Reflections on the first Asia-Pacific Podcast Conference

Podcasting arrived on the scene more than a decade ago. The name tells you that. It comes from the words iPod and broadcasting. Ten years ago iPod was a name to conjure with.

Every so often podcasting goes through an up cycle. One is on now. It started last year when US President Barack Obama appeared on a podcast and there was a surge of interest in the digital audio format.

Podcasting is personal and public at once. For the last two years I’ve been a regular guest on the New Zealand Technology Podcast with Paul Spain.

This is a popular weekly show with a strong and loyal audience. At least as many people tell me they know my voice from the podcast as tell me they have read my writing.

When I’m on the podcast I speak personally with my own voice, expressing my own ideas. My journalism training tells me to be objective and stay in the background. Podcasting isn’t like that. Not at all.

Spain is the organiser of last week’s Asia-Pacific Podcast Conference in Auckland.

Although the event was on for two days, I only made it to the Saturday session. As a journalist I often go to conferences as an observer, reporting on what takes place. I still did that — my instinct it to watch, not take part directly. Yet I’m also intimate with the subject, so, just as when I’m on a podcast, it was hard to maintain professional distance.

What I saw was a mix of inspiration, business advice, advocacy, thinking about the mechanics of podcasting and some peeks behind the veil with the occasional what-does-it-all-mean questioning.

Usually I’d write a report of the conference, picking out highlights and newsy ideas. This time you get a handful of impressions and ideas I came away with:

The podcast conference vibe is collegial like, say, WordCamp. It’s friendly and co-operative. Even people who might compete with each other collaborate and share. There are people who are interested in the mechanics of making podcasts and others who focus on their messages more than how they get out. I noticed a lot of one-on-one help and support taking place in the background throughout the day. The overseas keynote speaker, Cliff Ravenscraft, was approachable and took time out to speak to anyone who approached him.

One panel session looked at collaboration between podcasters. The simple lesson: “Take time to refer to other podcasters when appropriate, they are not your rivals”.

Twice on Saturday the idea that podcasting was not just about old, white men was mentioned. Women were well represented on Saturday: two out of the three main speakers were female and the panel sessions were mixed.

There are many types of professional podcasts and some are damn good. Kaitlyn Sawrey from the ABC talked about professional quality podcasts she produces for the Australian broadcaster. Her production values are as high as broadcast radio. I was so keen to listen to these I downloaded examples while Sawrey was speaking.
On a side note. Sawrey’s ABC podcasts are often shorter than many others. Some of the ABC science podcasts only ran to 17 fact-packed minutes. This discipline pays off: less is more.

The attrition rate is horrible. Overseas keynote speaker Cliff Ravenscraft says: 80 percent of podcasters don’t get past their seventh episode.

Also from Ravenscraft: Quality is a key focus. He says: “No-one wants to listen to bad audio”. Podcasters invest in software, tools and equipment to get a good sound. The last session of the conference was a quick masterclass running through the tools and technique. Almost all the material here was new to me.

Good advice from Natalie Cutler-Welsh: “Extract quotes, the gems, from your podcast to share on social media.”

Lastly, this observation:

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