Ryan Catherwood wrote a fantastic article worth reading through below! Details how they got started and have used their show.
Two years ago the team in the Office of Alumni and Career Services at Longwood University set out to create a podcast in the genre of This American Life, the critically acclaimed radio show and podcast distributed by NPR. Each episode of This American Life has a theme that revolves around a central question or hypothesis. The goal is to tell one or multiple stories through interviews that take the listener along a narrative journey and try to answer the central question in different ways.
Over the last year I’ve had the chance to speak at a few conferences and without fail, after I mention our podcast at Longwood, higher ed engagement pros want to talk more about creating one. Creating a podcast we’ve deemed worth a listen has been both really challenging but also incredibly satisfying. First, we created five pilot episodes. Then we persevered and launched season one a year later. We took a look at our results, felt really positive about them and are now back for a season two of the Day After Graduationpodcast – Stories of Unique Moments and Surprising Ideas.”
To help out future engagement pros considering alternative programming like a podcast, here are five tips for starting a podcast based on what we’ve learned at Longwood.
1. Vetting alumni storytellers and their narratives in advance of recording the interview is absolutely critical, and so is setting up a process to reflect on each story before recording it.
While we’ve been able to use LinkedIn and also Longwood Magazine’s class notes section to identify possible interview subjects, we learned how critical it was to have a “vetting” phone call in advance of recording. This call enables us to have a better sense of the story we’re trying to get the interview subject to tell. We also try to learn whether or not the alum is a charismatic storyteller. The call is about 15-20 minutes in length.
We call possible alumni storytellers on the phone and flesh out the unique occurrences and pivotal moments from their biography. This allows us to better prepare for the recorded interview. Getting to know the storyteller in advance also allows us to build rapport and helps eliminate some nervousness.
After the vetting phone calls, producers are asked to write a Story Proposal that we all discuss as a group to decide whether to proceed to the longer recorded interview. We try to answer two questions in the story proposal, “What is the story and the source of conflict in it?” and “Why will listeners care?”
2. Be picky about the stories and be tough on the quality of the audiotape.
Over the last two years, we’ve interviewed more than 90 alumni and friends of Longwood for possible inclusion in our pilot episodes and 10-episode seasons one and two of the Day After Graduation podcast. Some of that is because we’ve changed directions creatively. But as we’ve learned how to use our recording equipment, we’ve scrapped interviews with lower-quality sound and interviews that don’t contain rich storytelling. We’re looking for stories with a climax and some level of emotionality. As a team, we always ask ourselves whether the interview contains unique, interesting and entertaining moments.
When we record interviews, we don’t promise to use the tape in an actual show though we try to do enough of the groundwork in advance so that they are included.
3. Audio loves honesty.
This phrase (not my own) has been our guiding light when it comes to interviewing. We always try to ask questions during interviews like, “How did that make you feel?” and “What were you thinking at that moment?”
The goal is to color in the story with honest and candid reflections. We’ve discovered the best tape is when we can obtain these moments of deeply personal reflection. So often in higher ed we tell only the positive stories. We tell those narratives too but make a concerted effort to tell stories reflecting the dark side of the work world. Conflict isn’t pretty sometimes, but that’s what makes a great audio story.
(Have a listen to Episode 1 from Season 2 – “Toxic Teachers” embedded below)
4. Find a partner to help with editing and audio engineering
We were hugely fortunate to find a great partner in developing our podcast. As we set out to create Day After Graduation, we knew we didn’t have the skills to breakdown an hour long interview into its best 10 to 20 minutes, add narration and then build the actual podcast with great music and sound design. We found a company called Just Hit Publish to help with this process. I highly recommend finding a partner to help assemble a podcast if you’re considering a similar project.
For season two, we also hired and trained two freelance producers with journalism backgrounds to help find and tell stories. This has proved to be a great decision and they’ve been hugely important in helping the Office of Alumni and Career Services overcome obstacles to producing season two.
5. Starting out, try to make each episode better than the last as the number one goal
Benchmarking has been a challenge. There aren’t any comparable podcasts from within higher education as far as we could find, though I’ve had enough conversations with folks across the country to know that there are more coming. Our goal at Longwood for the next 6-12 months is to work hard promoting the podcast to alumni and student listeners and to try and increase our downloads for season two compared to season one.
If the podcast is good, we believe stakeholders will listen, and so far they have!
Another thing we’re trying is to partner with the student newspaper and radio station to see if that helps engage students a bit more. For season two, we have a student as co-host who’s also one of our excellent interns!
Please have a listen to Longwood University’s Day After Graduation podcast. I’d appreciate feedback very much as we strive to make it better.
Ryan Catherwood is Assistant Vice President of Alumni and Career Services at Longwood University. Check out the new Advancement Legends podcast. Follow Ryan on twitter @RyanCatherwood and check out his other posts here on Linkedin or on www.higheredlive.com.