So you want to start a podcast? Excellent move at the moment. More and more people are swapping traditional media formats such as television and radio for their favorite new podcast shows. The world can find you. And the world is listening.
Starting a podcast isn’t easy. Before you plug in your mic and hit record, it’s essential to understand the difference between the different podcast formats. Are you hosting a podcast with regular guests? Maybe it is based around a particular theme? Or are you recapping a popular TV show?
No two podcasts are ever really the same – each podcast has the DNA of its host running through it. By finding the right format, you can plan the layout of your show. Having a plan in place will keep things running smoothly and give your podcast the professional finish it needs to gain popularity.
Popularity means word of mouth, which brings in new listeners each week and offers up ears to advertisers that could help turn your podcast into a lucrative business.
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What Is A Podcast Format?
Before we go any further, what’s a podcast format? Put simply; it’s the skeleton from which you can hang any number of episodes of a show. The format keeps the layout and content of your show consistent from episode to episode.
Without an appropriate format, your podcast has no structure and no consistency. Talking about a serious political subject one week, host a panel of comedians the next, tell a fictional story the week after, and you probably won’t build a core audience. No-one will know what they’re downloading on any given week. In comparison, your competitors with a firm structure are a safer bet and will get more downloads.
Sticking with a consistent format helps your audience get familiar with your podcast, and can make them excited waiting for their favorite segment of the show. It also helps with word-of-mouth marketing your podcast needs as it grows, and your audience will be able to describe your podcast to their friends and family more easily.
Your format becomes part of your word-of-mouth branding. It’s a familiar concept from late-night talk shows – each show will contain an opening monologue, several guests, a piece of host-specific comedy, and so on. You don’t have to have the same elements as anyone else. But having a recognized structure means listeners will know who you are, what you do, and be able to sell you to their friends as something they’d enjoy.
Most importantly, a podcast format makes life a lot easier for the host. You’ll be able to plan content ahead of time, get a better idea of what guests you want on each episode, and research them properly before they arrive.
Keep all this in mind so you can figure out which format is best suited for your podcast.
The Interview Podcast
The format of an interview podcast consists of a host bringing in a new guest that has a specific area of expertise each week and asking them questions about their field.
The format of an interview podcast is straightforward. It usually consists of a brief introduction to the show and the guest, then the interview, letting the questions guide the flow of conversation.
One of the main advantages of the interview podcast, it opens your show up to new ears. Ones that have been drawn in by the guest. They may come to your podcast as a fan of your guest. Now you’ve got the opportunity to grab their attention and keep them as a fan of your show.
One of the hardest things about an interview podcast format is that you can have difficulty booking guests and finding a window that works for you both. Booking guest difficulty is especially true if you’re new to podcasting, and your show hasn’t yet got the power to pull in the more prominent names you want on your show.
The Solo Podcast
Solo is the preferred format for experts in a particular area. They would like to impart some of their knowledge to an audience keen to learn more about the subject.
Perhaps the simplest of formats, it’s just you and your recording equipment. That’s not to say that consistency doesn’t matter, though, and you should still break your show down into different segments to keep your listeners interested. If nothing else, that allows you to sell ‘prime’ ad spots to advertisers.
Hosting a solo podcast means that you won’t have to worry about booking any guests or organizing your schedule to match up with anybody else’s. It also makes editing a lot easier as you won’t need to adjust multiple sound levels or cut out sections.
Keeping your energy levels high throughout the recording without having anybody else to bounce off can be difficult. Begin to sound monotonous, and you’ll have to fight to keep your audience interested in what you have to say.
The Panel Show
The panel show is the best format for a podcast that has multiple co-hosts or several guests at any one time. It’s an excellent format for shows that have a group of people discussing one subject and brings an organic, conversational feeling to your podcast.
Order is critical here, especially with so many guests, as things could quickly get out of hand. Again, breaking down the layout of the show into separate sections will help to keep everybody on track and concentrating on the subject matter.
Much like an interview format, a panel show keeps things interesting for your audience, and you’ll be guaranteed new and exciting stories each week. It also takes some pressure off you as the host, since you’ll have several people that can bounce off each other. But you’ll still need to steer the conversation where it needs to go throughout each segment.
