Training & Learning

Storytelling in Learning: Making L&D Podcasts Work With Shannon Martin

Podcasting has grown exponentially into a mainstream channel for organizations and individuals. Despite this growth, it’s still a marginal tool in corporate learning and not fully embraced for its potential to make culture accessible. 

But by listening to a simple conversation, employees can learn from the insights and experience of internal experts in an approach to collaborative learning that doesn’t break your L&D budget. So, how can you make podcasting work for your organization?

In this episode of The Learning and Development Podcast, I speak with Shannon Martin, podcast and communications specialist at Lower Street, about some challenges organizations face and overcome to make podcasting effective for their learning and development initiatives.

Read on to discover how a Fortune 500 company utilizes podcasting in L&D initiatives, learn four best practices for creating your own podcast for learning and development, and how to leverage this medium to showcase your organization's culture.

The world loves podcasts

Podcasting continues to grow, with Apple Podcasts statistics saying there were 5 million podcasts with 79 million episodes in May 2023.

In Shannon’s experience, podcasts are popular because they let us multitask while listening. “Sometimes the initial thought might be that people are distracted, so they don’t learn as much,” she explains, “but the research shows quite the opposite.”

“Even watching them on YouTube, the medium is storytelling-based, which is key to how podcasts get information across so well,” she says. “Whether it's an interview or an audio drama, there's always a storytelling element.”

How a Fortune 500 uses podcasts in L&D

In a recent podcast episode with Donald Clark, he mentioned how surprised he was that in-company L&D doesn’t leverage podcasts more, and Shannon agrees. 

“At Lower Street, we work on many branded podcasts,” she explains. “And in terms of podcasts for L&D, some of the most successful podcasts tell the story of people in the organization, which might be knowledge sharing or employee stories.”

A common theme Shannon sees is organizations using podcasts to highlight stories from all across the company to help people see different career paths, learn from their peers, or see the diversity within the organization. They can also help with employee development, internal branding, and recruitment efforts. 

In terms of podcasts for L&D, some of the most successful podcasts tell the story of people in the organization, which might be knowledge sharing or employee stories.

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“At Lower Street, one of the podcasts we’re working on is around a leadership cohort at a Fortune 500 company,” she says. “And even though it’s a super busy cohort, the leaders involved are getting a lot out of it because they enjoy being interviewed and featured.”

Leverage podcasts to show, not tell, company culture

Another podcast Shannon and her team at Lower Street are getting ready to launch focuses on unpacking company culture. 

During their daily commute to work, two leaders often discuss the business and decisions they must make. They realized that these conversations could help provide employees insight into the reasoning behind certain choices.

“This is going to be a cool podcast, and I'm excited to get it going,” Shannon says. “We're not just recording them having their car conversation. We will plan these out and consider how we get this information across.”

These employee-story podcasts are great for company culture because many new hires may be skeptical when they hear that the company culture at their new organization is great. “So, having actual stories and conversations with real people is how you show—not tell—and that's what a podcast is all about,” explains Shannon.

Having actual stories and conversations with real people is how you show—not tell—and that's what a podcast is all about.

Understand your internal audience 

In Shannon’s experience, it is essential to approach internal and external podcasts similarly, with a competitive landscape analysis research process and strategy.

“That doesn't mean that you're competing against the Serial or True Crime podcast, but instead trying to understand your internal audience and what they listen to,” she explains. 

You also need to consider how to promote the podcast within your organization, which includes how you intend to share it amongst employees and how you’ll make it easy for people to consume.

Related: What Do Your Learners Really Want?

4 best practices to get your podcast started

Shannon finds that looking at the following four best practices upfront can significantly reduce the risks of failing with your podcast. 

1. Set a clear goal: Be clear on the purposes of the podcast and decide whether a podcast is the best way to go about that goal.

2. Know your audience: Your audience will be internal, so understand their work life and what they enjoy and expect from podcasts. 

3. Plan your content: No one will engage with your podcast if you don’t have decent content. Keep your content concise and as helpful as possible. 

4. Identify your internal podcast champions: Identify the podcast enthusiasts within your organization. They can help share and build some excitement around the podcast and even chip in on the production. 

Thanks to Shannon for sharing her experience and insights with us! Check out our episode with Sarah Allen and Molly Howes on how Aviva is upskilling and reskilling employees in digital skills to future-proof their workforce or with Bonnie Beresford about how measuring business impact drives L&D’s alignment with organizational goals.

Want more peer insights on transforming workplace learning? Sign up to become a member of the L&D Collective, and check out our other #CLOConnect interviews with top L&D leaders on driving growth and scaling culture through Collaborative Learning. Or you can subscribe (below 👇) to our weekly newsletter to receive our latest posts directly in your inbox.