So, you want to start a podcast?
Before you begin thinking about where to host your feed or how to attract listeners to your show the first thing you need to do is decide what kind of show you'll be making. You need to choose a format.
Here's the thing that often surprises some people– not every podcast has to be an interview show.
While interview shows may be one of the most popular formats out there currently, there are many different ways to make a podcast and stand out. Here we'll be covering six main podcast formats to help you decide which will suit your content best:
- Non-fiction storytelling
- And fiction storytelling (sometimes called podcast theatre)
Why choosing a podcast format is important
Building an audience is all about consistency. Consistency in the topics you talk about. Consistency in the style of photographs on your blog. Consistency in the frequency of when you'll post new content. And for podcasts, consistency in your show format.
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Your audience likes to know what to expect when they click play on a new episode. If your show features a serious interview one week, a comedic discussion the next, and a solo rant the week after, you'll find it harder to gain traction. Your audience won't know how to describe your show when talking about it to other people, so it will be difficult to get new listeners through personal recommendations. And if you start with a totally blank slate each week it will be hard for you to keep up with the content production too.
The six most popular podcast formats
Luckily, it's fairly easy to settle on a format once you start thinking about what you want your show to be and the best ways you can bring value to your audience. Let's dig into the pros and cons of the six main formats.
A classic in the podcasting world, interview shows generally feature a consistent host (or hosts) and a new guest each episode. They give the audience a chance to be introduced to a lot of interesting people within a niche and learn from their expertise.
Interview shows work best when there is a common thread connecting all the guests. Lead Singer Syndrome, for example, features a frontman of a band interviewing other lead singers about their experience, and The Laptop Lifestyle, hosted by ConvertKit's own Alexis Teichmiller, is all about entrepreneurial millennials. This consistency in niche is important when your audience is being introduced to someone new each week, so you'll need to decide what will connect all of your guests.
- As conversation flows, minimal editing will be needed.
- You won't run out of things to say on a topic, as each guest will bring their own perspective on your niche.
- You'll need to put in the work of emailing and arranging new guests and recording on their schedule. And of course, you'll be at the mercy of Internet connections if you're interviewing via Skype or Google Hangouts.
- There is already an abundance of interview shows. You'll need to think of a unique spin or niche to make yours stand out.
Listening to a conversational podcast feels like overhearing a chat between two friends. Usually these types of shows have multiple hosts, and episodes could feature discussions on a focussed topic (like an album review roundtable on Modern Vinyl), or a wide range of things (ie- they chat about tech, life, and the Internet on Hello Internet).
These types of shows are easy to listen to, easy to record, and tend to be between half an hour to an hour long. Listeners will tune in because they like the hosts' personalities and because it is a conversation they're overhearing, they'll feel more connected to the hosts than to those reporting a story in a non-fiction storytelling show, for example.
- Less structure means less time spent planning. You'll just need a brief outline in place of what you want to discuss in the episode.
- There is always someone to bounce off of if you run out of things to say.
- To keep your audience engaged and coming back for more, you'll need to get creative and specific with the topics you discuss.
- Depending on where your co-host is located, you may have to deal with recording separately and editing the tracks together. And just like with interview shows, you'll be at the mercy of Internet connections when you talk over Skype!
Educational shows often have multiple hosts but are more structured than a conversational podcast. The episodes will feature a specific lesson or takeaway, and listeners will tune in ready to learn about the topic at hand. Mariah Coz and Megan Minns of The Femtrepreneur Show, for example, produce new episodes every week teaching people how to create, run, and sell online courses.
Learning by listening to a podcast is great because you can do it while commuting, doing the dishes, walking the dog– they turn downtime into productive time! And producing an educational show will often mean creating evergreen content that can be consumed for years to come.
- High-value information will keep your audience coming back for more.
- It's easy to create supplemental content like PDF downloads, videos, or even full courses to get your audience involved on multiple levels.
- Some topics can be hard to teach without supporting visuals. You can direct listeners to your site for show notes, but overall your lesson should be easy to grasp through audio only.
No co-host, no problem! Solo-casts feature monologues on a topic that's important to the creator. The episodes tend to be based on the creator’s own experience and could be anything from comedy to advice-based content. Your audience will really feel like they get to know you, and you can feel free to bring on guests every now and then for added interest.
- No need to schedule recording around anyone else. Make a new episode when and where it works for you!
- You'll build a deep personal relationship with your audience.
- With no one to bounce off of, you'll have to hold down the fort on your own.
