8 Podcast Formats To Consider For Your Show

Last updated on May 15th, 2020

Choosing a format for your show is one of the first decisions you’ll have to make once you decide to start a podcast. You’ll need to know your format before you gives it a name and create cover artwork, and certainly before you record your first episode. That’s why we’re breaking down everything you need to know about podcast formats: what they are, the different types, and how to choose your own. 

What Is A Podcast Format?

Podcast formats are ways to organize your show’s content. They are delivery methods that give your show structure. The right format will keep your content organized and make it accessible to your listeners. Without a strong format, your show will seem disjointed and messy.

Podcast formats also create consistency for your listeners. When you stick to a format, your listeners will know what to expect when they open each new episode. If your show features a serious solo monologue one week, a comedic panel the next, and a fictional story the week after, you’ll have a hard time holding on to your listeners. 

Plus, a good format will help your listeners describe your show to their friends. They’ll be able to say, “It’s two guys drinking beer and reviewing the latest movies” or “It’s an eight-episode story about a haunted town in New England.” This kind of word-of-mouth marketing is critical to the success of a show, so you’ll want to make it easy for your listeners to promote for you. 

Most importantly, sticking to a single format will make your life a lot easier. It’s much simpler to plan content ahead of time when you know how you’ll shape it for each episode.

For example, if you choose an interview format (more on that in a minute), you can schedule guests for weeks or months ahead of your actual recording day. This gives you time to find the right people and prepare for the interview. If you choose a conversation style podcast with a co-host, you will learn over time how to riff off one another to create an engaging experience for your listeners.

The 8 Most Popular Podcast Formats

Before you choose a format for your show, it helps to understand what everyone else is doing. While you don’t have to be like everyone else, there are good reasons that podcasters stick to the following popular podcast formats. Each have their own pros and cons. As you go through the following list, ask yourself which would be right for your show.

1. The interview podcast format

An interview style show features a host (or two) who interview a new guest in each episode who brings their unique expertise and experience. After a brief guest introduction, the host takes over asking questions to guide the conversation around the episode’s topic working to unpack their stories and lessons. Since each guest is different, it’s best to stick to central them to keep your show cohesive.

Pros

  • Your guests do most of the talking. You just have to steer the conversation.
  • Listeners are forgiving about little mistakes (ums, likes, and brief pauses) because they know you’re having a legitimate conversation. 
  • Opens your show to a new audience because your guests promote their appearance on your show, especially to their fan base. 
  • Your show gains access to a variety of viewpoints and opinions, which stimulates discussion and adds value for your listener.

Cons

  • This is an extremely popular format, so you’ll struggle to stand out. 
  • Interviewing is a skill that takes patience and practice. 
  • Finding a new guest for each episode takes a lot of work. 
  • If you interview someone over Skype or Zoom, you’re at the mercy of your connection. It may take a few tries to get enough audio for an episode. 
  • You have to do some deep research on your guests. 
  • In some sense, you rely on your guests’ ability to entertain and deliver information. Your episode will suffer if they’re difficult, inarticulate, or boring, (unless you can compensate). 

Examples of the interview podcast format

startup podcast

StartUp Podcast

StartUp is a documentary series about entrepreneurial life. Its first season has been adapted into an ABC sitcom called Alex, Inc. starring Zach Braff. StartUp has won a Gracie Award and the Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism. 

laptop lifestyle podcast format

The Laptop Lifestyle

The Laptop Lifestyle is for virtual entrepreneurs, millennials on the go, and adventure seekers with big dreams. It was created with the intention to educate, inspire, and challenge you to live the life you’ve always wanted. A life where you set your own hours and earn a living online.

The Straight Talking Guide to Launching Your First Product

The Straight Talking Guide to Launching Your First Product

Take your product or business from idea to launch in just 8 hours with this free audio guide. Featuring Chris Ducker, Ash Maurya, Adam Farah and more PLUS free templates and resources to help you every step of the way.

Death Sex and Money podcast format

Death, Sex & Money

A podcast hosted by Anna Sale about the big questions and hard choices that are often left out of polite conversation.

2. The solo/monologue podcast format

This podcast format is fairly common. It’s used by people who have a specific kind of expertise they want to share. There isn’t much fanfare or setup. You simply talk into a microphone.  Many new podcasters start with this format because it’s so simple. All you need to get started is a microphone and some free editing software. 

If you choose this podcast format, you’ll have to decide how much you want to plan each episode. Some podcasters are comfortable ad libbing off a few notes, but others have a hard time talking for 30-45 minutes without detailed preparation. You may decide to write a complete script for each episode

Pros

  • You don’t have to rely on anyone’s help or involvement. Everything happens on your own schedule and at your own pace.
  • Your audience comes to know you intimately. This is powerful for brand building. 
  • Editing one voice is much easier that editing multiple tracks.
  • If you don’t like how you said something, you can simply say it again and cut out the bad bits.