If booking a single guest for an interview podcast is hard work, then booking multiple guests for a panel show is even harder. With a panel show, you have to synchronize all the guests’ schedules to record an organic-sounding episode. It’s also only natural for a panel of guests to want to talk about each subject for longer than you have planned.
That will leave you the difficult task of editing your podcast into its regular time frame without losing any valuable content. Some panel show podcasts have taken to releasing two versions – the standard version, cut to time as usual, and a more extended version, for hardcore fans to follow up. That involves more editing work but gives you two bites at your listeners from the same source material.
Co-Hosted podcasts are one of the most common formats. It involves two people having a conversation about a particular topic, but unlike the interview podcast format, both of the people on the show are co-hosts.
Great chemistry between the two hosts is crucial as you’ll mostly be inviting your listeners into your conversation, and nobody wants to listen to awkward pauses or moments of silence. The format is straightforward, and each co-host will usually take responsibility for different segments of the show, while the other bounces off the information they’re fed.
If you’ve known your co-host for a long time, you won’t need to worry about a script or a strict show layout. As long as you have specific key points that you want to discuss written down, the conversation will flow organically. It’s also an appealing format for solo-listeners that are on their commute to work, or who work from home alone. It can help them feel as though they’re invited to a weekly meet up with friends or colleagues.
Editing can be quite tricky since you’ll need to adjust levels for two voices rather than one, but this can be done relatively effortlessly with an audio interface or mixer. You’ll also need to make sure that you and your co-host are at the same energy levels for recording. And of course, your schedules will also need to match up if you’re going to publish an episode consistently.
Non-Fictional Storytelling Podcasts
The preferred format if you want to educate your audience on events that have shaped the world. The non-fictional storytelling format is the one to go for if you’ll be discussing history, true crime, or human feats.
This format can also mix with other forms, such as the interview or panel show. You may want to bring on guest speakers that have their personal experiences to share with your audience. Since you’ll likely only be discussing one topic per episode, the structure doesn’t necessarily need to be in segments. But, with all storytelling, it needs to follow the journey of the story itself with a beginning, middle, and end.
There are hundreds of stories you can choose to tell, so you won’t ever need to worry about running out of content. You also stand an excellent chance of gaining a dedicated audience, depending on the stories you choose and how you deliver them.
You’ll need to do a lot of research on each story before you begin telling it on your podcast, as any anomalies or incorrect facts will be noticed. Subject enthusiasts are reluctant to forgive any misinformation, on the basis that if they know more than you do, they’ve more business podcasting about it than you do.
Similar to radio shows, from a time before television, a theatre podcast is a recorded broadcast of a play or a reading of a fictional story. It usually involves several actors voicing the different characters that appear throughout the piece.
Given the length of the average play or book, the format of a theatre podcast plays out across several episodes. It doesn’t require much planning in terms of segments since the content written out for you.
You’re almost guaranteed a dedicated audience that is hooked on the storyline and will return week after week to see how the plot of the story plays out. Leaving each episode on a cliffhanger will help with this even more. You’ll probably get a lot of word-of-mouth advertising from people who tell their friends what’s happening with the show that week.
You’ll be competing with a lot of other storytelling platforms, including television and streaming services. If you’re recording as-live, you’ll also need to make sure that your cast of actors has a clear schedule to record week after week to keep character consistency.
Repurposed Content Podcasts
This format requires taking content that already exists and repurposing it in such a way that you get more value from it. For example, a comedian could take a stand-up gig that they’ve toured with and release it as a podcast, or a professor might record and release the papers they’ve written.
The layout of this format is straightforward with the content written; it will take minimal effort to turn it into something else that a podcast can use.
You don’t need a massive budget for repurposing and, since you already have the content, preparation and editing are straightforward.
Since the original content wasn’t for recording, it could sound a bit strange when spoken. You may also have an issue building a dedicated audience since the content already exists elsewhere to access. It may be worth tweaking the material for a podcast-exclusive version.
There are many different types of podcast formats to choose from, and finding the correct one will have a significant impact on your show. It will guide you on how to design your content and break each episode down into different segments. But putting the format in place will also help you find the audience for your show, and ensure they return week after week for the next installment.
So choose wisely, keep things consistent from week to week and, most importantly, have fun with your podcasting!