How to Tell Compelling Audio Stories About Seemingly Dry Topics - 5 Tips from Red Hat

Think your industry is "boring"? Think again. Take these tips from Red Hat on how to create an engaging show on a seemingly dry topic.

When you sell open-source software solutions, crafting an entertaining podcast about your main area of expertise might seem like a tall order. How exactly do you make a seemingly dry topic like open-source technology compelling?

Well, after countless hours of research and brainstorming, open-source technology company Red Hat cracked the code. Their podcast, Command Line Heroes, has run for five seasons, attracted over 2 million downloads, and was even nominated for two Shorty Awards in 2019.

We wrote extensively about Red Hat’s story in a previous post, but we also wanted to delve into five takeaways that we extracted from their successful process. Read on to learn how to tell compelling audio stories about seemingly dry topics.

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1. Interview your audience

Marketers create content for people to enjoy. So, why do so many of us rely exclusively on analytics dashboards to inform our ideas?

It might take more time and effort, but interviewing your audience about what they’re interested in and what they want your show to cover is the most effective way to build a loyal, passionate following. After all, you’re creating content for humans, not an algorithm.

“Why do so many of us rely exclusively on analytics dashboards to inform our ideas? After all, we’re creating content for humans, not an algorithm.”

At Red Hat, they sourced most of their ideas for the first season of Command Line Heroes at one of their booths at a customer event. The booth was called “Comics and Coffee.” In addition to offering beverages, snacks, and portraits from caricature artists, they asked people what they were interested in and what they thought was cool. By the end of the event, they had countless hours of transcripts from which they could extract interesting ideas.

To source ideas from your audience, consider interviewing customers at upcoming events like Red Hat did, sending out a survey to your email subscribers, or interviewing your power users in person or through a video chat.

2. Monitor social media

People love expressing their thoughts and opinions, especially on social media, so consider using that information to your advantage. Red Hat does this by scanning Twitter and Reddit to uncover what the industry’s most revered influencers are interested in, such as a specific book or methodology.

“If we see something interesting or a bunch of people commenting on something, we’ll ask ourselves, ’Why is this important? Why do people care?'” says Laura Hamlyn, Red Hat’s Senior Director of Global Content. “A lot of our research is actually sourced from our team monitoring the industry. It’s almost like a detective putting all people on the wall and figuring out where the dots are connected.”

To find out what gets your audience going, consider leveraging audience intelligence tools, like SparkToro, using social listening tools, like Sprout Social, and monitoring relevant hashtags and keywords.

3. Get multiple teams involved in the creative process

The general definition of creativity is blending seemingly unrelated ideas into one. The more unrelated the initial ideas are, the more creative the final idea becomes. And when you have a seemingly dry topic to cover, you need all the creativity you can get.

An effective way to bring a variety of ideas to your brainstorming sessions is to improve the cognitive diversity of your team. You can do this by getting as many people as possible involved in the creation process.

Red Hat lives and dies by this philosophy, involving their user experience, graphic design, account management, and other teams in the creative process — and it has paid huge dividends for them. At your company, consider gathering all your teams in a meeting or circulating an idea document so that anyone can contribute their thoughts on a great topic.

4. Master story structure

At Red Hat, each of their episode’s narrative spices up the topic of open-source technology persuades their audience to keep listening, and, ultimately, builds a loyal, passionate audience for their show.

For instance, Red Hat initially launched Command Line Heroes to support their new operating system, Red Hat Enterprise Linux. But instead of reeling off the benefits and features of their new product, they dedicated the first two episodes of the show to the Apple-Windows OS wars, which is one of the most interesting and dramatic stories in tech.

However, this still begs the question — how exactly do you tell a good story? One of the most fundamental storytelling skills to hone is structure because the structure in a story is like scaffolding on a house. Build on top of a foundation, and you end up with a sturdy home. Without it, though, things will start to crumble.

“Structure in a story is like scaffolding on a house. Build on top of a foundation, and you end up with a sturdy home.”

In our article, Learning from Popular Television: 5 Key Story Structure Elements, we dive deep into the Hollywood story structure. We analyzed five different hit shows and uncovered how to model your video series and podcasts after Hollywood’s most compelling stories. Here’s a quick rundown of the story structure we cover:

  • Exposition: The world or situation the hero lives in, their status quo
  • Inciting incident: A significant event that disrupts their status quo, creating a pressing problem in the hero’s life and compelling them to solve it to return to their everyday life
  • Progressive complications: Obstacles that hinder the hero’s chances of getting what they want, escalating the story’s conflict
  • Turning point: A revelation that helps the hero realize what’s required to succeed
  • Crisis: A tough decision that will either set the hero on the path to success or failure, and they’ll never return to their regular life again
  • Climax: Gutsy move necessary to succeed, often revealing the hero’s real character and changing their worldview forever
  • Resolution: Indications of how much the hero has changed

Since the human brain is wired to respond to stories, a compelling narrative can spice up even the most boring topic. But to tell a good story, you need to learn the fundamentals of storytelling first.

5. Consider hiring external help from the pros

If you’ve never crafted a highly produced, narrative-style podcast before, let alone one about a seemingly dry topic, consider hiring an agency to guide you along the way. They can help you extract compelling story ideas from the data you’ve collected on your audience, construct an engaging overall narrative, write gripping scripts, and record and edit captivating audio, regardless of your subject matter.

Red Hat partners with the renowned podcast agency, Pacific Content, to plan and produce the show. However, if you need to find an agency within a specific price range, check to see who produced your favorite branded or original podcasts and reach out to them. If you’d rather pursue a more affordable option, consider thumbing through a freelance marketplace like Fiverr or Upwork.

If you’d prefer to create your show in-house but still want some professional guidance, consider signing up for a podcast workshop, such as The Showrunner Sessions, run by Jay Acunzo of Marketing Showrunners. Acunzo will teach you a process for crafting compelling episodes, offer 1:1 instruction, and facilitate Q&As with other top marketers.

Embrace storytelling to bring “boring” brands to life

Every brand has a story to tell, and it’s our job as marketers to bring those stories to life. Embrace your creative constraints and tap hidden resources, like your existing customers or other savvy teammates, to discover new and exciting perspectives. The opportunities are only limited to your imagination. And if you can get exceptionally creative, a podcast about a dry topic might even win your brand a Shorty Award.