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Peter Shaplen on the Art of Audio Podcasting

September 28, 2009

peter shaplen high resAre audio podcasts still relevant with the explosion of online video including video blogs, YouTube channels, Flip cameras and video-enabled mobile phones? I asked Peter Shaplen, a veteran news producer who has worked for ABC, CBS, CNN, Court TV, FOX, NBC BBC and SKYNews (and many more), his opinion on this question. I saw Shaplen in action at Cisco and was impressed with how he handled the preparation, interviewing and post-production on a segment for the highly-regarded News@Cisco podcast series. He has a passion for the medium and has built a reputation as a highly-skilled producer of podcasts for C-level and senior executives at Fortune 100 companies.

Q: You have worked in broadcast journalism for 25+ years. How did you get into podcasting?

A: I began making podcasts in the form of short, personalized news programs. I was the News Director and Vice President of News and Production for ON24 in the earliest days of streaming media in the 1990s. These were pioneering days of podcasts, even before the iPod or any of the devices we now take for granted.

Q: Why do you like doing podcasts so much?

A: Podcasts are a platform to reach audiences that don’t watch or listen to traditional media. But there’s much more. It is – at its heart – a 1:1 communication between the speaker and audience finessed by the reporter. Well-produced podcasts can be more intimate and conversational than video interviews. Eliminating the camera reduces stage fright that can restrict an executive’s innate ability to communicate authentically. Executives say things on podcasts that they would never have been comfortable saying on camera, not because of some inappropriate proprietary disclosure but due to the comfort and ease of the process and medium.

Q: Why are podcasts such a good medium for establishing executive thought leadership?

A: Podcasts are engaging conversations that allow an executive to effectively convey information and personality in a compelling manner. It can be risky these days to put your executive in front of TV news reporters when you have absolutely no control of the final cut. Thirty years ago the average length of a sound bite on a network newscast was 22 seconds. Today it is 8 seconds. Nothing, least of all an executive’s insight, can be captured as a full thought in 8 seconds. Podcasts are a viable alternative to what is otherwise too often a very negative outcome when left to the editors at a broadcast news outlet.

Q: Photos and videos are more popular than ever on the web. Why don’t you create executive videos instead of podcasts?

A: Great programs are all about sound, just like a podcast. A good interview should be tough, even combative at times, and bring out the authentic person behind the information spoken. The words, phrasing and intonation in a podcast carry significant meaning. Adding pictures, still or moving, doesn’t mean it’s better. Incidentally, producing good podcasts is every bit as difficult and challenging as producing great television.

Q: What are the elements of an interesting, engaging and effective podcast?

A: Intellectual honesty. Reasonable expectations. A complete absence of corporate jargon. A willingness on the part of all the managers and PR leads in the company to let your chief be a chief – speak not spin the message – articulate his or her goals. It gets back to basic communication. The audience wants to believe and trust you… dont give them any reason not to. The audience doesn’t need to be “sold”, especially not a hard sell in a podcast but instead to be gently guided, not coerced, into thinking and believing as you do.

Q: What are the most common mistakes that communications professionals make when producing podcasts?

A: The most common mistake is to think of podcasts as a PR vehicle containing a high quotient of message points and jargon-filled, polysyllabic words to connote intelligence and sagacity. Whew! A podcast is not an alternative vehicle for a speech, a sales presentation or a symposium. Regurgitating messaging points makes for boring and tedious listening. Believe it or not, I have heard many podcasts recorded in rooms where windows were open, sirens were blaring, horns were honking and planes were flying overhead. One doesn’t need the sanctity of the Sistine Chapel, but a little professionalism and audio control is a good thing. Another pet peeve of mine is long openings, music and flourishes. This is neither a sermon nor Hyde Park corner so get to the point already!

Q: What are some of the challenges you face working with executives?

A: Busy, stressed, over taxed executives can be impatient, presumptuous even cocky at times. They can fail to listen to a question or ignore the question while bridging directly to the objective. It takes considerable effort on the interviewer’s part to make the executive aware of these and take steps to overcome them.

Q: What advice do you have for executives preparing for a podcast interview?

  • Speak truths and really do believe and understand them so your audience will too.
  • Have confidence in yourself, act naturally.
  • Be clear, concise and targeted. Audiences don’t want to listen to a 20 minute speech that could have been conveyed in 5 minutes.
  • Treat the interviewer’s time with the respect and courtesy you would expect.
  • Choose your words carefully; simple is better; being concise is essential.
  • If you want to win audiences over to your point of view, work hard to create common ground with the listeners, establish your agenda, make your arguments.
  • Listen to the questioner – don’t just parrot messages that have been created by others, force fed into bullet points, and provided as rehearsed nuggets by a media trainer.
  • Go with the flow of the process with the confidence that true success will be the result and the long tail of the program will be satisfying.

Q: What is the secret to creating a fabulous podcast?

A: Hire me. That’s a great question but a proprietary answer.

Peter Shaplen can be reached on LinkedIn or peter@shaplen.com.

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