Which Podcast Format is Right for Your Show?

Once you decide to start a podcast, you’ll have to choose your podcast format. This is an important decision because it will stick with you through the life of your show. 

You’ll need a consistent podcast format to build an audience. Your listeners need to know what they can expect in each episode. If you constantly change your format, you’ll frustrate your listeners and struggle to keep them engaged.

You have a lot of flexibility when it comes to your format. Let’s go over the most popular podcast forms and their pros and cons.

1. The Interview Podcast

An interview style show features a host (or two) who interview a new guest in each episode. The guest brings their unique expertise and experience. After introducing the guest, the hosts asks questions about the guest’s life and work to unpack stories and lessons. 

Interview podcasts work best when all the episodes stick closely to the same topic. Since each guest is different, you’ll struggle to stay consistent unless they’re all part of the same group somehow. 

joe rogan interview podcast format 1
Joe Rogan Podcast Interview Format

Examples of the Interview Podcast Format

Pros of this Format

  • 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 of this Format

  • 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). 

2. The Solo/Monologue Podcast

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 most computers already have them) 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

Examples of the the Solo Podcast Format

Pros of this Format

  • 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. You don’t have to coordinate a retake with anyone else. 

Cons of this Format

  • It’s a lot of talking. 30 to 45 minutes of talking is tiring. And that’s only if you record it perfectly the first time. Realistically, you could 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. You’ll also want to listen to your published episodes and critique yourself.

3. Conversational/Co-Hosted Podcasts

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

In many cases, the host will play specific roles in the conversation. One host might report news 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

Examples of the Conversation/Co-Hosted Podcast Format

Pros of this Format

  • Fans feel like they’re part of a club or group.
  • It’s easy to listen to an organic conversation rather than a prepared script.
  • Since each episode relies on conversation, you can’t do much scripting at all, though it helps to share some notes to stay on track.
  • If the host are entertaining, this format is a lot of fun.
  • 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.

Cons of this Format

  • 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).  

4. The Panel Podcast

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. 

Examples of the Panel Podcast Format

Pros of this Format

  • You get the same benefits as an interview podcast.
  • 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 do all the work. 

Cons of this Format

  • 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.

5. Non-Fictional Storytelling

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 like he learn more about our world. You have the opportunity to expose people to new ideas, concepts, and events. 

Examples of the Non-Fictional Storytelling Format

Pros of this Format

  • This kind of format is highly addictive for people who want to know more about the world.
  • 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. You don’t have to be creative at all. 

Cons of this Format

  • 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.

6. Podcast Theater

(This podcast format is also called fictional storytelling.)

These kinds of podcasts 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. 

Examples of the Podcast Theater Format

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

(Limetown was such a good podcast series that it’s being adapted into a TV series. There’s a market for this kind of podcast!)

Pros of this Format

  • 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 there isn’t much to research (unless you want to, of course). 

Cons of this Format

  • 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.
  • Finding sponsors is challenging. 

7. Repurposed Content

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 podcasters simply take existing audio content and repurpose it into a podcast. 

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. 

Examples of the Repurposed Content Format

Pros of this Format

  • 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 of this Format

  • Since the content wasn’t originally intended for a podcast, it often doesn’t 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. 

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! Feel free to experiment with your own style. You could mix several styles together or create something entirely new.

Ready to start your podcast? Make sure to read our full guide: How to Start a Podcast (2019 Step-by-Step Guide)

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