(2022) The Ultimate Podcast Planning & Scripting Guide
Many podcasters struggle with the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making exceptional episodes. They're perfectly capable interviewers and editors, but just can’t wrap their heads around things like creating outlines or writing scripts.
If that sounds like you, Cleanvoice is here to help! We’ve put together this guide to arm you with the skills to effectively plan and execute your podcast episodes. Whether you are a first-time podcaster or an experienced pro, we hope that you will find it helpful.
Let's get started!
What tool do you need to plan and script a podcast episode?
Before we talk about the process of outlining, planning, and scripting a podcast episode, we need to talk about the tools that make it possible—or at least easier. Obviously, it's possible to do all of your planning and scripting with nothing more than a pen and a notebook.
However, there are a few reasons why you might want to upgrade to a more high-tech system—especially as you scale up your operation! The main drawbacks of document-based planning are:
- Difficulty sharing with teammates and co-hosts. The only way to share analogue documents is by sending photos or handing them the notebook.
- Difficulty collaborating. Again, collaboration means handing over the notebook.
- Limited integrations and functionality. Notebooks don't support links, documents, images, videos, or audio.
- Lack or responsiveness. In reality, things rarely go perfectly to plan. If you use a document to plan your podcast, you'll need to make changes manually whenever there's a change of course or a missed deadline.
To avoid these drawbacks, you'll want to take advantage of technology. Below, you'll find our personal recommendations for tools that can help streamline your podcast workflow.
Podcast Outlining Tools
Podcasters are spoiled for choice when it comes to outlining tools that are visual, collaborative, and feature-rich. Some of our favorites include:
These tools are similar to project management tools in many ways. However, they tend to focus on visual representations of ideas and plans. As a result, they're great for brainstorming up with a solid foundation for the episode (before getting into specifics like dates, times, and costs).
All three of the tools above are free to use forever. Plus, they all allow users to play around with creative ways of presenting their outlines with mind maps, flow charts, sketches, and notes.
Podcast Planning Tools
If you're ready for a more advanced planning method, we recommend getting acquainted with one of the many amazing project management programs on the market, such as:
These web apps all take a visual approach to project management and idea organization that is well-suited to podcasting. You can create fleshed out podcast episode timelines that feature time estimates, subtasks, dependencies, and so much more.
The main draw of project management tools is the ability to get a high-level view of your project and the progress you've made so far. Having an accurate picture of what still needs to be done allows you to set priorities and stay on track.
Podcast Scripting Tools
Finally, when it comes to scripting, you'll want to take advantage of tools that allow for easy collaboration and document sharing, such as:
These tools make it easy to create and share scripts, notes, and documents with anyone who might need to see or edit them. They also allow you to create your own filing systems to keep things organized and automatically update documents to the newest version.
Now that we've covered the tools you might need, let's dive into the process of outlining, planning, and scripting a podcast episode!
Step 1: Create a Podcast Outline
Whenever you have an idea for a podcast episode (and even when you don't), it's helpful to start with a rough outline. This is incredibly important if you want your show to be consistent and high-quality, as it gives you something to refer to during later stages of the process.
There is no single right way to create an outline—the right way is whatever works for you! With that being said, there are a few things you'll probably want to include:
During the planning stage, you definitely don't need to have the episode title set in stone. However, having a working podcast title makes it much easier to organize the files and materials that inevitably build up as you work on the episode and define a set of topics to delve into.
Topics or Segments
Your outline should include the main topics you want to cover in the episode. Don't worry if you don't have time to cover all of them—it's better to have too many ideas than too few!
Within each topic, you'll want to list specific things that you already know you want to talk about. These might be questions to ask your guest, stories to share with your audience, or just facts to guide the narrative.
You should also list questions that will guide your research and lead you to new talking points. Maybe there's a period in your guest's life that you're unfamiliar with. Maybe you're not totally clear about one of the concepts you'll be talking about. Answering these questions during the research stage will help you create a podcast that's insightful and informative.
Finally, we find it helpful to make notes about the feeling you're trying to achieve in the episode (e.g., hopeful, solemn, inspirational, etc.). This won't always be possible from the outset, but if it is, it makes the whole process much easier.
Step 2: Create a Project Timeline
With an outline completed, it's time to get create a timeline. The first thing you should do is break the project down into bite-sized tasks that need to be completed (e.g., "draft emails to potential guests", "research productivity tips", etc.).
Once you've broken the project down into tasks, start estimating the start and end dates amount of each one (i.e., the time they'll take to complete). While you're doing this, make sure you're being realistic about the amount of work you can complete over a given period.
Most project management tools—including all the ones we mentioned earlier—make it easy to input estimated start and end dates for tasks and subtasks. When you do this carefully, the result is a project timeline that will help keep you on track and motivated!
Tip: If you're just starting out, use your first to episodes to calibrate your time estimates. Carefully track the amount of time it takes you to complete certain tasks for the episode and use that data to make better estimates for future episodes.
Step 3: Get Yourself Organized
Now that you have an outline and a project timeline, it's time to get your workspace in order! This is especially important if you're working with a team.
