Do you value community outreach activities? Are you looking for better ways to communicate with—and educate—your patients, your peers, or even the media? If your goal is to deliver your message to more people, more effectively, more often, then I have the answer you’ve been looking for … and it’s powerful, fun and remarkably simple.Why not use the cutting edge technology of podcasting to spread awareness about the importance of proper oral health? Stay with me now—if you have a slight case of technophobia, that’s okay. I’m confident that if your practice has the technical know-how to produce an online newsletter, then learning to integrate podcasting into your outreach activities will be a snap. And believe me—podcasting is the most innovative mass-communication vehicle to emerge in years, and will greatly increase the impact and reach of your message.Let’s begin with the basics. Think of a podcast as a radio program that anyone can download from the Internet. Put another way, a podcast is a digital file that is available to everyone—via free subscription—over the web. Most podcasts are audio files only (like CDs), but video content can be added as well (like DVDs). The main advantage of podcasting over traditional broadcasting is that users can download these web files to their personal computers, mp3 players, and/or CDs, and then listen to them at their convenience—in their car, during their morning run, or even in your reception area.More and more, podcasts are becoming recognized as the latest robust communication tool to harness the Internet’s power to reach a large number of listeners quickly. If your podcast contains valuable information, your listeners will share it with others, rapidly disseminating your message around the globe. Also, because podcasts use RSS (really simply syndication) technology, new episodes are delivered to your subscribers seamlessly. Once a listener subscribes to a podcast using iTunes or another similar service, that service automatically downloads new episodes as they are released, making it practically instantaneous and effortless for your audience to receive your message.Putting together a professional-sounding podcast is easier than you might think. Since valuable content is paramount, the first step is to prepare interesting topics for your episodes. I suggest that you commit to producing bi-monthly episodes, meaning that you initially need only six topics per year. Once podcasting becomes part of your routine, increase your production to twelve topics per year. If you are already producing a paper or online newsletter for your patients, the most logical progression would be to reformat some of that content into podcasts. A good way to start is to identify topics that you could cover in more detail by talking about them in a podcast rather than writing about them in a newsletter.For example, the most recent newsletter that my dentist emailed to me included an article about the dangers of periodontal disease, including information on how it may be connected to the development of heart disease, warning signs to watch out for, and recommended preventative actions. This is valuable information that I am interested in, and I am thankful to be on this mailing list. But imagine that I have received this information in the form of an audio podcast, personally recorded by my dentist, urging me to book an appointment for a much-needed checkup. I am immediately spurred to action! Speaking directly to your audience—in your own voice and with your own inflection, tone and spirit—creates a much more intimate connection with your patients. This relationship-building quality is inherent in audio, and it’s part of what makes podcasting so powerful.If you have doubts about the widespread acceptance of digital audio files, consider this statistic: on April 9, 2007, Apple announced the sale of its 100 millionth iPod and more than 2.5 billion songs from the iTunes Music Store. Now consider that anyone can download podcasts from this same music store and listen to them via their mp3 player or their computer, or burn them to CD … for free! As more and more people (including your patients) “tune in” to audio files via the web, offering them podcasts that complement and expand on the content of your existing newsletters provides you with another way to remind them about the importance of proper oral health and the services you provide.So, what equipment and software do you need to record and produce a podcast? You can become a podcasting pro in just seven simple steps:1. Verify that your PC is running Windows 2000, XP or Vista, and has the ability to play audio files.2. Invest in a microphone. Altec Lansing makes decent products, some of which list for under $30, and are available at Future Shop. But I recommend splurging a little to improve your audio quality. Blue Microphones makes a great USB mic called the Snowball, which retails for $130 on the Canadian online Apple Store. (This mic will also work with your Windows PC.)3. Download and install your recording software. Audacity is an excellent audio editor that is available for download from http://audacity.sourceforge.net. And you can’t beat their price point: it’s free.4. Record and edit your podcast.5. Partner with an online hosting service to set up a website specifically for your podcast. Liberated Syndication is extremely inexpensive and gives me everything I need. At $5 USD per month, I can lease 100 megabytes of storage space per month, which translates into about two hours of audio. This basic hosting account gives me unlimited bandwidth, meaning that even as my audience grows exponentially, my monthly cost never increases. LibSyn also provides me with easy-to-use templates for my podcast’s website, and automatically generates and updates my podcast’s RRS feed. Another, similar service worth considering is Go Daddy.6. Upload your new podcast to your hosting service using their simple submission page. Completing the submission page is similar to sending an email. Simply type in the title of your podcast (like a subject line), add the description of your episode (like the body of your email), and include your mp3 file (as an attachment). You can even attach a corresponding image, if you like. Uploading your podcast stores the mp3 file online and makes it available to your audience—they can download your podcast from your newly created podcast website.7. Promote your podcast! This is as easy as sending an email announcement to your contact list with the URL of your podcast’s website. But to take advantage of the various online podcast directories, you need to visit their websites and submit your podcast’s RSS feed. You should never pay to be included in these directories, since the best ones—including iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and Podcast Pickle—are free.For Mac users, these steps are even simpler, thanks to Garage Band and iWeb. As a Mac user myself, I’d be happy to pass along some pointers to get you started.Like you, I believe it’s important to remain connected with my client base, and as a lover of all things tech, I choose to use innovative approaches. I have successfully engaged the power of podcasting to promote my company in two weekly podcasts with rapidly growing success. And by following these seven simple steps, you too can become a podcasting pro!