A podcast is audio content on demand and is predominantly interview and discussion-based but this is not all a podcast can be. You will also find drama, comedy, documentaries, investigations, fictional stories and even mindful content. Podcast content is often serialised and may be released every week or be a one-off set of episodes.
A podcast serves as a way to talk to your audience in greater detail than social media and more intimately than a blog. However, creating a podcast is time intensive and requires an understanding of recording, editing and publishing your podcast via RSS feed, so you will need to consider if you have the time to research and develop your podcasting skills and the resources to produce a podcast.
If you are using podcasts for engagement for the first time, the guide below outlines the benefits of starting a podcast and includes very useful links for anyone who is starting out:
The Space – How to start a podcast
There are three main elements to a podcast that you will need to understand before beginning. The following guides will help you with each of these:
Recording: Rachel Corbett – How to Record a Podcast
If you are familiar with podcasts but are interested in learning more before approaching storytelling, these guides looking at podcasts from a cultural or educational perspective may be helpful:
Museum Next – How to Start a Podcast for Your Museum
Digital Pathways – How to make a Staff-led Podcast
Across the Digital Engagement Toolkit, we are looking at who engages with a particular platform by generation. You will find more detail on this within the platform finder. When looking at audience engagement by generation it is important to keep in mind it is not definitive of everyone’s behaviour. However, understanding the broad trend of a generation’s approach to a platform is useful to understand the audiences you are most likely to find there. For the purposes of this toolkit, we are using terminology that defines audiences with the following demographic terminology: Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z.
Gen Z and Gen Y are among the biggest consumers of podcasts with a significant amount listening to them regularly. However, it is important to note that there are a lot of Gen X listening to on-demand audio content too; year on year more radio listeners are turning to on-demand content as it becomes more accessible.
Podcasts are a great way to engage with new audiences and to offer a new way to engage with archives and their collections.
Before you can begin storytelling via a podcast, there are some structural decisions you will need to make about your podcast. Below you will find an examination of some potential decisions you will need to make that will help you form your archive’s podcast.
The advantage of a scripted podcast is that it makes the editing process much easier. You can press record and, other than editing around any mistakes, you won’t need to decide what to keep and what to cut. However, choosing a scripted podcast will determine some aspects of what your podcast will be. You can’t script all of an interview or discussion-based podcast as it will sound unnatural to your audience. So it is likely your podcast will be more formal like a presentation or talk.
There is a big audience for listening to people chat, especially interesting people with unique content and points of view. Think about who might be interesting to talk to and have discussions about your collection. The process of setting up an unscripted podcast is easy; you just need a microphone and a place to record. Remember there will be an edit burden with anything unscripted. However, you could choose a format where you record your conversation for 30 minutes and wherever the conversation takes you is what is released.
A regular host provides the audience with a familiar and consistent element and helps link one episode to the next. Often people discover their favourite podcasts because of the host, whether it be the quality of their voice, their humour or interviewing techniques. You will want to consider the voice and tone of your podcast. Think about how you talk to the audience and where and how you imagine them listening to the podcast. This will dictate the nature of the host(s) you need.
There is nothing wrong with having a different speaker in each episode of your podcast but you will want to find ways to build consistency for the listener.
A typical podcast episode is around 40-50 minutes but there are no set rules on how long an episode can be. Nevertheless, you want to think about your audience, your capacity to produce content and the form of your podcast. It may be useful if you are starting for the first time to begin with episodes in the 20-40 minute range and alter and adjust from there. All your episodes do not need to be the same length. The content should only be as long as it needs to be, so don’t set yourself arbitrary episode lengths instead, allow your content to vary naturally.
The forms of a podcast that may be most useful to archives:
- Scripted talk or narrative
Interview: This could be speaking to different people who work in your archive and talking more about their role, from staff to volunteers and regular visitors. You could examine their relationship to the archive and their favourite item(s) in the collection or a colleague could speak about a particular collection they have just catalogued as a way to promote newly catalogued collections available for public access. It is likely in this format you would have the same host and a different guest for each episode. Or you could even choose to interview other archives and begin to share audiences and those with an interest in the sector.
If you are an archive with an oral history collection or have plans to undertake oral history interviews in the future, it may be worth considering if any of this material could be used for a podcast. This could be around a particular theme, project or a broader reminiscences angle.
Discussion: This would be about a panel of experts or voices discussing particular topics, themes or objects connected to your archive. You would want the style to be informal, relaxed and freeform and the conversations flow wherever it may lead. In this format, you would likely want three personalities with whom the audience feels familiar and who have an interest and passion for archives. There may also be room to have guest slots within discussions.
Scripted talk or Narrative: This is likely to be one consistent voice that talks directly to the audience. It may be similar to a TED talk or lecture and enable depth of subject to be covered. The scripted nature will enable you to guide the audience through your subject matter. You may want to tell one particular story per episode or if you have a wealth of content that is split over a series that examines a particular theme or idea.
