How Deep Do You Need to Go with a Podcast Script?

“Should I write a podcast script?”

That’s one of the first questions new podcasters ask, but even veteran podcasters struggle with it. Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer because it’s a highly personal decision.

On one hand, scripted podcasts tend to create a smooth and clear experience for your listeners. They don’t have to filter out your filler words (“um,” “uh,” “like”), sit through unnatural pauses, or struggle to keep track while you jump around points.

On the other hand, scripts for a 30 minute episode can run 3,000 to 5,000 words. That adds a lot of time and work to the production process.

The biggest podcasts in the world use a variety of methods. Good Copy, Bad Copy by Radix Communications uses a partial podcast script and a bullet point outline. The Meaningful Money podcast by Pete Matthew, however, is completely scripted. Pete writes his copy word-for-word for each 30 minute episode.

And many podcasts fit somewhere in the middle, preparing to different degrees, ad libbing some parts and scripting others. It’s a big spectrum.

So we can’t tell whether podcast scripting is right for you (or to what degree), but we can offer a few best practices to get you started.

Podcast Scripts for New Podcasters

A quick word for new podcasters before we dive into the different types of scripting…

Word-for-word podcast scripting is important when you’re just starting. Talking intelligently, smoothly, and clearly is challenging without practice.

We recommend newbies prepare all of their content before they hit record. Then during the recording, you can focus on your mechanics, like enunciating, removing filler words, and controlling your tone and volume.

So if you’re a new podcaster, you’ll have an easier time (and produce better episodes) if you script more than you think you need.

Whatever type of podcast you host, it’s important to plan some things in advance. Even the best podcast hosts who can talk on-the-fly for hours need some structure to guide them. The best episodes follow a three-act structure that’s hard to create without preparation.

Even if you’re a confident speaker, you’ll still want to have scripts for important set-pieces. For instance, you might write a podcast script for…

  • An guest’s introduction
  • A plug for your latest book or article
  • A call-to-action to join your podcast’s Facebook group
  • A sponsor’s message
  • A plug for your next episode

When you’re ready to deliver your set-piece blurb, simply read from your podcast script, then dive back into your freestyling.

Most importantly, every good podcast script includes delivery notes. Mark points where you intend to pause or speak quickly, and spots that require emphasis.

Image: trafcom.com

With that out of the way…

The type of podcast episode you host is the largest factor as to whether you should write a podcast script. There are generally three types of podcast episodes.

Start that podcast you’ve been dreaming of

Launch In A Week is a completely FREE 7-part email course that takes you step-by-step all the way from just an idea to having your podcast live and sharing your voice with the world. 

GET STARTED 

Podcast Script Type #1: Solo Shows

If you host a podcast by yourself, you can usually get away without a podcast script. Without a co-host or a guest, you have complete control over the episode.

It helps, however, to prepare a basic outline before you start recording.

Good podcast scripting notes usually take a form like this:

  • Section header #1
    • Supporting point
    • Supporting point
    • Supporting data/reference
    • Case study/example/anecdote
  • Section header #2
    • Supporting point
    • Supporting point
    • Supporting data/reference
    • Case study/example/anecdote

Here’s a sample of an outline for a real podcast.

podcast script outline

Image: howtopodcasttutorial.com

Your section headers represent the important topics or themes of your episode. Their purpose is to keep you on track and prevent you from forgetting important points. There’s nothing more frustrating than publishing a new episode only to realize you forgot to mention something important.

Once you gain some experience recording from a basic outline, you’ll find it creates some of the most natural and authentic podcast episodes. Ad-libbing everything forces you to speak in an active, conversational tone that people find engaging.

One of the biggest advantages of hosting alone is that you can do a lot of post-production work to your episode that your listeners will never notice. If you aren’t happy with the way you said something, you can simply say it again and cut out the mistake later.

You can repeat yourself as many times as you like until you’re satisfied with your performance and then delete the bad parts. This technique is hard with two people hosting together and nearly impossible with a guest who doesn’t have podcasting experience.

The major downside to a basic outline is that it’s super easy to get off track. When you haven’t prepared everything in advance, it’s tempting to catch yourself on little tangents.

