How to Choose the Right Podcast Format
With podcast listening at an all-time high, it’s certainly not too late to launch your own show! However, it’s essential that you figure out a suitable structure before taking a deep dive into the podcasting world.
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In today’s guide, we’ll explain why finding the right podcast format is essential before breaking down seven common podcast formats, including the solo format, one-on-one interview format, mixed format, and more. Let’s dive in!
What is a Podcast Format?
A podcast format refers to how you arrange/structure and present your show's content (i.e., how you organize your podcast).
Without any format, a podcast will naturally become disorganized and likely create a poor listening experience that is ultimately unlikely to retain listeners. On the contrary, giving structure to your podcast is key to ensuring high-quality content. Aside from the value of using a podcast format, it’s also important to choose the right format for your podcast.
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Why Learning Your Podcast Format is Important
It’s also important that you not only find a solid and reliable structure that works for you but that you learn it inside out and stick with it.
Consistency is essential to establish an authoritative podcast that fosters a loyal audience. From the listener’s perspective, you are among many podcasts that may catch their fancy, and they’ll reward consistency since it means they get what they’re expecting each time.
Having a set podcast format will also make it easier for you to plan and script your podcast, giving you a familiar jumping-off point to structure your script around.
Types of Podcast Format
There exists a wide range of podcast formats to choose from, such as the solo podcast format, one-on-one interview format, mixed format, and more. Let’s take a closer look at seven common podcast formats.
1. Solo Podcast Format
This is arguably the simplest format in which you speak directly to your audience with a monologue-styled show.
The solo podcast format may best suit those with expertise in a specific area or individuals with a talent tailored for this format (e.g., a great storytelling ability). One key advantage of this format is that it leaves you entirely self-reliant - no need to worry about securing guests or finding a co-host.
Example: Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast applies an unconventional storytelling approach to provide historical drama with twists straight out of the Twilight Zone. His podcasts also explore out-of-the-box questions like ‘Was Alexander the Great as bad as Hitler?’.
2. Multi-Host Podcast Format
This type of podcast sees two or more hosts discuss various topics (usually within a specific category/niche) on an ongoing basis. A multi-host podcast platform offers the benefit of conversation that can lead to a sociable and engaging experience for the listener.
Example: The Straight Talking Guide to Launching Your First Product by Mark Asquith
This free audio guide is a multi-host podcast designed to provide entrepreneurs and startups with the knowledge and insights needed to launch their products or business.
3. One-on-One Interview Format
This is the common interview podcast format which generally involves the host welcoming one guest per episode to discuss a range of topics related to the guests’ area of expertise.
The one-on-one interview format allows you to educate your listeners on a range of topics while you and your guest delve deep into relevant subjects within your guests’ niche. Granted, you may have to do a fair bit of networking, as you’ll need to find new guests to appear on your show regularly.
Example: The Joe Rogan Experience
The Joe Rogan Experience has around 11 million listeners per episode. In each episode, Joe Rogan hosts long-form conversations with a wide range of guests including actors, musicians, scientists, politicians, comedians, and more.
4. Storytelling Format
If you enjoy the art of storytelling (and you may have others ready to join your podcast for a collaborative effort), then this format may be the opportunity you’ve been looking for to showcase your creative and voiceover talent.
Example: The American Life by Ira Glass
As The American Life’s website puts it, they opt for a theme every week, and then their stories “unfold like little movies for radio”. The American Life has already explored a very wide range of themes.
Looking at their archive’s tag list alone, we find 129 tags such as adoption, Christmas, economics, gambling, New York City, pranks, and space. Those examples alone really capture just how varied their subject matter is. Of course, you may prefer to narrow down your themes to just a few (or even one), depending on your preferences and podcast mission.
5. Mixed Format
It’s generally best to go with a specific format (especially when you’re starting off). However, the more daring mixed podcast format is still worth a mention, as some may prefer this more varied approach.
A mixed format means that each podcast episode consists of various distinct segments. For example, the structure of a mixed-format podcast episode may look something like this:
- Solo commentary
- One-on-one interview
- Storytelling segment
- Panel discussion
Example: The Last Podcast on the Left
The Last Podcast on the Left is a true crime podcast that includes a number of different formats. It's a multi-host podcast that delves into elements of storytelling, panel analysis, and even sometimes interviews to explore the dark side of humanity using surrealist and pitch-black comedy.
6. Panel Podcast Format
Roundtable-style podcasts involve several panelists (usually four or more) to create an engaging and sociable listening experience. Panel podcasts tend to include plenty of banter and fast-flowing conversations.
Podcasts in this format will usually have one key host, accompanied by different co-hosts or/and guests on a regular basis, although guests can appear on a panel podcast either way. Also, in 2023, don’t forget that it’s possible to record a remote podcast, where you form a podcast team of co-hosts that rarely, if ever, meet in person!
Example: Slate’s Political Gabfest
This informal political podcast was voted as Apple podcast listener’s “favorite political podcast”. Using the panel podcast format, they can explore many subjects across the political sphere in America, with insights being presented from all sides of the political spectrum.
How to Choose the Right Podcast Format
It’s important to approach settling on a given format carefully. Afterall, you need to commit to that structure effectively to build a sense of consistency for your audience.
First and foremost, you’ll want to look at the type of show (and its specific focus) you have in mind as well as the mission/purpose of your podcast.
For example, your aim might be to create a young adult ancient history podcast to educate the next generation on antiquity better. Your podcast goals will tie your show’s content and purpose together and naturally, certain formats will suit them better than others.
Determine Your Target Audience
Based on the premise of your show, you’ll want to consider who your show will best appeal to. From there, think about what format(s) may entice your target audience the most. For instance, if you’re exploring professional industries, you might look at one-on-one interviews or panel podcasts to best suit your audience.
Analyze the Competition
Competition analysis can provide you with a wide array of helpful insights, not least, some clarity as to what formats your rivals tend to use and how successful these approaches are.
Analyzing your competition may also highlight gaps in the market that you can tap into. For instance, you might find that certain subjects have a specific format attributed to them, like the true crime niche using mostly storytelling formats to explore different cases. That could provide a great gap for your podcast to fill, perhaps by tackling true crime with panel or interview formats.
Factor in Your Skills and Resources
Be sure to consider your abilities and resources. After all, a panel podcast format can only work with co-hosts willing to commit to shows regularly or/and the capacity to obtain new guests frequently. As for skills, they may make you a better fit for certain formats than others. For instance, if you’re particularly charismatic, the solo podcast or storytelling format could suit your best!
Consider All Suitable Formats
At this stage, you’ll want to go through all formats that will work for your show and carefully determine the best option overall. Along with using the criteria mentioned above, be sure to research all formats in detail. It’s also a good idea to listen to various examples, especially those related to your show’s premise.
While it’s best to stick to a familiar format, that doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with one-off episodes once your podcast has gained a bit of traction.
Test Out the Format
Finally, test your show with your chosen format before receiving audience feedback to get an idea as to whether or not the format in question works.
Of course, selecting a format isn’t simply a matter of choosing one of several and moving on. Instead, you’ll want to evaluate your first show’s feedback and metrics, such as engagement rates, retention rates, and downloads, to determine how you can tweak the format to create a more captivating listener experience.
In today’s guide, we explored seven popular podcast formats with an example of each. We also discussed the benefits of sticking with a specified format.
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