Thursday, May 19, 2011

Podcasts: Why you should be listening

My newest blog post for our company blog was published this morning, and it's one I definitely want to share with you!

Free content that’s especially good for the multitasker

Business books put me to sleep. I know they offer a lot of expertise, but I find it physically difficult to slog through most of them.

But you know what? I don’t feel like I’m really missing out on much. Call me a product of generation Y, but because of the up-to-date, relevant information I can get through blogs and podcasts – many of which are offered by those business-book authors themselves – I feel like I’m staying educated.

I’ve extolled the virtues of blogs (and feed readers) here in the past, but podcasts deserve a post of their own.

What is a podcast?

Podcasts are audio files that are released through the web in episodes and generally on a schedule. This Mashable article includes a good introduction:

“[Podcasts] are simply audio files released through the web on a — more or less — regular basis. Like a YouTube video, podcasts don’t really have a set time limit. They can range from just a couple minutes to upwards of two hours. But unlike YouTube videos, podcasts rely more heavily on subscriptions, meaning people actually sign up to receive your podcast whenever it comes out (though they can listen without subscribing).”

Podcasts share characteristics with both blogs and radio shows. Like blogs, anyone, whether novice or expert, can create one, and each post – or episode -- is distributed online and can be subscribed to via RSS. Like radio, many are audio-only episodes (though more and more video podcasts are being produced) and feature a host who either speaks on a particular topic in each episode or interviews a guest. (Many traditional radio programs are also available after broadcast in podcast form online.)

After you’ve downloaded a podcast audio file, you can listen on your computer or sync the file with your favorite MP3 player or smartphone. (I favor the iPod route, myself, so for the purposes of this post, that’s the method I’ll refer to.)

Why you should be subscribing and listening

Podcasts offer a wealth of knowledge and commentary on any topic under the sun – and it’s usually completely free to listen. Want to learn about marketing? You’ll find hundreds of options. Interested in Internet marketing specifically? Dozens are at your disposal. It’s a bit like perusing the shelves at your favorite bookstore.

If you’re one of those people who find yourself saying, “I don’t have time to read,” then podcasts are definitely for you, because you can listen while you multitask. My favorite time to listen to podcasts is in my car during my commute to and from work. I know of at least one of my coworkers here at MB who listens to podcasts on his iPod while he walks his dog. Maybe you’ll want to listen while you’re fixing dinner, getting ready for work, working in the yard... you can take advantage of the opportunity to keep busy while you’re listening at the same time.
Where to find podcasts

The major hub for podcasts is the iTunes store, but other sources like are available, and you can often get the files directly from the provider’s site.

If you go the iTunes route, you can download podcasts directly from your smartphone. Or you can launch the program on your computer, open your iTunes store and click Podcasts in the menu bar at the top. On the Podcasts home page, you’ll find new and noteworthy episodes, staff favorites, and a list of featured providers.

You can narrow down your options by using the drop-down menu (tiny white arrow next to Podcasts in the menu bar) to broadly navigate categories or by doing a search. The search box at the top right is at your disposal, or you can return to the home page, click Power Search near the top on the right side, and choose Podcasts from the first drop-down menu you’re given. This is handy if you’re looking for something more specific, like podcasts about marketing in the business category.

Now it’s up to you. You can try an episode or two before you decide to subscribe, or jump right in. Download to your heart’s content; the only limitations are how much storage space you have for your files and how much time you have to listen.

Finding good recommendations

The magnitude of available options can be overwhelming, so how do you narrow it down? Check out the listener ratings in the iTunes store, search your favorite blogs for suggestions, or try asking your friends.

And what kind of friend would I be if I didn’t give you some recommendations myself? Here are some of my favorites, all of which are free and available through iTunes:

Give podcasts a try. Whether you only have five minutes or you’re willing to listen for 60, podcasts are a treasure for the intellectually curious. Listen for professional development, listen for fun -- just listen.

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