The Podcasters Across Borders conference was held last weekend in Ottawa. It assembled technical, artistic and broadcasting talent from across North America. This was my first year attending “PAB,” which started back in 2005.

The talks throughout the weekend focused on how to get ideas across via the digital communications that is all around us. But the speakers kept repeating the same two focus areas: the first was about how to be the person producing content and the second is the audience that the content reaches. Here’s my summary of what the speakers had to say on those two topics:

Producing Content and Communicating it

Professional Media Advisor Barry McLoughlin made the point that when you’re presenting, writing or otherwise conveying information: share your vulnerabilities, people will connect more deeply once you do.

Many people shy away from putting information about themselves on Facebook, LinkedIn, twitter or other sites because they’re afraid their employer will frown on them for having personal views. Dave Brodbeck, who’s workplace is fairly buttoned-down, freely presents a no-holds-barred version of himself online. His was a conscious decision – he’s a tenured Psychology professor at Algoma College, although he did give the idea of criss-crossing personal and corporate online identities a good amount of thought before he took the plunge. The safest way to handle this is to have separate work and personal accounts for your blogs/podcasts/tweets, but Bob Goyetche, who works at IBM, said he has a single account where he airs both work and personal views. He simply states up front whenever he’s not speaking for his company’s but rather speaking for himself.

Making information into content is hard, but it was made more intelligible by Adele McAlear, who described it as nothing more than telling a story. She drew terrific parallels of these new digitally-made stories with the older ways people shared personal stories (letters/postcards, conversations, home movies). She reminded us that the only thing that has changed is the media by which we tell them. Sue Murphy, who spends much of her time in the video production world, compared content creation to framing a photograph or a camcorder shoot. When composing a shot, everyone focuses on the foreground – the subject you’re focused on – but she urged us not to forget the background and the surroundings, because they give the subject its/his/her context. If you think about this the next time you write an email or a blog, record a YouTube clip or post something to Flickr, you’ll end up adjusting your approach…and make your message more compelling.

Building and Engaging an Audience

Long-time podcamp luminary Whitney Hoffman spoke about the social contract struck with the audience. For people presenting information, she said: “Ask yourself: what do I want my audience to know, do or feel?” Then she said to explicitly tell them what they should know, do or feel. Don’t hide it.

Sue Murphy, in her talk, made the case that you play an active part in conveying something to your audience, because even though you’re not talking about yourself, “your stories will speak to people because you’ve woven them yourself.”

Mike Tennant, of CBC’s Age of Persuasion, said that to build an audience, you must go for the long haul, consistently putting out content. Great messages juxtapose ideas, giving the brain an incongruity that forces it to analyze an idea. It’s not just an attention-grabbing gimmick, it’s how our brains work to keep us aware of our environment. As a marketer might say, do something out of the ordinary to get noticed. Finally, he said that making ideas that resonate means you need to appeal to the left and the right sides of the brain. A little bit country, a little bit rock and roll.

Business strategy consultant Nancy Morris told us not to second guess ourselves: what we have to say is relevant to an audience by virtue of the fact that they’re listening to us. This is a reminder not to be distracted by the nagging doubts in our heads when we’re sharing ideas with others (the good news is they can’t hear those nagging voices).

The ideas from Podcasters Across Borders is relevant to businesses, including those of us in sales and marketing, because if we want someone to take action on something, they first need to absorb a piece of information that persuades them to act. You have to know what effective digital communications is because it’s now our main way of communicating. Be it an app you want to sell, a lecture point you want to convey or a joke you want people to laugh at, you’re in the communications business.