Personal POV from the Podcasting Panel

by David A. Kosub

In October, I joined a group of talented federal podcast producers in a panel discussion. Over eighty people attended in person, and a hundred online, to hear from Matt Dozier from Energy’s Direct Current, Ana-Maria Sinitean and Christopher Wurst from State’s 22.33, Tanner Iskra from VA’s Borne the Battle, and me from NIH’s All About Grants.

Below are seven takeaways from my point-of-view. Together with the seven tips I blogged about last year, these pointers are designed to support your podcasting journey.

  1. Podcasts Take Work: It should not come as a surprise, but like everything else, a good podcast will take blood, sweat, and tears. You will need to devote time to obtaining buy-in from leadership on your concept, devise content, identify guests, draft scripts, set up the physical podcast space, edit material, search for music in the public domain, obtain internal Agency review, publish your podcast, and advertise. It is crazy to think that much of this is done with little to no budget too.
  2. Studios are in the Eye of the Beholder: A podcast can be recorded just about anywhere. The best part is you do not need fancy, expensive equipment to do it. Much of Borne the Battle, as an example, takes place in the basement of the host’s in-laws’ house. 22.33 is recorded in a small, non-ventilated nook in the bowels of the state Department. For me, I ask “Is Conference Room A available? It is? Great! I’ll take it!”  Some locations are perfect, others not-so-much. For instance, if that pesky HVAC system is too loud, then you may need to find a real world solution on the fly (a sock over the mic to muffle ambient noise could be the ticket!). The important part is to remain flexible, think outside the box to problem solve, and roll with the punches.
  3. What’s Your Style: Generally podcasts follow two formats – narrative or interview. Voice and style are dependent on the purpose the podcast serves. My fellow panelists opt for the narrative style. This allows them to eloquently tell a person’s story using a longer format – candid stories with U.S. veterans, dodging neutrinos in an underground lab, musical stylings coming from the Little Nook, Conversely, All About Grants provides a streamlined, stripped-down approach that showcases 1:1 interviews about a wonky policy topic that’s vital to the federal grants process. For those just getting started, focus on identifying your goal, listen to other podcasts on related topics, and see what works best for your unique needs.
  4. Pet Peeves: Smacking lip sounds, overly breathy P’s and T’s, clanking jewelry, jingly ID badge holders, that ever-present HVAC, paper flipping, frequent “ums” and “uhs”, and noisy shoes coming down the hall can drive us nuts as podcasters and audiences. What do they have in common? They are all picked up on the mic, distracting from the message. The good thing is these pet peeves are all addressable with a little creative problem solving, self-awareness, and practice.
  5. Analytics: Full disclosure, I am a data dork and love numbers, even more so when those numbers help tell the story. Though when it comes to podcasts and analytics, much is still left to be desired. My colleagues on the panel and I recognized it was difficult to get our hands on good, usable data for listens, subscribers, time played, interest, web hits, content, and other related items. Platforms like iTunes may give you insights into the number of plays, but may not provide information about subscribers. Proxy measures, such as page hits on related topics, provide a glimpse into content if your show supplements information published elsewhere online. It’s best to consider building in analytic functions from the get-go if you want the most usable and actionable data possible. A word of caution – do your homework and don’t rely on analytics too much. Analytics and the methods to assess effectiveness are still in their infancy.
  6. The Juice is Worth the Squeeze: When all is said and done, podcasting can be really worthwhile. We are seeing a return on our investment with increased coverage in unexpected ways – famous people tweet about your show, occasional need to put exceptional guests on wait lists, releasing bonus material after your fans come through, or being picked up by the press.

I’d like to leave you with 3 Dos and a Don’t of podcasting:

  • Do consider timing: will it be a series dropped all at once? Limited run? Continuous from this point forward? Frequency of episodes?
  • Do be innovative with ideas, concepts, and stories.
  • Do in-person recordings whenever possible, staying away from Skype or phone calls as sound quality suffers.
  • Don’t go overboard with equipment. Standard mics under $100 and free editing software abound which work exceptionally well for most needs.

If you are considering podcasting to help your agency tell its story, we are all willing to give you some pointers along the way! Feel free to send me an email anytime.

Editor’s Note: Did you miss the podcasting event? You can watch it here.

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.