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  1. Podcasts: the future of storytelling

    A man speaking in to a microphone

    If someone told you there was a way to tell stories that didn’t mean squeezing everything into two minutes, was possible to produce on a low budget and that would result in more than half your audience researching more about what they’d learnt, would you be interested in knowing what that was? I assume your answer is yes.

    These are just some of the things I learnt at the launch of the International Broadcasting Trust’s new report, Podcasts: where next? recently. I think we’ve all been to events where we come out with a freshly clear inbox and a report that eventually finds its way into the recycling. This is not one of them and I would really encourage any charity storyteller, regardless of whether you work for an international organisation, to read this report because it is packed full of really fascinating insight and practical advice that is transferable to any sector.

    The panel event, hosted by Channel 4 and chaired by Krishnam Guru-Murthy, was a rich, varied and at times funny conversation. Here are my top ten takeaways:

    The Market is booming

    In 2019 one in eight adults listened to a podcast at least once a week, double the number just five years earlier. But the stat that blew my mind is that in the 15-24 age group podcast downloads surpassed music downloads for the first time in 2019. For charities desperately trying to reach younger audiences this is massive news.

    They’re the most engaged audiences in town

    68% of audiences listen to the entire episode they’ve downloaded and with 91% listening alone you really do have a captive audience. Beyond that 67% of listeners go on to discuss a topic with family and friends and 52% will research more about the topic.

    Longer is better

    In an era when a three minute film is the ‘long’ version and an in-depth written story tops out at about 500 words, podcasts are almost inconceivably luxurious in the opportunity they offer. But 20 minutes is seen as the best digestible length.

    You can get your nuance on…

    The longer length means you can explore an issue or a story in more length, unpicking back stories and discussing the complexities of an issue. People who listen to podcasts are an interested audience who are actively seeking information so give it to them.

    …but you can’t be boring

    Actively seeking information is not an invitation to be lectured to. Podcasts are still entertainment so find creative ways to broach your issues. One of the panellists was from Institute of Development Studies and their podcast is called Between the Lines and follows the book group model, centring each episode’s discussion on a different book.

    You need to ditch your talking heads

    Podcasts are not the place for clipped rehearsed soundbites. We’ve all turned off the radio when a slick overly trained spokesperson is spouting key messages and that’s just a one minute interview. Podcasts are intimate experiences and need engaging authentic voices who will talk freely.

    Podcasts are good for sex

    A comment that got a ripple of laughter from the audience, but the point was serious; podcasts allow you to liberate issues and conversations that may not work for radio or the TV sofa shows.

    Commitment is needed

    Chucking out one podcast and expecting it to be a success is not going to work. Commitment and consistency is needed and you need to invest time in discoverability. Whether you go for an interview, roundtable discussion or narrative format, it will take time to grow your audience so you need to commit to a series or a regular pattern of new episodes.

    Content is evergreen

    Although it will take time to build your audience old episodes will always be there (if you want them to be) and so as and when you capture new audiences they will rummage around in your archives.

    They are not expensive

    Podcasts do not need to be big budget endeavours. Taking your audiences to communities and countries they may not otherwise visit is an opportunity but it is not the only way. With the right voices you can produce perfectly good podcasts in a quiet room and with a good quality microphone.

    These are just some of my takeaways but the report is full of lots more interesting insight plus advice on hosting platforms and how to pitch stories to existing podcast. Do have a read.

    This blog first appeared on the The International Broadcasting Trust‘s website, read it here.

    The International Broadcasting Trust works with the media to ensure that UK audiences remain engaged with global issues. They are an educational charity with over 40 members including most of the main aid and development, environment and human rights organisations.

    If you would like training in sound recording and editing or would like advice on setting up a podcast do get in touch.

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