Segments: You’ll be familiar with regular segments in tv shows and radio, whether it’s a regular question covered, a game that is played or listener’s emails read out. Having a regular segment(s) allows you to build familiarity with your audience and makes generating content for each episode much easier as you have a structure to work within.
Once you have made decisions on your structure and form it will be time to begin. If you aren’t producing scripts then the best thing to do will be to set up some test records to get a feel for the discussion and listen back to it. Does it need more focus? Was it too rigid? Does it sound how you imagined? Share with friends or colleagues and let them highlight what they liked and didn’t. But don’t wait too long to be perfect. Podcasts are often informal in style and people enjoy listening along as a podcast changes and grows.
Similarly, if you are writing scripts, once they are ready, record them and listen to them before publishing. There is a major difference between how something sounds on paper to how it sounds recorded so you may want to make changes to the content.
When creating a podcast it’s important to think about the level of intimacy you have with your audience. Whilst many people do listen to podcasts on speakers or smart devices, many listen on headphones. This means that their experience of listening will be like you are talking directly to them. Your audience will be in your world and you should have a considered approach to pace and tone. Think about your podcast as a room; what is it like to be in your room: cosy and warm or busy and vibrant?
Tip: Podcasts can also be a means of providing additional or enriched content to an exhibition or programme, and can add extra opportunities for engagement and interpretation.
Creative thinking and exercises
When it comes to creating audio experiences it is about how you set a mood and create a space in which people want to listen.
Exercise one – discuss
Discuss with colleagues any podcasts you listen to and when you listen to them.
- Why do you listen to that podcast?
- What is your relationship with the host of the podcast and what makes you keep listening?
- Where are you when you listen to the podcast?
- How does listening to a podcast make you feel?
- How did you find out about the podcast?
Exercise two – exploring tone and feel
Write answers to the following questions to help you better understand the feeling and tone of the podcast you want to make.
- Describe where you imagine your audience to be when listening to your podcast. For example, are they sitting down listening as they would a radio or out jogging through the park?
- What time of day do you imagine people listening to your podcast?
- Is your podcast something curated for a particular mood? E.g. relaxing, reflective, humorous, whimsical.
- Do you need your audience’s undivided attention or is it okay for their mind to wander while they listen?
The National Archives On The Record podcast (Spotify link)
Episodes within On The Record vary in length; this is an intentional choice based on what is being covered within an episode. The cover image design gives a sense of the content of the podcast. A podcast’s visual identity is important as often on podcast platforms it is the only way to grab your audience’s attention amongst the library of podcasts available to them.
Resonate – Leonard Cheshire Archive podcast (Anchor FM link)
Join Archivist Stephanie as she talks about disability charity Leonard Cheshire’s 73 year history and the life of its founder, Second World War RAF Group Captain and humanitarian Lord Leonard Cheshire VC, OM.
Borthwick Institute for Archives podcast (Anchor FM link)
Hear stories, discoveries and insights from the team at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York.
Museum Confidential podcast (Spotify link)
Museum Confidential is a behind-the-scenes look at museums hosted by Jeff Martin of Philbrook Museum of Art and produced by Scott Gregory with Public Radio Tulsa. Each episode has a strong opening and there is a familiar introduction that frames the podcast for the audience and any new listeners. This interview podcast gives the audience an insight into museums in a whole new way through the voice of curators and museum staff. It focuses on a behind the scenes look and has a relaxed feel to the music it uses and the way it talks to its audience. It is a gentle and easy listen that is educational and insightful.
Many listeners may not start with the first episode of a podcast; audiences may come in halfway through or near the end. By having a clear introduction in every episode you communicate to all listeners what your podcast is.
Sound effects and music in your podcast
Cleanfeed is a free (& paid) software that enables you to record HQ audio when your host and guest are not in the same location.
A guide to recording a podcast over zoom from Riverside FM.
Otter.ai is a software that turns audio into transcription automatically.
How to measure impact
It will be important for you to work out what you consider impact when it comes to your podcast. You may quickly find that you have a small regular audience who love your podcast and listen to each new episode. Growing beyond a core listenership is not an easy task and will require marketing on social media and other digital channels you use and engaging your audience in reviewing and sharing your podcast.
When choosing your podcast hosting platform, you should investigate what metrics they offer and ensure you are using a podcast hosting platform that can give you all the data you require. Most podcast hosting platforms should be able to tell you how many listens each episode has had and where those listeners are based.
Some podcasts offer transcripts of their podcast episodes as a way to make their content more accessible. There is software available that can support transcription and if you are putting your podcast on YouTube you will find auto-generated captions available, though it’s important to proof-read these and correct any mistakes.
Bureau of Internet Accessibility – Top 5 Ways to Make Podcasts Accessible
Digital Pathways – A guide to marketing your podcast
Digital Pathways – Resource portal. This portal has aggregated useful resources from different organisations on a multitude of digital topics. Guides relating to aspects of digital engagement are included.
More history, museum and archive podcasts to explore from podcast producer Better Lemon Audio: