Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Special acclaim for Bob Packett

Today I sat down and imagined someone would turn to me for advice on how to make an educational podcast. I am not a podcaster, so obviously the advice would be the advice from the listener's perspective. What makes for a good informative podcast? In a way, that is what I write about in all those reviews, but the imaginary aspiring podcaster seeking my advice, needed something more general. He needed pointers, not just examples.

It caused me to look at my podcast playlist again and evaluate with different terms. Here it is where I noticed that I keep very few podcasts that are pure monologues. I know there are a lot of those out there, because I try new podcasts all the time, but it suddenly struck me that those are the first I discard. It so turns out that the monologue is the hardest way of keeping someone's attention and pass the information. The worst kind of effort, I find, are those where the host actually has a transcript and reads out the monologue. Even if this doesn't turn out as rather monotonous droning, it comes out as a rather studied and artificially toned speech. It is either lulling or too intrusive, nearly irritating and therefore distracting either way.

The alternative for a monologue podcast is the impromptu, conversational tone which is produced by those who are not following a transcript but rather an outline with notes. This is, in my experience, better than the read aloud version, but is very delicate on the listener's attention as well. If the speaker is easy to follow he becomes too obvious, too transparent and I tend to impatiently ask for getting to the point and move on. Mostly the podcaster is harder to follow, but then the speaker could be too peculiar, too distracted on tangents, too much of many things he would perform better on, if only he'd have an audience in front of him, to guide him on whether he must pace up or slow down, add an example, or get to the point. In short, the monologue podcaster is vulnerable because of the lack of instant feedback.

Indeed, many of the podcasts I stick with have an built-in feedback. Many are recorded lectures, others are interviews and some are panel discussions. It appears to me, people speak better when they have instant feedback. They get better with intonation, with speed, with going in circles or getting to the point, with adding another example or closing off. It also strikes me that with a mix of voices there is more diversity in sounds thus making it easier to stay focussed.

So, my advice to the podcaster, also if he is not necessarily going into educational podcasting, is to make the show with a team. Have several people on the show and have them talk to each other. Because if you are on your own, you have to perform without any feedback and it takes enormous talent to blindly take the listener by the hand and keep him with you. It made me realize I know only of one podcast that sticks out and that will not leave my playlist which is a pure monologue and that is History according to Bob. Professor Bob Packett turns out to have that very rare talent of knowing how to tell the story and keep you listening tightly, without getting feedback in real time.