Lessons Learned Through the Podcast-Making Process

By DD Maoz and Eli Cohen

Between February 22nd and March 8, The Hive and DisCo put on a series of Podcasting Workshops, where participants got to make a collaborative podcast – from interviewing to storyboarding to editing – over the course of three workshops. Eli Cohen (PO ‘19) and DD Maoz (PO ‘18) wrote about their experience planning and running the workshops.  

Before the Storm

We had many motivations for creating these workshops. First among them is that we love podcasts. But beyond that, we wanted to convey why the process of making them yourself can be so valuable.

We wanted to show how the different aspects of making podcasts can urge us all to be better listeners, intentional conversationalists, and mindful storytellers. We wanted to re-value the creative process itself. We wanted to create a low-stakes environment for people to actually make a podcast without grandiose expectations or the fear of failure. We wanted people to learn by doing. We hoped to provide participants with the technical confidence that will allow them to see this medium as their own. We wanted to make room for stories – for people to tell them, to realize the importance of seeking them out, and to grasp the power of handling them with care.

The basic premise was this: We would create three workshops that would walk participants through three stages of the podcast-making process: interviewing, storyboarding, and editing. Through these different stages, we would focus on different interpersonal skills: empathetic and active listening, communicating, and storytelling.

Workshop #1 – The Interview

In the first workshop, we emphasized empathetic listening and recording confidence. We opened with two audio excerpts from Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story” and an interview with David Issay in the TED Radio Hour’s “The Act of Listening.” They taught us about the responsibility entailed in choosing which stories are told, the presence listening commands, and the power of being heard.

We outlined five active listening principles, which we compiled from the Human-Centered Design course tips for empathetic interviewing, and Celeste Headlee’s 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation. They were:

  1. Be present
  2. Do away with assumptions
  3. Enable meaningful conversations
  4. Go slow
  5. Care for the process

Then we reviewed the technical details of the recorders, considering basic tips for making a good recording.

The topic we chose for the interviews was “Transition,” and we urged people to recall specific stories and emotions from different periods of transition in their own lives. Then, for the rest of the session, in groups of three, we interviewed each other and made space for each other’s stories.

We came out with eighteen recorded ten-minute interviews, and the affirmation that giving people the time and excuse to talk and ask questions was one of the most powerful things we could have done.

Workshop #2 – Storyboarding

In the second workshop, we tackled the challenge of walking people through the whole storyboarding process in 1.5 hours. We brought on Isaac Watts (PZ ‘18) and Jeremy Snyder (PO ‘19) to help facilitate the session. In small groups, we started by taking time to listen to the 4-5 interview clips each group was assigned. Then, we took 10 minutes to share out our impressions with the group. From there, we took 5 minutes to construct a narrative arc, thinking about the common themes, and the surprises that came up from the clips.

For the final stretch of the session, using post-it notes, we constructed a storyboard that detailed what should happen at every moment of the podcast by creating mock tracks that resembled the audio editing software – one for interview clips, one for narration, and one for accompanying sound. We concluded the session with participants recording a live narration of the podcast, following the storyboard to tie clips together and communicate the narrative and themes to the listener.

We came out with a very rough draft of three podcast episodes, one by each of our three groups. We also realized that, while confusion is an essential part of the creative process, making a clear structure to guide the process along was essential to eliminating overwhelming, paralyzing confusion.

Workshop #3 – Audio Editing

In the third workshop, Ximena Lane (PO ‘19) joined the team and walked people through the fundamentals of audio editing together with Eli. We decided to step back from the project at hand and instead work with isolated examples of basic audio design. In the end, we highlighted four concepts:

  1. Vocal clarity
  2. Quality over quantity
  3. Layering with care
  4. Transition is everything

We also introduced the participants to the basics of audio editing software, such as how to navigate the timeline, work with multiple tracks simultaneously, and utilize basic audio effects. We created a one-pager describing each of the four overarching concepts and gave a few tangible techniques – altering amplitude with compressors or normalizers and changing the tenor of one’s voice with equalization – to help achieve them. We left a small amount of time at the end to practice these techniques on the project itself.

The Process of Creating

Each workshop required a different structure and varying amounts of guidance, and all of them required that we admit one simple thing: we were not experts. In planning and facilitating these workshops, we were simply creating the space for everyone – ourselves included – to experiment and learn by doing. We were often pushed to seriously think about group process more than the podcast-making process, and about how to enable a comfortable and intuitive sort of creation and interaction with the group.

We realized that there’s something freeing about just jumping in, with no time to fear mistakes. We realized how important our roles as facilitators were in planning sessions that gave participants room to engage with the creative process in ways that allowed for a healthy – but not overwhelming – amount of confusion.

Ultimately, we couldn’t prepare in advance for every possible scenario, and so the process was largely about being present with the rest of the participants and going where the process invited. We started these workshops knowing that the podcast-making process mandates the sort of intentionality that should be lived out in everyday life. We ended with the added realization that the same holds true for the process of planning these sessions, which demanded we be present, open, and intentional.

Most importantly, the creative process demands time. Time to be confused; to ruminate; to revisit and rework; to adjust; to bring oneself to the table fully in order to enable a true collaboration. While our workshop provided opportunities for participants to tap into many aspects of the creative process, time was not one of them. Instead, we got to engage with each other, to tell stories, to create, to construct, to edit, and to collaborate. Overall we got to see how these tools are something that anyone can use. When we compromised time to give room for other aspects of the creative process, we accepted the fact that the final product will not be polished and that it might not make sense.

Since we stepped back from the project for our final workshop, some participants took on the responsibility of editing the episodes beyond the workshops, relying on the original storyboard that was made in under 1.5 hours. The episodes came out to be exciting rough drafts, which give you all a glimpse into what a narrative that was created so quickly sounds like. 

Happy listening!

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