As it’s high summer, so thoughts turn to “interesting things I might do”. And one of the things to think about going is podcasting.
This is prompted by a conversation I had over the weekend with a friend who’s an architect. He had recently passed up the opportunity to present his company’s work at a show-casing event because he didn’t feel very confident about his presentation skills, to the point that there were “more downsides than ups” to it all.
Aside from being a shame in itself – he’s a very friendly and engaging personality and nobody likes to miss out on opportunities to sell one’s product – it also highlights the rather particular situation that educators find themselves. As my friend put it, profs get lots of practice at presenting.
Now, as you and I both know – and will recall at the next conference panel we attend – practice does not make prefect. Or even close in many cases. But the point still has something to it: we do spend a fair amount of time talking to rooms of people, so it’s not completely alien to us.
Any how, my suggestion was that my friend try podcasting. It’s good practice at speaking to others – even at a distance – and it invites you to have a focus in what you talk about.
This really matters in presenting. One of my friend’s issues was that his draft talk was rambling and unstructured, again a problem not uncommon in academic circles.
In the 18 months I’ve been running my Diet of Brussels podcast, perhaps the most useful choice I made was to stick to 5 minute long episodes. This was initially based on two key logics: 1) listening to someone talk about the European Union isn’t that interesting, so keep it brief, and 2) 5 minutes would mean prep for each epsiode could be kept to a minimum. So, boredom and laziness then.
But it also had the effect of requiring me to pick very focused topics each time, because it turns out that 5 minutes is very little time indeed. This, in turn, meant that the amount of blathering was cut back, as I tried to make sure I used my short time wisely.
I’m now nearly 200 episodes in and – thanks to the wonders of the British political system – I might now be locked into another 2-15 years of doing it, so I now have a bit more perspective on it all.
Firstly, regular podcasting has been very good for developing my confidence on speaking on various issues. This has been really important for my other work, as a Senior Fellow on the UK in a Changing Europe programme, which involves a lot of dissemination. If nothing else, it’s meant I’ve probably made an episode about whatever topic I might be asked about.
Secondly, podcasting is an excellent adjunct to face-to-face communication, be that teaching or more generally. I’ve been able to use my new skills to enrich what I can offer my students and it’s a very clear gateway into flipping the classroom. It’s also a space into which one can place the lines of further development that might not be possible in your teaching timetable.
Thirdly, it connects you to new audiences. This is a longer-term thing, unless you have a big, read-made group of people waiting for you (and if you’re feeling a bit nervous about it all, then maybe you don’t want a big audience right away). Indeed, because I’ve always worked on the basis that no-one listens to my podcasts, it has been very good for disinhibiting me and making me feel more comfortable about speaking my mind. Hence my continued mild shock whenever someone mentions that they listen to me.
Finally, it’s relatively low-risk. The worst that is likely to happen is that no one does listen to it and you give up. However, that should not be your aim. Instead, if you take it on its intrinsic merits, then it can be really helpful for you: public effects will come later.
So have a look at the technical guide I put together and try it out.