strengths to produce the best podcasts most efficiently. For example, who will develop the content plan? Companies often create them collaboratively among the learning team or a group from the department the podcast focuses on or executives (or a combination). Other duties will include scheduling interviews, recording, editing when needed, uploading content, and promoting.

You may have a lot of the knowledge and talent needed to create podcasts already within your organization. For example, if you have an audio/video team or employees who produce multimedia content, they typically have the necessary editing skills. Additionally, consider outsourcing. For instance, you can hire a producer to edit or even do full-service planning and production. Some companies hire voice talent to host their podcasts or record an intro.

After you've developed your podcast episodes, you'll need a communications plan. Don't neglect to promote and build excitement around the new podcast.

Make adjustments as you go

Understand how to track podcast results and measure return on investment. What do you want to measure to determine how your podcast is meeting your goals? When and how will you track success? It is also important to understand a bit about podcast analytics.

If the podcast isn't achieving the results you had hoped for, ask:

  • How does the podcast make work life easier for the employee or provide something unique?
  • Are the podcasts segmented to the proper teams in the company?
  • How concise and focused is the content delivery?

Get feedback from employees who are listening. Ask teams what they need and how they prefer the podcast content to be delivered. Look at your listener engagement intel to analyze patterns and make adjustments. Perhaps listeners are skipping certain segments or dropping off at a certain time. That can tell you a lot about how to make content more appealing.

Remember that you can always create more content around a specific topic, so shorter, more targeted episodes may lead to deeper podcast engagement. Always put yourself "in the ears" of the listeners. What content will help them? How can you use storytelling or create a flow to make the content interesting?

Even though your company's content may be quite different, listen to a variety of podcasts to get ideas. You may want to borrow certain elements, such as having a standard intro and outro. Another element many people enjoy is incorporating a fun or standard question or set of questions in interview podcasts. Listening to established podcasts will help you get a feel for what works and what doesn't.

Your employees probably already enjoy podcasts and use them to learn. However, that's just one reason to consider internal podcasts. They offer unique benefits and can solve an array of talent development needs.


Get the Word Out

How are you creating excitement about the podcast? In what ways are you promoting it as part of your overall communications strategy? Are employees aware and shown how simple it is to get the content? Do they know why the podcast will be useful to them and save them time? Here are some methods companies have used to promote their podcast and make it accessible to employees.

Ensure that push notifications are enabled on employees' mobile devices. Many companies share podcasts via internal emails with a link to the episodes. Also, take advantage of scannable QR codes that will take employees right to the latest podcast episode.

Integrate the podcast into employees' workflow and your overall development plan. Podcasts work well to reinforce other learning opportunities and vice versa. Offer incentives based around listening and sharing news about the podcast. Don't be afraid to get creative. Getting employees involved in making episodes or being interviewed helps build word of mouth.

About the Author

Shannon Martin has been working in marketing and communications for over 15 years, helping businesses communicate their messages and build community. She is Podbean’s director of communications, serving as a liaison to Podbean’s podcaster community. Shannon has extensive experience in blogging, digital marketing, writing, editing, and public relations. When she's not connected to the keyboard, Shannon's likely off exploring some new destination or taking a long walk in the company of a favorite podcast.

1 Comment
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Missing is perhaps the #1 consideration: who has the speaking skills that are needed to engage listeners? Yes, develop a content plan, consider format, identify who needs to be involved...but none of that matters if the speakers are weak. Many podcasts are turned off well before they finish. If you put yourself "in the ears of the listeners," you discover that lots of amateur podcasts are boring. Related: https://ownanyoccasion.com/video-instruction/
Yes, very important! Luckily, most organizations have that talent especially in the people who create/run trainings, voiceovers, etc. Creating engaging content is vital, and we love to share tips to help. When done well, voice brings the power of tone and emotion to more deeply resonate and stick.
We have a Linkedin group to discuss this type of stuff, share resources and ideas, and we'd love to have you join us there and share your thoughts: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/13872219/
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