Podcasts are a big deal.
An estimated 48 million episodes are floating around on the internet, and in 2020 more than a third of Americans listened to podcasts regularly. It’s understandable if you want to get in on the action and add your perspective to the podcast conversation.
After the initial buzz of “I think I’m going to actually do it!” you’re faced with a pretty important decision:
“What kind of podcast should I start?”
Both your podcast topic and format impact your workload and how your audience reacts to your content. After all, you need a great podcast that’s enjoyable for both you and your listeners. Here’s how to start strong.
Why you need to choose a podcast structure early
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
For podcasts, it’s also important to maintain consistency in your show format. Choosing a podcast structure upfront gives you a roadmap for your work and helps you deliver engaging content time and time again.
Here are three good reasons to choose your podcast style upfront:
- Your podcast format needs to align with your goals. You need a strong “why” to stick with a podcast for the long haul, even if your goal is having as much fun as humanly possible. Try to choose a format that helps you work towards your goal. For example, are you using a podcast to reach a new audience? Then you may want to bring on a different guest each week who can share the podcast with their audience and amplify your reach.
- You need to ensure you can keep up with the workload. If you narrow your topic or format too much, you may have trouble making a new episode each week or month for the foreseeable future. If it’s too broad, you might have a hard time contributing to the conversation. This is a Goldilocks moment.
- A consistent podcast style creates a strong value prop for new listeners. If you aren’t clear on what the podcast has to offer, you’ll have a hard time getting people interested. A clear and interesting format can attract new listeners. Once people start listening, it’s an excellent format for keeping your audience’s attention.
Seven most popular types of podcast formats
We’re big fans of not reinventing the wheel each time you sit down to create something. So, instead of trying to think of some never-been-done-before podcast style, it’s usually best to choose a tried and true format that you can apply your personal twist to.
Here are the pros and cons of some of the most popular podcast formats.
1 – Interview podcasts
When you think of a podcast, the interview podcast format is probably one of the first to mind.
Interviews are arguably the most common podcast format, with a consistent host (or hosts) talking to a new guest each week. While guests and topics can vary, there’s always a theme that ties them together.
For example, ConvertKit’s I Am A Creator podcast features creators from various niches all discussing life as a creator.
Sarah Cohan, the host of the Lit AF Podcast, talks to coaches, teachers, intuitives, and brave souls about personal growth and self-acceptance. She shared her thought process on establishing the show’s style:
I wanted the audience to learn about personal growth using examples from my own life, so I pepper in anecdotes and my own stories during the interview to give real-life examples of the tools and frameworks that guests share. I share the format information and a list of questions with each guest to prepare them for the interview. Once a month, I record a solo episode to go deeper into specific topics.
Pros of interview podcasts:
- 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 or genre.
- If guests share the podcast with their followers, you can expand your audience
Cons of interview podcasts:
- 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 Zoom or Google Hangouts.
- There is already an abundance of interview podcast format shows. You'll need to think of a unique spin or niche to make yours stand out.
2 – Conversational
Conversational podcasts have a couple hosts that spend each episode taking on a topic. It feels like a casual discussion between friends and is the preferred format for an ever-growing list of celebrities.
On Deliverability Defined, Alyssa Dulin and Melissa Lambert get into the nitty-gritty of what it takes to make it to the inbox. Each podcast episode takes an important topic, like How to Recover From an Email Fail, and presents information in an enjoyable and relaxed conversation.
Alyssa shared why they chose a conversational format,
In Deliverability Defined, we often dive into complex, technical concepts. We thought the best way to illustrate these concepts would be through a conversational deep dive. Each episode we start by broadly explaining the topic and the background, then we dive into the details, and we end with action items or recommendations that listeners should know based on the information we provided. This helps keep our podcast informational and actionable for listeners.
Pros of conversational podcasts:
- 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.
- It’s a relaxed format that can make your audience feel like they know hosts more personally.
- Co-hosts can ask each other questions to clarify topics for themselves and the listeners.
- Each hosts brings their own perspective and ideas to make episodes well-rounded
Cons of conversational podcasts:
- 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 Zoom!
- Hosts need to have good conversational chemistry, so you may need to choose your co-host wisely.
- It can be hard to structure the podcast to ensure each co-host gets equal speaking time.
3 – Educational podcasts
Educational podcasts can be similar to an interview or conversational podcast, but they focus on teaching about a topic, such as growing a business or improving your painting skills. Since these podcasts can pack in a lot of info, show notes are essential to help consolidate learnings and link out to other resources.
Each month, Chris Lang releases an episode of the Property Briefings podcast. Chris is an Amazon best-selling author and leading Australian property advisor who uses his podcast to teach everything he knows about investing in commercial real estate.
Pros of educational podcasts:
- 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.
- Hosting educational podcasts can help you develop authority in a niche.
Cons of educational podcasts:
- 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.
4 – Solo podcasts
No co-host, no worries. Solo podcasting is an easy way to start since you don’t need a co-host or connections with guests. All you need is an idea, some basic recording equipment, and a free hosting platform.
Ashley Goode is a mindset coach and branding strategist who helps her audience shift their mindset each week with the Position for Purpose podcast. In each episode, Ashley covers topics like how to stay planted in your purpose through casual conversation, journal prompts, and personal stories in each episode.