Podcast Script Type #2: Interviews

Interview-style podcast episodes generally require a strict structure, for both you and the interviewee.

As the host, it’s important to know exactly what you’ll ask your guest. You need a detailed list of the questions and the points you’ll make to stimulate conversation, otherwise you might run out of things to say.

Running out of things to say isn’t a big deal when you’re working alone or with a co-host because you can simply take a break, do some research or brainstorming, then pick up where you left off.

But your guests won’t be so accommodating. If you cut the session short because you’re unprepared, your guest may not arrange another time to record with you. You’ll look unprofessional and end up with a partial episode.

It’s important to give your guest your list of questions and comments before the show. They’ll need time to prepare their thoughts, especially if they aren’t comfortable thinking on their feet. (Remember, your guests probably don’t have as much experience on podcasts as you.)

The biggest challenge of podcast scripting is keeping it conversational. If you aren’t careful, reading a podcast script can lead to a flat, monotone delivery.

Readers can forgive stiff writing, but listeners don’t want to hear someone talking like an inhuman robot.

The easiest way to maintain a conversational tone in your writing is to read it out loud one time before you host your podcast episode. Listen for unnatural phrasing, uncomfortable pacing, or the need for more transition phrases or context.

A lot of podcasters find it useful to speak their script (like a rehearsal for their recording) and let a speech-to-text tool dictate their words (Google Docs has a free one).

Podcast Script Type #3: Co-Hosting

When you work with a co-host, you’ll probably find it easiest to use a hybrid approach to scripting. You can script some things, but leave other areas of your episode open for organic conversation.

In some cases, it’s a lot easier to have a natural conversation with a co-host than by yourself because that’s how you normally do it. Plus you get time to sit quietly and organize your thoughts while you co-host speaks. So you won’t have to script as much.

However, without some organization beforehand, there’s a good chance you’ll make some classic co-host mistakes, like…

  • Interrupting one another because “This is important and I want to mention it before you move on.”
  • Making the same argument your co-host made a moment ago.
  • Talking so long people forget your co-host is on the show.
  • Transitioning abruptly from one point to another.

You get the idea. All of these mistakes can be avoided with a little scripting.

Map out your episode with a basic outline (like you would for a solo show) and add supporting points, data, and anecdotes under each heading. Then tag each line item with someone’s name so you distribute the talking smoothly.

You’ll want to script and note who will take care of the promotional elements of the episode, like mentioning the last one, plugging the next one, or giving your listeners calls-to-actions. This way you know it gets done, but you don’t do it too much.

Finally, add scripted transitions to your outlines. Questions are the easiest way to do this, sort of like you’re interviewing each other. Here’s an example:

  • Jim: “…and that’s when the judge sends the jury to deliberate. How long would you say deliberation usually takes in a case like this?”
  • Mike: “It’s tough to say, but I would expect at least three hours. First, the court has to re-explain the charges…”

With a co-host, it’s still possible to fix your errors, but it’s a little tougher. For instance, if you make a mistake, you’ll have to ask your co-host to wait a moment while you try again.

And of course, if you think your co-host made a mistake, you have to be comfortably giving feedback (and taking it yourself). Just make sure you record on to different tracks so you can edit your voices independently.

Choose the Method that Works Best for You

We’ve offered some podcast scripting best practices based on the type of show you host, but all in all, it’s important to use whichever technique you’re most comfortable with.

If you interview guests who can speak intelligently about your topics for hours, you can get away with little preparation. On the other hand, if you can’t improv quickly, you may prefer writing a full podcast script, even for a solo show.

The Joe Rogan Experience is a great example of a podcast that bucks the usual trend. It’s an eclectic show where Joe interviews a variety of guests (scientists, athletes, actors, writers, politicians – a big spectrum), but the conversation flows freely. One topic segues naturally into the next. If Joe has anything planned, it’s not more than a full bullet points.

Feel free to create a system that works for you. You might use one of the three techniques we mentioned above, or you maybe you prefer some hybrid version. Experiment until you’re comfortable.

Start that podcast you’ve been dreaming of

Launch In A Week is a completely FREE 7-part email course that takes you step-by-step all the way from just an idea to having your podcast live and sharing your voice with the world.

GET STARTED

Share with a friend!