You’ve picked your podcast topic, now it’s time to pick your podcast format.
There are many podcast formats you can choose from, but which format is right for you?
As you go through the different podcast show formats, think about the topic you chose and what format will allow you to best present your topic.
For example, if your topic is about entrepreneurship, you might choose an Interview format because interviewing entrepreneurs who’re “doing it” will give your listeners the most value. Entrepreneurs are all about breaking the rules and getting work done, so your listeners will probably want to hear about the creativity that helped people become successful.
One great tip is to listen to some of your favorite podcasts. Whether it’s Oprah, Joe Rogan, Pat Flynn, Tim Ferriss, or Gary Vaynerchuk, think about what makes them unique.
Then think about what’s unique about you and as you go through these formats, what goes well with your personality?
So let’s get started on this important step in starting a podcast.
These are the Best Podcast Formats out there.
Solo / Monologue
This is all you. This is a common format because some podcasters are experts in their topic and can talk about their topics for 30-45 minutes.
Going with a solo podcast allows for maximum flexibility when you want to start a podcast. All you need to do is turn on your computer/digital recorder and start talking into a microphone. There’s no one else you need to rely on to record, so you’ll be able to record wherever and whenever. But one thing you’ll want to do is to plan what you want to talk about before recording.
Not many can just wing it for 30 minutes. If you’re a person who can speak into a microphone for 30+ minutes with an outline, do an outline. If you need to write out a script, create one. The thing you’ll want to keep an eye on is to sound natural. If you have a script, don’t sound like an audiobook.
You can also combine the solo/monologue format with other formats too, creating a variety show format. Sprinkle in special episodes with guests or stories. You can also do some Q&A shows where your listeners can send in questions via email or social media DM’s, and you answer those on your podcast.
It’s your podcast and you can do what you want with it.
This is a popular podcast show format as it’s always fresh. The podcast host is consistently bringing on new guests for interviews and those guests are providing new information for audiences.
If you want to do an interview format, treat it as if you were a TV show host. Prepare for the guest, especially if the guest is an expert in a specific subject matter. Prepare and structure your interview beforehand. Even do a pre-interview with your guests, so you’re both prepared on the questions and topics you’ll be talking about.
Some of the best podcasters, YouTubers, and TV hosts will do pre-interviews. Your guest may even have something that they’ll want to bring up, so you can prepare a question in advance to prompt them. Remember, they’re also willing to come on because they’re also potentially hoping for additional exposure.
Keep it casual and fun too. I know I said to also do a pre-interview, but it’s more about creating an outline/bullet points of episode topics, questions, and what to talk about. It’s not word-by-word scripting. If you and the guest already know each other well, your pre-interviews will probably be rather short. List out the handful of things you want to cover and you’re done.
Not being prepared for the interview beforehand will usually end up in awkward pauses. And while you can edit out those pauses, the actual interview time will be long and your guest’s energy will wane. You can’t amplify energy in audio editing.
If you want to up your game, you can also bring on multiple guests and have a round table discussion. If you do bring on multiple guests, people will be talking over each other, so be sure to moderate well.
One of the best interview podcasts is The Joe Rogan Experience. Check out that podcast here. Take a look at other podcasts and see what their interview style is. Think about what brings people back each episode. Then start creating your own interview style.
Co-Hosting a podcast can be a great idea if you have great chemistry with someone else. If you’re a person who works and thinks best with others, this could be a way to go. Be sure you don’t find a co-host exactly like you. Co-hosts are complementary. Be sure that you complement each other with knowledge, skills, and work ethic.
The co-hosted podcast show format offers many advantages. You’re able to have conversations and that helps bring the energy up overall. Co-hosting also helps with splitting the duties between two people, rather you doing it all yourself. Audiences are listening to an organic discussion and not feeling like it’s scripted. That conversational feel helps create a friendly, familiar environment for audiences.
The co-hosting format does come with disadvantages too because there’s two of you now. You’ll both have to agree on episode topics and you’ll have to go through topics that both of you can speak on. Or a general topic that you can agree on for the whole show, but each of the co-hosts can bring their own thoughts to each episode.
