Inspirational Podcasts for Insights Professional: The Starter Pack

Since I’ve been out evangelizing podcasts to marketing research professionals, I am often asked which podcasts I recommend. Usually, I will recommend a few favorites and then after I leave, think of at least 5 more shows to suggest. It’s the problem I have when I share an obsession, you know. (Don’t ask me about knitting if you only have a few minutes.)

So, this is the first of a blog series to provide a curated list of shows I recommend.

I should clarify that I don’t listen to shows about marketing or business or entrepreneurs or anything like that. Don’t come here looking for business advice or self-help. Instead, come here to inspire your creativity and storytelling skills. Learn from the masters of interviewing and the craft of audio reporting.

In a sense, podcasts are qualitative research. They are one-on-one interviews, investigative research culled into insights and stories… what good qualitative research pros set out to do. I believe we can take inspiration and ideas from these shows to craft our research into more engaging and intriguing work.

To begin, here are a few well-known shows that I call “the starter pack.” Look to these shows to inspire your research design or presentation style. Even if your final presentation becomes a PowerPoint, perhaps you can find a nugget of inspiration in how you get to the story.

This American Life - This is the podcast that started it all for me personally. A “human interest” show that is always much more meaningful than it sounds. Each episode has a theme and stories are told on that theme, but they are not often the most obvious stories you’d expect. They go wide or they come at the topic from a different point of view. A favorite example is an episode on an aircraft carrier. You’d expect interviews with the generals, but they interview the woman who stocks the vending machines (and much more) to give us a sense of what life is really like on a ship out in the middle of the ocean.

Researcher’s application - In general, I like this show for interview styles and story telling ideas. But, you can also look to it for a new way to design a study. Let’s say you are working on an exploratory study. Consider asking a broader question. What is humor? What is fear? What is hunger? Then approach those questions from different angles. Interview a neuroscientist, attend clown school, ask a teenager what is funny. See where the story goes.

Radio Diaries - This show tells stories without a narrator. The story subjects receive a recorder and tell their own story. Listeners do not miss out on anything without the narrator, as stories are put together in such a way that stories come to life. A favorite episode of mine is The Last Place: Diary of a Retirement Home. Through several “characters” we see how life can be so different for residents of the same retirement home.

Researcher’s application - Let your respondents tell their story without the narrator. A challenge, for sure, but what if you stepped out and let the audio (or video) speak for itself? Of course, you’re putting your point of view in the telling based on the clips you choose, so consider the old writer’s mantra, “show, don’t tell.”

RadioLab - This show takes big science questions and breaks it down for non-scientists, but similar in the vein of The American Life, comes at it from different angles. I like this show for its illustration of how to make complicated topics approachable and emotional. My favorite episodes are from the earliest years, including this episode on Inheritance. They also take creative license with sound effects to make the show more intriguing.

Researcher’s application - Complicated topics don’t have to be dry or unapproachable.

The Daily - Each day the New York Times tackles the big story of the day with a 20-30 minute episode. They usually interview the lead journalist on the team to dig deep into the story, and they often discuss some of the ways they uncovered the story. It’s a great way to get further explanation on a key story and, frankly, it’s often easier to have someone tell you what happened and why it’s important than to read that really long story. I also enjoy learning about the journalists’ process in uncovering the stories, which can take months or years of investigation.

Researcher’s application - Consider presenting results of a study by having a conversation with one of the researchers on the team. Did your project have some advanced analytics? Interview the lead statistician who can explain what it all means and how they came to that result instead of piling it all into a PowerPoint. It may be easier for the end user of the research to understand when it is described in such a way. Imagine listening in on a conversation between researchers with clips from the research to hear the actual participants in the study. It’s illustrative, instructional and, hopefully, inspiring.

The goal of podcasts for research is to get us out of the habit of dumping everything into a PowerPoint and instead thinking about presenting our work in a way that is easy to digest and engaging to interact with but still provides the key information needed. These shows are a few examples of different ways we can approach this type of storytelling.

Do you have a favorite show that inspires your research? Let me know in the comments.