by David Kosub
We, as ever vigilant federal communicators, always have the “message” in mind and the best way to relay it to the public. From hundred-page reports to animated videos—all which can be boiled down to a punchy social media post—many communication paths exist to strike the right message. A little over six months ago, I traveled down one of these paths, an audio one, as a new host of the NIH’s long-running All About Grants podcast. Recognizing that others may be interested in podcasting too, I wanted to share some lessons learned during my short journey that may help you take those first steps.
- Stay on Message: Our podcast series intends to help applicants and awardees understand the NIH grants process from start to finish. This nuts-and-bolts approach means we keep it simple and straightforward for each podcast, essentially what the community needs to know. Podcasts can come in many flavors different than our preferred approach though, such as serving as a venue to wax poetic or a point-counterpoint on a subject. But, even with those broader styles, which usually last longer than our 10-minute target, it is still critical to remain on message to benefit the listener.
- Know Your Guest: The series is structured in a traditional question and answer format, allowing us to quickly and thoroughly get right to the heart of an issue. To do this effectively, we must understand the style, personality, and comfort-level for each guest invited to the party. For instance, some people are natural-born orators, others may be more reserved or introverted, while some tend to be more verbose than succinct. But, they all have a passion for their work in common. You have to help them bring that out in a clear and concise way. I recommend simply spending some time with the guest to ask about their preferred style and then determine how best to weave it into the discussion.
- To Script or not To Script: That is a case-by-case question. We work with our guests in advance to hammer out the feel of the discussion and recognize the most important points to hit. However, I lean towards not using a script when possible. Not using a script helps create more of conversational flow while limiting the potential for fumbling over written words and sounding too bureaucratic. We recognize, however, that scripting may be crucial for sensitive topics, such as those requiring legal review, to prevent any inadvertent miscommunications. Further, if your guest would prefer a script, then go with it!
- Speak Like a Human, not a Robot: Everybody recognizes that a polished product is the goal for any public communications piece (heck, at least four people reviewed this post). Podcasts are a great opportunity, however, to hear from an actual human, not a static document. So, it is ok to say “um” occasionally, use more familiar common-sense terms, accidentally say something in the passive voice, and dramatically emphasize a word or two.
- Be Active:Yes, your community is the target audience, but the host must also listen during the conversation. Active listening allows you to key in on specific points the guest is making and then bring those points into your next comment. When done well, the flow of the message will appear seamless, so keep exercising those ear muscles.
- Your voice will not sound like it does in your head: For the longest time, I thought I sounded like a younger, cooler Matthew McConaughey. Alas, once I came to terms with this inconsistency, I soon appreciated that hearing diverse voices, no matter how they may sound, is a benefit for podcasts over the written word. If your guests have reservations, reassure them that when they speak confidently and clearly into the microphone, their unique voices will be a dynamic addition to the conversation complementing the message.
- We Are Family: Many people produce an informative podcast. Along with the guests and host, behind-the-scenes staff help with concept development, recording, post-production editing, transcribing, publishing, and announcing to the community. It is important to listen to their advice and thank them profusely for their hard work.
I hope these simple steps will help you start along the podcast path too. And, as I continue, thoughts from more experienced travelers are welcomed to help our series evolve. This has been David Kosub with NIH’s All About Grants.
David A. Kosub is an eleven-year veteran at the NIH who is strongly committed to achieving the mission of his agency. He has served in many diverse policy-oriented roles across the NIH Office of the Director and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In his current position with the NIH Office of Extramural Research, he analyzes and interprets legislation impacting the grantee community (such as that stemming from the 21st Century Cures Act and appropriations language), responds to a wide array of comments and questions from the public, distills intricate and detailed policy guidance into clear and comprehensive written materials (like the NIH Open Mike blog), and interviews subject-matter experts for the next All About Grants podcast to further share useful information to our applicants and awardees. In addition to his drive to help researchers unlock the mysteries of “all things NIH grants”, David is passionate about using administrative data to better inform decisions at NIH, which will inevitably affect the wider extramural research community. Prior to these communications and outreach roles, he focused on planning for, evaluating, reporting on, and coordinating trans-NIH research priorities, particularly those addressing infectious diseases. He earned his doctorate in Immunology from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas in 2007. This research experience, which involved exploring how HIV disease progression adversely alters the innate immune system over time, strengthened his passion for biomedical science, and also inspired an interest in how public policy decisions propel research to address health concerns. When David is not deciphering the many NIH grant and research policies out there, you can find him pounding pavement across the District of Columbia while training for his next marathon somewhere around the world.