Podcasts that tell true stories
Storytelling podcasts are shows that do just that– report on stories from the world around us. They could be epic, in-depth sagas like the true-crime investigation of Serial. They could report on the news like The Daily. Or perhaps they bring to light smaller-scale interesting things like the science-based storytelling on Science Vs.
You could tell one story across a season (or multiple seasons!) or keep it short and have a new story for each episode. Either way, non-fiction storytelling podcasts are a chance for you to share your curiosities with the world. You'll need to put your investigator hat on to make a show in this format as they usually involve audio clips from different interviews and narration to inform the audience of what they need to know to get a complete understanding of the story.
- These types of shows are addictive, as shown by the viral success of Serial. In an article on The Atlantic, Emma Rodero, a communications professor at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, said this on the subject,
“Audio is one of the most intimate forms of media… you are constantly building your own images of the story in your mind and you’re creating your own production.”
- There's a lot of freedom to get creative with editing and production.
- Generally a higher production value is expected with this type of show so there may be a learning curve when getting started, and you may not be able to produce shows as regularly.
- These are not the types of shows where you can just hit record and talk into the microphone, there will be more planning and researching time involved.
If you're a fan of audiobooks or fiction stories in general, you'll love podcast theatre. These are fictional stories told across episodes like a TV show, but just audio! They feature voice actors, scripts, and just like TV shows they often have cliffhangers and intriguing plotlines that keep listeners wanting to know what's next.
If you're a fiction writer or into making short films this could be a great podcast format for you to explore and use your storytelling skills in a new medium.
- There is a less saturated market for these shows currently.
- Just like with non-fiction storytelling shows, these shows can be addictive!
- This format is a lot of work. You've got all the difficulty of writing a story, with the added work of producing it with voice actors!
- As this is a less common show format, it might be harder to get new listeners to give it a try.
How to pick your podcast format
Now that you've learned a little more about some different podcast formats ask yourself:
Which podcast format will suit my content best?
If the answer doesn’t immediately spring to mind, here are some clarifying questions that will help you make the decision:
What do you want your audience to get out of listening to your show?
If the main thing you want to do is help them learn, then perhaps an educational podcast will suit you best. If your goal is to entertain, then perhaps a conversation-based show with a hilarious co-host will work well for you.
Whatever your goal is, choose a format that will be best to help achieve it.
How can you make your show unique?
There's so much room for creativity within each format, and adding your own unique spin to it is important. For example, interview shows are a popular format in the business and marketing niche (for good reason, they allow the audience to learn from others' insights, successes, and failures), but this also means that if you decide to start an interview show in this niche you’ll have a lot of competition.
What will you do with this popular format so that you stand out? Give your audience a reason to listen to your show over the others in your niche. Perhaps this might mean combining elements of two different podcast formats or exploring a different side to your topic that other podcasts don’t touch on.
What format will best suit your personal strengths?
Along with choosing a format that best fits your goals, you should also consider your strengths and pick the format that best suits your content delivery style and editing abilities (although of course, you can always outsource that part if you wish).
For my podcast, Design Life, we chose a conversational format to talk about design topics over something heavily scripted or planned because we wanted to be seen by our listeners as peers rather than tutors. Tuning in to our show is like overhearing a conversation between two friends on a topic that’s affecting us as designers, because that's what it is! It's easy to record and easy to edit without outside help, which means we have no trouble sticking to a weekly schedule. So think about your own strengths and time constraints when selecting the format for your show.
What podcast format will you choose?
Of course, rules are made to be broken and you could go ahead and develop your own format from a hybrid of those mentioned above! In The Heart of It blogger Estee Lalonde uses a mix of monologue, interview, and storytelling techniques to share thoughts on a particular topic. And many solo-casts tend to break format every now and then and feature an interview with a guest. So don't feel trapped by this list. Instead let it inspire you to create the format that will best suit your show needs.
Continue building consistency with your audience through email
You know how we talked about your audience needing consistency in your podcast? Well they also need consistency in hearing from you.
Don't let them forget who you are and what you're about. Staying top of mind is key so you can be the expert your audience looks to when they need to learn about something, laugh, take a break from reality, or what just listen to an interesting conversation. And the best way to do this is with email marketing.
Having an email list is essential as a creator with a podcast. You need a way to directly contact your audience when you've got a new episode live, a product you want to pitch, or any kind of announcement you've got. And getting an email in their inbox means you know they'll see it- free of ads and algorithms.
And the best part? You can start your email list for free! ConvertKit's Free Plan lets you manage up to 1,000 subscribers and create unlimited landing pages, opt-in forms, and broadcast email.
Are you ready to own the relationship with your audience?