If you do decide to go the co-host route, be sure to have a partnership agreement of some sort in place. If you’re good friends, it’s even more important to have an agreement before starting. The agreement lists out the roles and responsibilities that’re needed when putting together a podcast show. Who’s going to handle equipment setup/breakdown, editing, scheduling of guests, show planning, sales, marketing, social media, sponsorship/affiliate deals, profit splits, etc. And don’t forget, what happens when the show ends? Who gets what?
There are many things to think about when joining forces with a co-host. And you can also consider co-hosting with your kids or setting up a podcast for your kids to host themselves.
One of my favorite co-hosted podcasts is the My Favorite Murder podcast hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. I did a case study to learn some lessons on what made them successful.
They have a huge Murderino fan base and tour to sold-out shows worldwide. Their format works well for them too because they have the common theme of true crime murders. But what they do is they each research their own murders and bring them to the episode. Karen and Georgia each talk about their own murders, so they’re able to riff off each other and the stories. They play off each other so well and people feel engaged.
Storytelling – Scripted Fiction
Storytelling in an audio format has been around for decades. The Golden Age of Radio was around the 1930’s-1950’s and families huddled around their radios to listen to the news and produced stories.
The storytelling format is similar to the old radio shows in that each episode’s story is scripted and produced by a team. The production value of these is much higher because they often require sound effects, guest actors, and more financial resources. Your audience may not be families huddled around the radio like the olden days, but people will be listening in.
Many people starting out won’t be able to afford to do these scripted fiction stories.
A great example is the We’re Alive: Goldrush podcast.
Storytelling – Scripted Non-Fiction
This type of format can be less produced without as many sound effects and guest voices. Podcasters who are good storytellers can do well here.
Telling stories is not something that anyone can just do. A popular scripted non-fiction subset is the True Crime format.
Serial is probably the most well known with scripted non-fiction as they tell true stories over the course of a podcast season. Serial helped to popularize podcasts and drove many to podcast themselves.
A great example of a non-fiction storytelling podcast is the award-winning This American Life. They pick a theme each week and tell various stories around that theme.
News / Current Events
Live radio news stations have been around since the advent of radio. So why make a podcast in a news format?
When you watch the news on TV or listen to it on the radio on your way to work, you can’t filter it for any specific industries, topics, or just the biggest news stories. When it comes to industry podcasting, NPR is a great example with its 12 different podcasts in various industries.
News podcasts will focus on the top news stories for that day or another specified time period. Every episode will eventually be outdated, so news podcasts will need to continually pump out a new episode on a regular schedule.
The only issue with news podcast formats is that older episodes will not be listened to because the news will be outdated. If you want to stay relevant with this type of show, you have to consistently record new episodes to keep audiences tuned in.
On the other end of the quickly-outdated news episodes are the evergreen podcasts that can come with Educational Podcasts. These podcasts are all about teaching listeners and education has a longer shelf-life.
Educational podcasts don’t always need to be ongoing either. They could be a limited number of series and it acts as an audio course, similar to online courses. These can be similar to audiobooks in that there’s an end to the book/course. An example of this would be Seth Godin’s Startup School.
Case study podcasts can be considered a subset of the educational format. I think most business students have heard of the Harvard Business School “legendary case studies.” They’re now in a podcast channel with HBR’s Cold Call podcast.
This is more of a personal decision and depends on your target audience. Will your listeners mind if you’re using explicit language?
Do know that if you do have explicit language, Apple Podcasts will ban your podcast in some Middle Eastern countries.
Podcast Episode Length
Length is another personal decision. Average podcasts are 20-60 minutes long. Depending on the format you choose, that’ll probably be a determining factor for most people.
If you go with a solo/monologue format, you might average around 30 minutes. If you have an interview format, you might average between 40-60 minutes. If you have a co-host, you might go 45-60 minutes because the talking is split between two co-hosts.
Once you start recording and editing your early podcasts, you’ll start finding your own sweet spot.
Podcast Show Format Wrap Up
There’s no one format that fits all nor a perfect format that will get you millions of listeners. Just pick a format that you feel comfortable with and as you record more episodes, you can always adjust your format if you feel that your original one isn’t working.
The idea is to keep moving. Choose a show format and get to the next step of picking your podcast name.