11 min read
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
What podcast format is your favorite to listen to? Why do you think that is? Share your thoughts in the comments below!