Creating a Research Podcast

Every researcher wants that kind of riveted attention — to present their insights to a completely engaged audience

Have you ever arrived at your destination and sat in your car, unable to leave because you were engrossed in the story you were listening to on the radio?
 
Every researcher wants that kind of riveted attention — to present their insights to a completely engaged audience. A research podcast is one way of achieving it.

Why a podcast?

The main advantages of the podcast format are that it’s both prevalent and lightweight. Stakeholders can easily download your findings and listen during their commutes, workouts, or while hanging out at home. That makes it a much lighter format than a lengthy presentation or a report, each of which might require the reader’s exclusive focus. 
 
Also, because a podcast can present the actual voices of participants, it can be a more powerful tool for inspiring empathy, providing a direct and human connection to the research. The popular engagement with podcasts such as Serial and S-Town is proof that audio storytelling can be just as engrossing, if not more so, than video.

Getting started

Podcasting seemed like a natural avenue for me. As a broadcast journalism major through the first half of college, I learned how to tell stories through sound and voice, and gained a thorough understanding of how powerful audio can be. But that was back in 2009, before podcasting had really taken off. Even having had a bit of preparation, I found the prospect of creating a podcast quite daunting. I hadn’t produced any pieces of audio reporting in seven years.
 
The first podcast I created, about a research study on Instagram, presented several types of challenges. The first were technical, including the painstaking process of time-stamping and cutting participant clips, as well as learning more about how to use the audio software to compile clips. Another challenge was creating the script, making sure to deliver information in bite-size nuggets stakeholders could easily digest.
 
However, my biggest concern was making sure that a podcast was the most effective way to communicate the study’s findings — and that reporting in this way would do full justice to the insights. I’ve since put together a handful of questions designed to help you toward the same goals.

Five key questions to ask

The earlier in the research process you consider whether to use a podcast for reporting, the better. It’s much easier to create a compelling podcast if your methods are tailored toward doing that from the start. 
 
 1. Is this study appropriate for a podcast? (That is, am I talking to participants directly?)
 In-depth interviews, whether performed in person or remotely, lend themselves well to this format, because participants can often communicate things so clearly and capture pain points so uniquely that it’s best to keep not just their own words but also their own voices. Stakeholders get a more complete understanding of participants than they can get through a note or a slide deck.
 
Exploratory research (such as intercepts) and field research can also yield strong podcast material, as they capture the participant and their environment, giving the podcast a real-time feel. Good mics or other means of capturing audio are essential here to record what the participant is saying, and not the background noise. 
 
As a rule, research moments where you can capture clear audio are good opportunities for using the podcast as a shareout format; for example, focus groups (when participants are speaking independently) could present a great opportunity to get multiple user perspectives on a topic.
 
 2. Do I have the bandwidth to invest in preparing and recording a podcast?
Reporting in this method is slightly more time-consuming than preparing a presentation, but it isn’t necessarily the major undertaking you might expect. A big believer in open source software, I used Audacity to join my clips in a podcast, but iMovie and other programs are also effective. I gathered the strong themes from the data, extracted the participant clips, prepared my script, wrote the transcript, and then recorded my parts, and finally mixed the whole thing together. From start to finish, the process took me roughly three hours. I also asked my fellow researchers for feedback. This is where the transcript was very handy, as it allowed them to comment on my discussion and word choices.
 
 3. How will I capture clear audio from my participants?
You don’t need specialized expertise to get good audio clips for podcast use. Keeping a few key tips in mind should suffice:

  • Use good sound equipment (use a mic if possible, and record the sound on a computer or using the voice memos app on iPhone)
  • As much as possible, minimize interruptions and external noise during the interview.
  • If you’re not already adept with Quicktime or a similar app for recording, take the time to learn it.
  • Speak clearly when asking interview questions
  • Test the audio before the interview to make sure you and the participant can both be heard clearly.
  • Make sure your drive has plenty of room for video/audio files, which can get big fast. When in doubt, have a backup handy.
  • During the interview, take careful note of significant timestamps to save time finding clips later.

4. What’s the story I want to tell?
How can I tell it clearly and simply? The demands here are similar to those of a regular shareout: the story needs to be linear and easy to understand even if you’re not familiar with the product, and the quotes need to illustrate important points within the story. Keeping the story simple is key, as you may have a wider audience for your podcast than a traditional shareout because of the format.
 
 5. Should I prepare an additional report?
Though I was skeptical at first, my manager insisted the podcast should stand alone because we wanted people to get the full immersive experience of the research, which was only possible through the podcast. I prepared a transcript of the podcast in case any potential stakeholders were hearing-impaired, but the podcast itself was the report with no additional supplements. However, if the research needs to be communicated for meetings such as product reviews, where people do not have time to listen to the podcast, a short executive summary could be helpful.

Building the story

Podcasts give you a lot of freedom in both length and structure. My personal recommendation is 30 minutes or less, since attention can wane beyond that point. Good research podcasts weave together narrative and participant clips seamlessly. 
 
One way to do this is to structure the podcast by introducing the topic, and then making 1–2 key points, followed by 1–2 participant quotes, and so on. The podcast should flow much like an interview or conversation — the narrator and interviewee take turns speaking. Another important thing to remember (which I learned in broadcast journalism) is to keep sentences short and to the point for maximum clarity. The detail included should be easily digestible to someone without a research background.
 
Some of the considerations I’ve discussed are much the same as with other reporting formats. But podcasting gives you a truly unique opportunity to connect with your stakeholders (as well as a chance to develop a new skill set). After listening to the one I created, one person remarked, “This is really cool and insightful! I loved listening to it!”, which made all the effort worthwhile.

Branching out

Once you have a podcast or two under your belt, you might find yourself seeking other ways to put the advantages of the medium to work. For example, a weekly podcast could let product teams know what research projects are planned for the week, as well as summing up related research to provide context. Whatever purposes you come up with, I think you’ll find that the process gets easier — and your results get more compelling — every time. 
 
Do you use podcasts in your research share-outs? We’d love to hear some examples!


Author: Ashlee Edwards Brinegar, Researcher at Instagram

Illustrator: Sarah Lawrence