Image: Molly Webster shares one of three types of storyboards used by her team at Radiolab to outline podcast episodes. Credit: Amy Leo.
I’m in a room with over 600 women podcasters. Before us, our heroines in headphones share their craft. I’m taking copious notes to bring home to the podcast series I’m producing for USAID Learning Lab. And I’m noticing that some of the lessons I’m learning transcend podcasting to apply to my broader role as a strategic communications consultant to USAID.
Werk It, a women’s podcasting conference, was launched by WNYC in 2015 to expand women’s voices in podcasting. At the time, research showed that only 20% of all podcasts in the iTunes top 100 chart were hosted by women. Two years later, that number is 33%. WNYC’s mission is to get to 50% by providing opportunities for women to learn new skills and make professional contacts in podcasting.
Completely self-taught, I came to Werk It to learn from the best and meet others who are dipping their toes in this still nascent industry. I’ve distilled my reflections into three key takeaways:
Know (and revisit!) your audience
In the digital age, it’s not enough to design with your intended audience in mind. With the myriad of data collection and communications tools at your disposal, it’s possible (and necessary!) to learn about, and adapt to, the needs of your audience, continuously.
On the high end of the engagement spectrum, Manoush Zomorodi of WNYC’s Note to Self, led listeners through experiments designed to help them reassess their technology habits, unplug, and jump-start their creativity. She asked listeners for feedback on their experience and received thousands of responses via voicemail and email.
In the international development context, USAID calls this cycle of continuous learning collaborating, learning and adapting. It has been shown to help USAID staff and partners achieve better development outcomes, and it can help consultants produce work that meets actual needs. It also makes constituents feel heard, increasing the likelihood that they’ll stick around.
Be direct about what you want, but leave space for others
In the Q&A following Lisa Chow’s session on the art and craft of interviewing, several women asked how to get that compelling sound bite from an interview that is not going as expected. Chow’s universal response was “why don’t you just tell your interviewee what you’re looking for?” As a fangirl of Chow’s reporting on Gimlet Media’s StartUp podcast, I’ve heard the fruit of this direct approach. It also saves time and energy and helps subjects feel more comfortable being interviewed.
On other hand, Chow suggested leaving a beat between a subject’s answer and your next question. Having learned this technique later in her career, she lamented the insights she has missed by not giving subjects the time and space to dig deep within themselves for answers.
In any professional relationship, there’s a time to be direct about what you want, and there’s a time to leave room. For example, agreeing upon key decision points at the outset of a meeting can help participants manage their time effectively. And creating space for silence can draw out deeper reflections, especially from introverts.
Just DO it!
With all creative endeavors, the best way to get started is to just create and iterate. To the many women still swimming in the idea stage of their podcasts, Werk It speakers consistently said “just do it!”
I can attest from my experience with the USAID Learning Lab podcast that iterating is the best way to learn. There’s no manual for podcasting; we’re all still figuring it out.
So, when shipping out into the uncharted waters of podcasting, or any professional endeavor, remember the tools of your trade. Make feedback your guide, and ask for it often. When meeting with others, be direct about your objective, but leave space for the outcome to be different than you anticipate.
I left Werk It feeling equipped and inspired to grow the USAID Learning Lab podcast and strongly encourage professionals to invest in unconventional opportunities to develop their career. You’ll find that in the sea of learning as you go, you’re not alone!