Cons

  • It’s a lot of talking. Speaking for 30 to 45 minutes is tiring. And that’s only if you record it perfectly the first time. Realistically, you’ll talk for an hour or more for each episode. 
  • You don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off (unless you have a partner or team behind the scenes) or help you promote.
  • If you’re nervous behind the mic, you may need to practice a bit before recording for your first episode.

Examples of the solo/monologue podcast format:

hardcore history

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

Dan Carlin takes his unorthodox way of thinking and applies it to the past. This isn’t academic history (and Carlin isn’t a historian) but the podcast’s unique blend of high drama, masterful narration and Twilight Zone-style twists has entertained millions of listeners.

the gist

Slate’s The Gist

Slate’s The Gist with Mike Pesca. A daily afternoon show about news, culture, and whatever else you’ll be discussing with friends and family tonight.

flash forward

Flash Forward

Flash Forward is a show about possible (and not so possible) future scenarios. Each episode combines audio drama and journalism to go deep on potential tomorrows, and uncovers what those futures might really be like. The future is going to be weird, so let’s get ready for it together.

3. Conversational/co-hosted podcast format

This is another common podcast format. It involves two people having a straightforward conversation who generally have great chemistry together. Unlike an interview podcast format, however, these two people are both hosts.

In many cases, each host will play a specific role in the conversation. One might report the news snippet while the other provides commentary or comedy. One might teach lessons while the other tells stories from their experience. 

sinisterhood co host podcast format
Sinisterhood Podcast Co-Host Format

Pros

  • You’re only responsible for half the conversation. You might also split up all the other tasks that come with producing and promoting a podcast.
  • Fans feel like they’re part of a club or group, especially when the hosts create an entertaining, friendly environment.
  • It’s easy to listen to an organic conversation rather than a prepared script.

Cons

  • You both need to stay on the same page regarding the purpose of each episode. There could be a conflict if you don’t agree on the overall message. 
  • It’s harder to edit two voices as opposed to one track. 
  • You have to choose topics you both know about (at least a little).  
  • Since each episode relies on conversation, you can’t do much scripting to prepare.

Examples of the co-hosted podcast format:

The Boagworld UX Show

The Boagworld UX Show

Boagworld is a podcast about digital strategy, service design and user experience. It offers practical advice, news, tools, review and interviews with leading figures in the web design community. Covering everything from usability and design to marketing and strategy, this show has something for everything.

Errthang show

Errthang Show!

For his latest project, Al Letson takes all the things that are floating in his head and turns it into a mixtape of delight for you. Errthang is just that, everything from storytelling to radio drama, pop culture reviews to interviews with some of the most interesting people on the planet. It’s a vehicle to showcase all of Letson’s other talents.

yo is this racist

Yo, Is This Racist?

For his latest project, Al Letson takes all the things that are floating in his head and turns it into a mixtape of delight for you. Errthang is just that, everything from storytelling to radio drama, pop culture reviews to interviews with some of the most interesting people on the planet. It’s a vehicle to showcase all of Letson’s other talents.

4. The panel podcast format

A panel podcast is similar to an interview podcast, but with more people. Each episode has a single host and a group of guests. For your listener, it feels like overhearing an organic conversation between friends. 

Pros

  • Each episode is full of unique, interesting opinions and insights.
  • There’s almost no pressure on the host because the panel of guests do a majority of the talking. Some hosts only ask a few questions throughout an entire show and let the guests most of the talking. 

Cons

  • Filling the panel with guests is a ton of work. You’ll have to coordinate everyone’s schedule. As a new podcaster, finding even one guest is a challenge. 
  • You’ll have to work to keep people included (so they aren’t silent for 20 minutes), but you’ll also have to prevent them from talking over one another.
  • Your guests will naturally want to talk about a topic far longer than you want them to. You’ll have to learn when to cut people off and how to move on seamlessly. 
  • There are some technical challenges that come with recording audio from multiple sources.

Examples of the panel style podcast format:

Slate’s Political Gabfest

Voted “Favorite Political Podcast” by Apple Podcasts listeners. Stephen Colbert says “Everybody should listen to the Slate Political Gabfest.” The Gabfest, featuring Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson, and David Plotz, is the kind of informal and irreverent discussion Washington journalists have after hours over drinks.

The BeanCast

The Beancast

The BeanCast™ is a weekly round table podcast, featuring notables from the marketing, advertising, interactive and public relations community. We discuss the latest industry news with a healthy dose of perspective.