Pros of solo podcasts:
- There's 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 since you’re the single podcast host and star of the show.
- Have the final say over what content makes the cut
Cons of solo podcasts:
- You have to carry the entire conversation
- You may not have someone to share the editing workload with unless you eventually hire editors
5 – Non-fiction storytelling + news
Not sure how to come up with a new topic each week? You could create a podcast that follows a true story or shares the latest updates in a niche. Traditional news outlets are even getting in on the podcast game, with daily podcasts like NPR’s Up First.
If you want to plan your podcast further in advance than the night before recording, you can try non-fiction storytelling like the award-winning Serial podcast. The investigative journalism podcast tells one true story each season and started in 2015 with the disappearance of Hae Min Lee.
Pros of news podcasts:
- Since you pull your content from outside events, you don’t need to come up with all of the topics or details
- Taking existing material, like court cases and mysteries, and stretching them across compelling episodes keeps listeners coming back to hear the rest
Cons of news podcasts:
- Generally, a higher production value is expected with this type of podcast, so there may be a learning curve when getting started, and you may not be able to produce shows as often as simpler formats.
- These are not the types of podcasts where you can just hit record and talk into the microphone since more planning and researching time is involved.
6 – Podcast theater
Fiction writers—here’s a podcast format just for you. Like radio shows of years passed, you can use a podcast to tell a fictional story over audio episodes. You can create a new story for your podcast or recreate your existing work in a new format.
Forest 404 is a fictional podcast from BBC described as an eco-thriller. The story is set in the 24th century, where forests have been erased, and each chapter has a narrative episode and an immersive “soundscape” recording.
Pros of podcast theater:
- There is a less saturated market for these shows
- Fictional narratives can be addictive!
- You can bring your stories to life in a way that text on a screen or page can’t
Cons of podcast theater:
- This format is a lot of work. You've got all the difficulty of writing a story, with the added effort 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.
7 – Bite-sized content or limited run podcast series
Maybe you (or your audience) aren’t interested in 40-minute podcast episodes. You can still create a podcast! Bite-sized episodes or limited-run podcast series let you dip your toes into podcasting or keep lessons short and snappy.
Rachel Corbett is a radio veteran who has worked on more than ten podcasts. One of her projects is the PodSchool podcast, which works alongside her podcasting course. Each episode is around ten minutes and helps listeners develop a podcast. Rachel shared what she likes about bite-sized episodes:
As someone who makes podcasts for a living, it's nice to only have ten minutes of audio to edit. But I also like that it makes the show feel digestible to the audience. There can be a tendency to want to keep talking, fill time, and over-explain your subject matter, so there's a discipline there that can be hard for some people to harness. People have such busy lives, and they have a million different sources of content to choose from. So, why would you take any more of their time than you need to?
Pros of short podcasts:
- Shorter episodes mean less prep, record, and edit time
- A limited-run podcast series is a good option for testing your audience’s interest in a topic or new format
Cons of short podcasts:
- If you have a limited-run podcast, you probably have to plan all of the episodes (at least to an extent) upfront
- Sometimes saying less is harder than saying more – you have to carefully plan how to deliver as much value in less time
How to pick your perfect podcast format
It takes two parties to podcast—you and your audience. When deciding which podcast format to start with, think about what will work for you and your listeners. Jeremy Enns, CEO of Counterweight Creative and creator of the Podcast Marketing Academy, shared tips on choosing your podcast format. To start, he noted that:
While there are plenty of opportunities for new shows to gain a foothold, podcasting is more crowded than ever before, meaning that a solid differentiation strategy is essential. Your format can (and should) play a big role in that differentiation.
Don't forget that you don't need to stick to one format, however. Personally, I recommend podcasters choose one primary format and then experiment with or cycle through alternative episode formats regularly.
If you’re wondering how to choose which podcast format to try first, here’s what Jeremy we recommend:
- Think about how you want to use your podcast in your business. Your goals and podcast format should work together. Consider what type of work you do and how you want to leverage the podcast. Jeremy shared that “starting an interview podcast might be the single best way to expand and level up your network by giving you an excuse to reach out, connect, and talk with people you'd otherwise never be able to access.” If you want to demonstrate your expertise as a coach or consultant, consider a solo show to highlight your knowledge and insights.
- Ask your audience what they want to listen to. Don’t be afraid to talk to your audience about what they want to hear and survey your email subscribers about podcast formats. Putting work into learning about your audience’s preferences before you start working can save you from straying too far from your subscriber’s preferences.
- Check out the competition. What are other podcasters in your niche or genre doing? If everyone is doing the same format, you have an opportunity to stand out with different types of formats. If you aren’t ready for a podcast of your own, consider reaching out to podcasters in your industry for sponsorship opportunities.
- Consider your strengths. Can you carry a conversation on your own, or are you more comfortable with a sidekick? Do you love the detailed work of research, or do you want to freestyle? While starting a podcast is hard work, you can leverage what you’re good at to make the transition easier.
- Be realistic about the workload you can manage. Different types of podcasts will require varying prep, edit, and outreach. What kind of admin tasks are you most likely to enjoy? How much time per week do you want to dedicate each week?
Want to know something cool about being a creator? You get to call the shots. That means if the first style you choose isn’t working, you can try a different format podcast. If you’re ready to start your podcasting journey, check out our podcasting guide.