Podcasting Tips

Q&A with Whitney Hoffman of the Podcamp Foundation

Whitney Hoffman is a busy bee of a podcaster, working on multiple projects dealing with health, learning disabilities, and more. Check out her interview with us to get a taste of her bubbly personality.

Do you mind introducing yourself?

My name is Whitney Hoffman, and I have tons of titles. Most relevant here is that I am the Executive Director of Operations for the Podcamp Foundation, organizer of Podcamp Philly, and I have been podcasting since 2006. My first podcast was The LD Podcast, all about learning and learning disabilities, and the current show I’m producing is OB GYN To Go, a podcast for medical resident education and continuing medical education. Through the LD Podcast, I’ve also written a book for Jossey Bass Education called The Differentiated Instruction Book of Lists, that helps teachers make personalizing the classroom for all students a little more approachable and doable- helping every student learn in the classroom.

Wow lots of stuff. How did you get into podcasting?

The school my oldest son attended was having national experts come to give in-services and parent talks, yet many of the parents weren’t showing up to these events, due to family conflicts or simply not understanding what they were missing. I thought a solution to the time crunch factor, being a big audiobook fan, would be to record these talks. Podcasting was just starting, and I got my first iPod and found all sorts of interesting shows, including Mommycast and CC Chapman’s Accident Hash. I was so intrigued when one of the Mommycast people started talking about their kid’s ADHD, I thought they should do more shows about that! They said” well, it isn’t our thing- why don’t you do that?” So I thought I would give it a try, and the LD Podcast was born.

I learned quickly, and the Tips and Tricks from the Podcasting Masters book was a big help to sort out technical issues. I went to the first Podcamp in Boston and connected with a community of new podcasters. I learned an immense amount about internet search, getting found online, marketing, and more that was priceless information to have. Then this group all joined Twitter about the same time in October of 2006; then Facebook the day it opened up to everyone, and this cluster of geeks formed a hub of social connections we’ve ported from platform to platform.

Finding guests was easier than I thought it would be as well. I found that experts in the field were really happy to talk to someone passionate about the same issues they were interested in. It’s a format that I think is both informative and entertaining, and I hope the listeners got as much out of the shows as I did.

You have said that you look to Terry Gross and Ira Glass as models to go by in your podcasting. Recently “This American Life” retracted their Mike Daisey story in account of it not holding up to journalistic standards. What can new podcasters take away from this situation?

I think making sure you have a good set of standards about your goals is important from the beginning. I hold Ira Glass up as an icon on the power of radio and story telling, so I was both surprised at the retraction, but amazingly moved and “proud” if that’s the right word, on how This American Life handled the situation.

For my part, I read every book I review and the work of the authors I talk to, usually asking them because I know and love their work to begin with. I start out with a set of questions, and send them in advance, letting the person know these are sort of guidelines, but I reserve the right to ask any questions, but I’m not interested in “gotcha” journalism, just a talk about their work, and how it can be applied in a more one on one setting- whether that’s the LD Podcast, or OB GYN To Go. I need to know what we’re talking about an understand it well myself, so I can ask intelligent and relevant questions, and not just be putting out long form commercials for someone’s project, but meaningful information and insight into the author, expert or whomever it might be.

When you podcast or work in any niche, I suppose, you get very familiar with the experts in the field and new work coming out, so I think it’s much easier to have a nose for the real versus exploitive. And since my shows are self-produced, I do draw lines and don’t invite people whose work I don’t believe or who would just be pushing a product. In fact, I opted out of ads for the LD Podcast except when we were part of the Mommycast network, because I was worried too many drug company or natural remedy ads would be placed by Google, just from keywords. It just wasn’t worth the credibility risk.

And I think this is what TAL is dealing with as well- you can get caught up in the work and want it to be true, (both TAL and Mike Daisey may have had this problem) but you have to be careful about losing objectivity or risking your credibility with your audience when it’s not worth the trade at all.

What are your tips on creating solid content?

You have to be passionate and interested in your subject. You have to be curious, and be open to being personal when it works. I remember one show where I was talking about my son and started to well up- you could hear it in my voice. It was real, so I left it in rather than edit it out. It was then one of my most downloaded early shows. I realized the reason it was popular was because it was real. It made me a real person to my listeners, and it made it emotionally resonate, and that was a good thing. Now you may not want to get personal on a marketing podcast, by contrast, but even there, talking about real world experiences and speaking from your own perspective comes out in audio, and helps you become relatable and trusted by your audience. Try to be yourself and the rest will follow.

I also look at trying to make each show as “ever-green” as possible. While I would do a series of shows at different times, I wanted to create a show that people could pick up at show 12 or 24 or 72 and they would all work, even out of sequence. I try to make a story arc within the interview, as we talk about things, where we talk about the person;s work, but we also talk about real kids or examples that resonate as well. When I spoke to Marcus Buckingham, for example, I had no idea his child had learning issues himself, but it came out in the interview, and that was a really special moment. Timely shows are great, and do mix them in, but remember the more ever green your content is, the longer the longevity online.

Plus – don’t over edit- make sure people can breathe, but do take out ums and ahhs- your guests and listeners will appreciate it.

How can you get attention online?

I think you’ve got to know about blogging, SEO, and connecting up your social networks, online and offline. All of these things work together to form a cohesive whole, and much of it you will learn by doing. Look for long term growth, not hour by hour.

Connect with other people with similar interests, by following them, sending them links on Twitter if it’s relevant and important- be a good friend and do good work. This is basically back to the reputation piece. The more you are a person people respect and trust for resources, advice, etc. the more your network grows- but it’s quality over quantity always. You have to earn people’s trust and reputation, and that’s not a given.

Marketing over coffee is always good for tips about how to market yourself better, and I trust Chris and John not only as experts but as personal friends. Your friends will help promote you and anything you do if they trust the quality and that it will help them not hurt their reputation, so quality is the first rule anywhere.

Do you see anything new or interesting coming up on the podcasting or social media horizon?

I think podcasting seems to be making a resurgence, and I often think it’s a shame so many people who started in the early days have somewhat given up. Life has interfered and people need to fit their businesses and hobbies and life together in ways that work, and podcasting can be very time consuming. The new digital recorders and the ability to edit audio on the iPad as well as record studio quality audio into an ipad will make recording quality content easier than ever. Content and the production aspects are they keys to talking recordings and making them great- and that, I’m afraid, will always be time consuming, but I wish I had more shortcuts other than having gotten faster by doing it so often.

I worry about social media overload and that even on the big networks, people crave to smaller, more intimate communities. This should be interesting to watch play out over time. When more people realize that on most networks, like Facebook, you are the product, the widget they produce, not the customer, things may start to change, and I’m not sure in which direction, but it will be interesting.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’m always struck by the dichotomy in education, where we say we want kids to express their voices, but then tell them they can only do so during certain hours, or at certain times, or in certain contexts. There’s a great revolution coming to education, between the kids and the teachers, as they struggle with the digital world and what’s possible, and that’s always an exciting place to spend time and help shape the conversation- i wish more people would help education move forward and helped to bridge the digital cultural divide, which is much different than any economic or device sort of divide- it’s a mindset.

Your podcasts and general approach to podcasting really showcases how flexible the medium is. Thanks so much for walking us through your experience with it Whitney!

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