Mom and Dad Are Fighting

Slate’s Mom and Dad are Fighting

Rebecca Lavoie, Jamilah Lemieux, and Dan Kois share triumphs and fails and offer advice on parenting kids from toddler to teens.

5. Non-fictional storytelling podcast format

Non-fictional stories are podcast episodes about real life events. You might dive into a series of murders, chronicle an expedition up Mount Everest, or recreate a historical event. You can tell one story per episode or span your story across an entire series. Or you could simply report the news.

This is an excellent podcast format for listeners who like to learn more about our world. You have the opportunity to expose people to new ideas, concepts, and events. 

Pros

  • This podcast format is highly addictive for people who want to know more about a specific topic.
  • You can splice in other audio elements, like news broadcasts, movie clips, or environmental sounds to enhance the experience.
  • There are unlimited stories to choose from you.  

Cons

  • It’s hard to stick to a consistent publishing schedule because some episodes take longer than others to produce.
  • You have to know what you’re talking about precisely. Listeners are reluctant to forgive mistakes of accuracy. 
  • This is a laborious and time consuming format, especially when it comes to research. 
  • This is a challenging podcast format without a big team behind you.

Examples of the non-fictional storytelling podcast format:

This American Life

This American Life

This American Life is a weekly public radio show, heard by 2.2 million people on more than 500 stations. Another 2.5 million people download the weekly podcast. It is hosted by Ira Glass, produced in collaboration with Chicago Public Media, delivered to stations by PRX The Public Radio Exchange, and has won all of the major broadcasting awards.

S-Town

S-Town

S-Town is about a man who despises his Alabama town and decides to do something about it. He asks Brian to investigate the son of a wealthy family who’s allegedly been bragging that he got away with murder. But when someone else ends up dead, the search for the truth leads to a nasty feud, a hunt for hidden treasure, and an unearthing of the mysteries of one man’s life.

Radiolab

Radiolab

A two-time Peabody Award-winner, Radiolab is an investigation told through sounds and stories, and centered around one big idea. In the Radiolab world, information sounds like music and science and culture collide. Hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, the show is designed for listeners who demand skepticism, but appreciate wonder.

6. Podcast theater podcast format

Also know as Fictional Storytelling podcast format, these are fictional stories told across multiple episodes, similar to dramatic television. Some are narrated by a single voice. Others use multiple voice actors, sound effects, and other audio elements. Just like TV shows, these podcasts use tension, climaxes, and cliffhangers to tell their stories. 

This is a great format for creative types who like to create characters, weave plots, and build fictional worlds. If you like to write fiction or make films, this format may be right for you. In fact, some fiction writers simply read their stories dramatically like audio books and release them as podcast episodes. 

we're alive podcast theater format
We’re Alive Podcast Theater Format

Pros

  • Audiences are highly “sticky” because they need to know what happens next, especially if you weave your episodes together well. 
  • This is the least common podcast format, so there’s little competition among other podcasts.
  • You get to make it all up, so you can worry less about factual accuracy.

Cons

  • It’s an unusual format, so building an audience will take time and work. 
  • You’d be competing with every other source of drama and storytelling, including TV, movies, and YouTube. 
  • Since all episodes relate to one another, you basically have to plan your entire “season” upfront so you hit all the right plot points and end in the right spot. 
  • This is a poor format for uncreative people.

Examples of the podcast theater format:

Welcome to Night Vale

Welcome to Nightvale

Twice-monthly community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, where every conspiracy theory is true. Turn on your radio and hide. Never listened before? It’s an ongoing radio show. Start with the current episode, and you’ll catch on in no time. Or, go right to Episode 1 if you wanna binge-listen.

We’re Alive: A “Zombie” Story of Survival

We’re Alive: A “Zombie” Story of Survival

Filled with action, battles with the undead, love triangles, conflicting loyalties, and of course gold, WE’RE ALIVE: GOLDRUSH stands out as a truly unique Theater for the Mind experience for both new and old listeners.

Limetown

Limetown

In this podcast, American Public Radio reporter Lia Haddock asks the question once more, “What happened to the people of Limetown?”

7. Repurposed content podcast format

Repurposing content is when you take content that already exists and transform it in a way to get more value out of it. You might add to it, split it up, or transpose it to a new medium. Some bloggers simply take existing written content and repurpose it into a podcast for an audio experience.

For instance, a religious organization may turn their weekly sermon into a downloadable podcast. A speaker could record and release his lectures. A comedian might publish recordings from his standup routines. 

Pros

  • Easy to produce this content because you already have it. You just have to do some editing to format it like a podcast.
  • Since you don’t have to make the content, you don’t need a big budget.

