Three Steps to Starting an HR Podcast

By Karen J. Bannan December 3, 2019
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Three Steps to Starting an HR Podcast

​Podcasts have gone mainstream, according to Edison Research's Infinite Dial 2019 report. More than half of Americans (51 percent) have listened to a podcast, a digital audio program or a recording that's downloaded to a computer or smartphone. Of those, 90 million listen on a monthly basis.

Their appeal is easy to understand, said Tony Dec, co-director of the Audio Podcast Fellows program at Stony Brook Southampton in New York. "All we do [as a society] is tell each other stories. It goes way back to when we all used to sit around a fire. Good podcasters—and there are many of them out there—understand the power of storytelling, and people are listening."

Step 1: Choose the Right Focus

A company's internal podcasts—either for the HR department or the company at large—can be used for a variety of functions. At its most basic, a podcast can be a way to disseminate new or little-known information to employees or new hires, but it can also be used for education, culture building and employee retention. Getting started with a podcast is fairly simple, which is why there are more than 750,000 podcasts available today, according to Dec. The first step in the process is figuring out what you want to discuss and who will deliver your message.

Leslie Beaver had storytelling in mind when she launched TIAA's human resources podcast at the end of 2018. She was looking for a way to communicate with employees that went beyond a newsletter. Podcasting was the perfect option for TIAA because she could let company experts tell stories related to company announcements, boosting morale, company loyalty and knowledge, said Beaver, who was already running the company's town hall meetings.  

Choosing the first few podcast topics was simple, said Beaver, who handles associate engagement at TIAA in Charlotte, N.C. "I was thinking, 'What would be relatable to me?' I'm like the everyday person. Well, we need to talk about work/life balance. We need to talk about how you juggle being a single mom while climbing the corporate ladder. We need to talk about things like innovation, career development and if a job will be relevant in 10 years."

Once she had an informal editorial calendar created, she paired topics with TIAA staffers, reaching out to executives and subject matter experts to set up 30-minute interviews. Some companies are tempted to create a script for experts, but that's a big mistake, said Celeste Torello, senior director of leadership and colleague communications at Pfizer in New York City.

Torello, who earlier this year launched a podcast for HR employees, said she draws up a list of talking points, but she prefers when her experts speak freely. "It's more interesting for listeners when it's a conversation," she said. "We got some pushback from executives in the beginning because they are used to being scripted, but they quickly understood that having a conversation was just more useful and natural." 

Step 2: Schedule Time for Recording and Editing

You will need several technology tools before you can get started creating a podcast. Start with a recording device such as a tablet, smartphone or digital recorder, as well as one or two microphones to capture interviews. You will want an audio headset to listen to your recordings. Most of these purchases cost several hundred dollars. Some podcasters also use acoustical booths or add soundproofing to a room or closet to create a silent environment, but a small, quiet room does the trick.

Torello completed eight podcasts this year that feature HR executives discussing topics that are important to the internal HR community. Scheduling and getting speakers comfortable with the medium have been her two biggest challenges. "Picking the right people is key. There needs to be a good rapport, so it's even better if the speakers are friendly with each other," she said.

Also, be sure to record enough content. You can let your podcast speakers talk for between 30 and 60 minutes to make sure you've got enough to edit down, Torello said.

Step 3: Edit Your Podcast and Make It Live 

Once you've captured the audio, it's time to package it. Experts agree that podcasts of between 10 and 15 minutes will have the most appeal, but that doesn't mean you can't go longer or shorter if the quality is there, Dec said. "The podcast should be no longer than it needs to be, but if your content is good and rich, you can make a podcast longer and keep people listening."

There are many audio editing programs, including Adobe Audition CC, GarageBand, Apple Logic Pro, Audacity and Zencastr. Most are billed as easy to use and intuitive, and some, such as Audacity, are free or very affordable. Using the editing software, you can "write" your podcast's story, Torello said. She suggests having your audio file transcribed so you can edit on paper first, and then move to your audio file. Using music and voice-overs to lead in and out of your file can improve the quality, too.

If you're not comfortable editing, you can hire an outside firm or freelancer. Audio editors' costs range widely, from $25 an hour to several hundred dollars an hour. Depending on the length of your recording, completing a 10-to-20-minute podcast can take several hours. It's a good idea to get feedback and approvals on your finished product—especially from the interview subjects. In some cases, podcasts may need to go through legal review, as well.

And then you'll need to host the podcast somewhere. TIAA and Pfizer host their podcast files internally so they can control access to the content. There are some external hosting companies, such as SoundCloud, that can handle private hosting, too.

Today, Pfizer's podcasts capture 30 percent to 50 percent of the HR audience. The anecdotal feedback is impressive. "People are saying they love the podcast," Torello said. "We're expanding it in 2020, focusing on how we can use it for diversity and inclusion topics, as well as supporting goal setting and performance management. Podcasting is helping us break down the barriers between leaders and colleagues, and we're very happy we got started."

 Karen J. Bannan is a freelance writer based in New York.


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