This post is my recent response to a training e-zine about using podcasts to deliver content to a remote workforce.
I applaud the reader who wishes to use podcast technology in his or her company’s training efforts. However, like any training vehicle, the trainer must evaluate whether the technology is the most effective means for communicating the message.
I read that CapitalOne and IBM have successfully integrated podcasting into their corporate training environments. I believe that part of their success depended on the fact that both companies equipped their mobile users with iPods.
In the example given of a sales and customer service force consisting of 130 people, I would imagine that not everyone has the same level of computer skills. I also think that they may not have portable players or same level of expertise in using them. Your employees may have some resistance to using their own portable devices for playback of company training messages. Your IT or finance department may not have the resources to purchase the same device for everyone. The IT department may have instituted security restrictions that prohibit downloads of .mp3 files or the connection of personal devices to corporate computers.Deciding to provide audio content means other training issues must addressed. How will you demonstrate the process of accessing the audio files and copying them to myriad laptops or portable players? Who will provide support when the employees experience problems? Since the recordings would be internal training products, how would you notify the employees that new audio content is available?
For these reasons, I recommend that you fully involve your IT department in your plans. In implementing this change, I suggest that you post .mp3 files on your intranet in conjunction with a blog or user forums. A blog is short for web log. Once the software is configured, designated authors can rapidly post content to a web site without knowledge of HTML or any intervention from your IT department.
I realize that your remote staff probably does not have any more time to spend at a computer. Blogs can be maintained and archived by date and categories, so the remote workforce can quickly see new postings and find relevant past articles. In the blog, you could post your short time-sensitive updates, product development updates, answers from instructor-led sessions and other items that require more frequent updates and interaction with your sales force.
You can set up the blog so that comments are allowed, which enables your remote workforce to respond to the postings with questions and comments. The questions and comments might highlight areas requiring additional explanation that would be suitable for audio content. The blog could advertise new audio content as it is available.
Everyone can listen to the audio content when sitting at their computer. At a minimum, you could publish instructions so that everyone would be able to burn the files to CD and could at least start listening to some content in their car. Those employees who know how to copy the audio files to their own devices can do so and build buzz for the portable training efforts.
Your audio content could be focused on new training topics as needed and the monthly talk show that you envision. In your talk show, you could interview and feature people from different facets of the company. You may even think about replacing all of the internal newsletters and funneling that content into your talk show program. Another interesting use of audio content might be a short segment which summarizes all of the blog entries for the week.
Once you have decided to create audio content, you have a couple of options for creating the actual file. (Technically, the file is not a podcast unless it is automatically syndicated over the Internet.) If you plan to produce your recordings in-house, make the commitment to invest in a quality microphone and software which will allow you to record and edit the audio files.
Spend the time to learn the software so that your recordings sound polished. You are competing for the attention of busy people, and your recordings should sound as good as anything s/he would hear elsewhere. You may wish to integrate music and sound effects into your recordings. Like any training delivery method, you wouldn’t want to transmit your content to the learning community unless the message was clearly articulated and easily understood. The audience could become confused and frustrated listening to audio with poor sound quality
Outsourcing the audio file creation process to a professional voice talent can relieve you of the production burden and provide you with more time to develop your scripts. A professional voice artist can perform your script fluidly and flawlessly as though she is an employee of your company. You can locate a voice actor for your project by using on-line search engines and casting services or by calling a local talent agency. You can request that voice talent submit a short audition from your script so that you can select the voice that is most compelling for your copy.
As a bonus, some talent may have previous work experience in your industry and would bring that credibility and authenticity to your project. For instance, I hold a Master’s degree in computer information systems and have over 20 years experience in the IT field, while a fellow voice talent friend has a similar background in molecular biology.
Rates for talent affiliated with unions are published at www.sagaftra.org. However, podcasting per se is not listed on the charts since it is a new medium. Rates shown are for the talent only and do not reflect any costs for studio rental. Non-union talent have varying rates depending on the scope of the project. You may be able to negotiate a contract based on the frequency and length of recordings required.
I and many other voice actors record in our own studios and are able to send you an .mp3 recording with crystal clear clarity in short turn-around times, usually within 24 hours. While I can’t speak for other voice talent, my fees include my studio production time. I also work with my clients on script revisions to ensure that their message conveys the intended meaning.
I would advise that you keep the length of your initial recordings to 15 minutes or less. You will need to evaluate each part of the process to determine the best method to produce each recording, and your remote staff must get accustomed to receiving audio training.
I have to say that I like the idea of using podcasting as a training medium. But you bring up some very valid points, particularly when it comes to the degree to which each employee is savvy enough to use the technology. It will be interesting to see how well podcasting works in this area.