Cons

  • Since the content wasn’t originally intended for a podcast, it might not feel quite right. For instance, a lecturer might ask his audience for a “show of hands,” which obviously isn’t interactive through a podcast. 
  • People have other ways of getting the exact same content. 

Examples of the repurposed content podcast format:

Ted Radio Hour

TED Radio Hour

Guy Raz explores the emotions, insights, and discoveries that make us human. The TED Radio Hour is a narrative journey through fascinating ideas, astonishing inventions, fresh approaches to old problems, and new ways to think and create.

the moth

The Moth

Since its launch in 1997, The Moth has presented thousands of true stories, told live and without notes, to standing-room-only crowds worldwide. Moth storytellers stand alone, under a spotlight, with only a microphone and a roomful of strangers. The storyteller and the audience embark on a high-wire act of shared experience which is both terrifying and exhilarating.

the rachel maddow show

The Rachel Maddow Show

Rachel Maddow works with unmatched rigor and resolve to explain our complex world and deliver news in a way that’s illuminating and dynamic, connecting the dots to make sense of complex issues. Join her every weeknight as she provides in-depth reporting to illuminate the current state of political affairs and reveals the importance of transparency and accountability from our leaders.

8. Your own podcast format

One of our favorite things about podcasting is that it’s just as dynamic as writing or video. You can do anything you like to stand out, build an audience, and engage your listeners.

If you want to do something unique that doesn’t fit into a traditional podcast format – that’s okay! Experiment with your own style or mix several styles together to create something entirely new.

How to Choose the Right Podcast Format For Your Show

Now that you know the top podcast formats, you’re probably wondering, “So which one is right for me and my show?” Great question. 

In order to choose the right podcast format for your show, we recommend considering these three important questions. 

What’s the Best Way to Convey Your Topic’s Information?

The first thing you should consider is how you want to convey your information. In most cases, answering this question will decide your podcast format for you.

For example, if you want to expose your audience to expert-level advice that you don’t personally have, the interview podcast format makes the most sense. This is a simple and effective way of bringing in expert knowledge from people who live and breathe those topics. If you want to tell a fictional story, the podcast theater format is the most logical.

Consider the tone of your show, as well. Do you intend to be funny? That’s much easier to accomplish with multiple people, so you should choose the panel or co-hosted formats. Do you intend to be mellow and stoic? The monologue or non-fictional storytelling formats may be more appropriate for your show. 

Which Format Will Help Your Show Stand Out?

Next, you’ll want to consider how you can make your show stand out from the crowd. You may be able to best your competition by podcasting on the same topic, but in a different format. When listeners search for new shows to join, they’ll scroll through a sea of interview-style shows and only stop when something stands out. 

For instance, if everyone in your niche is using an interview podcast format, you might try using a panel of guests to set yourself apart. Your might opt to use a format that’s traditionally hard for your niche because you know you’ll be the only one doing it. Or you could get really weird and turn your lessons into stories using the podcast theater format. That would be so unusual that people would have to check it out. 

Another benefit of choosing a podcast format stands out from the competition is that you don’t have to take from your competitors audiences in order to grow. If your show is sufficiently different than other shows with the same topic, listeners will opt to listen to both because they don’t feel repetitive. 

Which Format Aligns with Your Style?

Finally, it’s important to consider your personal preferences, personality, and style. As the podcast host, you have to like your format. You have to enjoy sitting down to craft and record new episodes. You have to enjoy talking about your show and shamelessly promoting it.

Look at it like this: If you don’t enjoy your format, you’ll dread creating new content. You’ll struggle to find the motivation to hunt for new guests. You’ll ask your guests lackluster questions. You’ll settle for “good enough” whenever you craft a podcast script, rather than strive to make the best content possible. 

Furthermore, if you like what you’re doing, you’ll get better at it over time because you’ll care about it. You’ll constantly look for ways to make your show better, produce better content, and engage with your audience. You’ll care enough to put in the extra effort to land that tough guest, explain that complex topic, or boost your show’s production value. 

Don’t choose a format that’s completely out of your wheelhouse. You’ll hate the work, burn out quickly, and probably podfade. Make sure to choose a podcast format that makes you happy. 

Choose Wisely

As you can imagine, your choice of podcast format has a big impact on your show. It will guide how you create content, who you invite as guests, and how you (and possibly your team) work to record and publish episodes. There’s no law that says you have to use one of the podcast formats we listed above, but they’re popular for a reason-they work! Make sure to give this question plenty of thought.

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One Reply to “8 Podcast Formats To Consider For Your Show”

  1. This is something really interesting! This article about podcast helped me a lot to know the stuff which I should know before starting the podcast.

    Reply

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