Podcast Formats: Which Kind of Show Should I Create?
On Podcasting Step by Step, I break down the seven most popular podcast formats, and share some questions to help you choose the right format for you. Subscribe to the show for more podcast guidance mixed with loving motivation.
Just you and the mic. This is a great option if you are an expert in your field and/or you want become seen as a leader in your field. Coaches, mentors. You’re the trusted resource people go to for advice. An example of this is Natalie Sisson’s podcast Untapped, which helps people live up to their best possible life. Solo shows are also great for storytellers. The most popular example is probably Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. Daily news shows are often short and snappy and hosted by one person. If you’re interested in a roundup of daily podcasting news, you can check out Podnews by James Cridland. Or, maybe you’re interested in learing something new and sharing it by offering book or film reviews. Many options.
My personal favorite podcasting format. You, as an interviewer, get to learn something new and so does your audience. On my travel podcast, Postcard Academy, I primarily interview female expats to get their insider travel tips on their adopted countries, and I love having these conversations. I’ve even become friends and traveled with some of my guests. Interview shows can be done in person, or remotely via your computer. A benefit of having a guest is that they can share their episode with their friends and fans, and introduce your show to a new audience.
This can be a really fun option for you and a friend to create something together. Chemistry matters a lot when two people host a show, and so if you’re already friends we can listen in on your fun vibe and feel like we’re part of the action. Matthew and Elysha Dicks are a married couple who produce a podcast called Speak Up Storytelling, which you should definitely check out if you want to improve your storytelling skills. She Podcasts is co-hosted by Elsie Escobar and Jessica Kupferman. This is a personality-driven show that includes a lot of banter and insight into their lives, in addition to the podcasting world.
A group of people coming together on a certain topic on a regular basis. Some of the participants can vary but there’s usually a consistent host or two who manages the podcast and guides the conversation. The roundtable format is ideal for debates, opinions, and predictions. Vox’s Worldly is a weekly news podcast. Ray Ortega’s Podcasters’ Roundtable is a biweekly show about all things podcasting. Roundtables can also be a fun way for fans of a particular show to chat about the latest episode and predict what’s coming next.
This format mixes different segments. Example: Two Fat Expats. Co-hosts Kirsty Rice and Nikki Moffitt break their podcast into five topics: geographically challenged; expat relationships; expat tech; expat money; and location location location. They have a recurring guest and do a mini-interview with someone new on each show. These unique segments keep the flow of the show moving and set them apart from other co-hosted shows.
Think high-production NPR, BBC documentary-style shows. Hosts interview multiple guests, have lots of ambient noise they capture on location, and teams of people to help produce each episode. This style of show sounds great and is very labor intensive. You can do a smaller scale version of this but it will still take you a lot of time because not only are you interviewing people, you’re also scripting your narration around this, and that takes more time than you think. One of my favorite narrative podcasts is Gastropod, which combines two of my favorite things, food and history.
These shows are audio dramas, like radio dramas from decades ago. Homecoming is an example of a fiction podcast that was then turned into an Amazon series starring Julia Roberts. Fiction shows tell a story with episodes that need to be told in order from beginning to end. This is the serial format. Most podcasts can be listened to in any order, and this format is called episodic.
So what should you choose?
One format is not necessarily better or easier than the other. Dan’s Hardcore History episodes last for hours, are as in-depth as audiobooks, and take months to produce. Podnews comes out daily and is under two minutes. Here are some things to consider when choosing a format for your podcast:
Ask yourself what kind of show you would enjoy doing the most. Also factor in how much time you’re willing to commit. Podcasting usually takes a lot longer than people think it will. How long can depend on many things, including your show format, whether you’re outsourcing things like editing, and your level of expertise in what you’re talking about. How often would you want to podcast? Daily? Weekly? Bi-Weekly? If you’re brand new, podcasting less than twice a month will make it harder to build an audience. You can also choose to podcast seasonally, putting out ten episodes, or whatever you decide, taking a break, and then coming back (hopefully refreshed).
Solo shows are great for subject matter experts, but not only them. If you’re a professional gardener, creating content for a solo podcast on growing tulips will be easier for you than for someone with zero gardening experience who has to research every episode. But, hey, if you’re a flower newbie who’s excited about sharing your new greenhouse skills, do that show and take us along for the ride.
First-time podcasters often shy away from solo shows because standing on stage by yourself feels scary -- I felt the same way when I started podcasting. But solo shows are a great way to build your confidence and comfort level in putting yourself out there. So think about this option as a stretch goal for yourself if you’re feeling a little apprehensive about it. Maybe this is something to work up to.
The interview format is likely easiest for beginners but they still require a lot of work. Just because you’re interviewing someone else on their expertise, doesn’t mean you should just rock up to the interview with no prep. Great questions come from doing a bit of research on your interviewee, and you’ll also feel more confident as a host when you know what you’re talking about. Plus, you want there to be a point to your episodes, for your listener to have learned something, and proper research will help you identify that point so you can build your conversation around it.
Interview shows also require that you find guests, reach out, schedule a time to record, and do the actual recording. Scheduling tools like Acuity can help keep you organized.
If you go the co-host route, work out your roles and responsibilities from the beginning. Is there a main host, and the other person just shows up? Will you be doing equal work? Do you have time in your schedule to consistently record? If you plan on working with someone else, think about writing down who does what, and also think about what you’d do later if your podcast starts earning money. Would you split the profits 50/50?
For roundtables, it’s a good idea to have one person serve as host to moderate. This ensures everyone can get a word in. People can also use hand signals as a sign they want to jump in next.
Narrative podcasts take a lot of time, but getting support can help. If you have the money, consider outsourcing your editing or episode research. Share the work with a co-host. And go bi-weekly if weekly is too much (that’s what they do on Gastropod).
You also don’t have to stick rigidly to one format. My other podcast, Postcard Academy, is primarily interviews, but I mix some solo episodes in there, and I have even experimented with narration. The most important thing is that you’re giving your listeners the content they want and need and are looking for.
Do you know what format you want for your show yet? Send me a message on Instagram and let me know about your show.