Within your collaboration tool, there are two main things you'll want to do to keep things organized:
Create a Universal Folder Structure
Create separate folders for each episode and store all relevant files (outline, research notes, interviews, etc.) in those folders. This can be something as simple as creating a master folder for each season (e.g., “Season 1”) and subfolders for each episode within the season (e.g., “Episode 1”).
Create a File Naming System
In addition to creating folders, you'll also want to come up with a naming system for any files you add to them. Having a system in place makes it easy to find the files you need—even when you forget their exact name.
For example, you might start all file names with a prefix that ties the file to a specific episode, then write the name of the file, and finally the version number (e.g., "ep_1_script_v2").
It doesn't really matter how you go about naming your files, as long as you're consistent!
Step 4: Research, Research, Research
Good research is the key to a great podcast. Without it, you'll be stuck with talking points that are unsupported and guest interviews that are full of empty questions.
As you begin researching, refer back to the questions on your outline and begin to formulate your answers. Make sure you store your notes (along with links to the source materials) in the correct folder and with the correct file name.
Tip: Don't feel pressured to learn everything ahead of time. Not only is this impossible, but it can actually detract from the listener's experience. Audiences love it when hosts are learning exciting new information along with them!
Step 4: Draft The Script
Generally, podcasts take one of three approaches when it comes to scripting for an episode:
- Full Scripting: Every section is scripted.
- Partial Scripting: Some key sections are scripted (e.g., intro, ad reads, segues, etc.).
- Minimal: No sections are scripted.
Partial scripting is by far the most common (and, in our opinion, best) of the three approaches. It helps you ensure that important sections of your podcast live up to expectations, while still giving you room to explore unexpected conversations and stories in between scripted sections.
Regardless of the approach of you take, there are a few things you need to keep in mind when writing your podcast script:
- Keep things natural. You want to write it the way you'd say it. If you struggle with this, try using a text to speech engine!
- Keep an eye on your word count. People speaking naturally say around 200 words per minute. Use that as a guide when writing, so you keep your run time reasonable.
- Keep your podcast tone in mind. All podcasts have a tone. Some are funny, others are serious. You want to try to match the tone of your podcast as good as possible while writing.
Rather than sitting down at you desk and writing the script from scratch, we recommend starting with a podcast script template and building up from there. A script template is basically just a road map for the podcast—it helps you map out what you need to say and when you need to say it.
Tip: No matter how good your script is, you're bound to make mistakes. Cleanvoice automatically detects and removes distracting mouth sounds and unflattering ummm's, so you can get back to the fun stuff! For more podcast editing tips, check out this guide.
Podcast Script Template Example
Let’s look at a template you can use:
Topic #1: [topic name]
- Main point
- Supporting point
- Supporting point
Segue: sound effect, ad break, musical clip, or verbal segue
Topic #2: [topic name]
- Main point
- Supporting point
Topic #3: [topic name]
- Main point
- Supporting point
Using a template like this to represent your episode allows you to pick and choose important elements to script ahead of time. For example, if you want the callback in topic #3 to hit especially hard, it might be worth taking your time and scripting it carefully.
Common Elements of a Podcast Script (with Examples)
To help you out, here’s a rundown of some commonly scripted podcast elements:
A podcast introduction is the first thing your listeners hear. It's where you set the stage, introduce yourself and your guests, and give listeners a preview of what's to come in the podcast (i.e., the overarching themes). You'll also want to introduce yourself, your co-hosts, and the podcast itself.
Example: Welcome back to the __________ podcast. I’m your host, __________, and in today's episode we're going to be talking about __________.
Topic introductions are similar to podcast introductions. However, they're intended to introduce listeners to the specific topic or story you'll be covering in a segment. The number of topic introductions you need will depend on the number of segments in your episode.
Example: As we were producing this episode, we sat down with __________ to discuss __________. The conversation was really insightful, and we're going to be sharing the highlights with you now.
Segues can be sound effects, musical clips, ad breaks, or verbal segues. They're intended to smoothly move your listeners from one topic to the next.
Example: Now, it's time to switch gears a bit. After the break, we sit down with __________ to talk about __________.
A callback is a technique used in storytelling where you refer back to a previous story or segment. It's a way of reinforcing the main point of your episode and helps give listeners a sense of cohesion.
Example: This story really drives home the point that __________ made in our conversation earlier. It was amazing to see this insight in action.
Sponsor messages are essentially shoutout to whoever it is that makes your podcast possible. If your podcast is listener funded, you'll want to thank your supporter and let people know how they can contribute. If you have a corporate sponsor, they'll probably have a list of things they want you to mention.
Example: Before we get started, I want to take a second to thank the sponsor of this episode ____________. [mention product or service benefits]. [mention how listeners can get involved]. [offer discount code].
The outro is the conclusion of your podcast episode. Here, you're thanking you listeners for taking the time to engage with the show and letting them know how to connect with you in other ways.
Example: Thanks for listening! I hope you found this episode informative and helpful. To stay up to date about future episodes, follow us on Instagram at _________ and wherever you get your podcasts!
Now that you know the basics of podcast research and scripting, it's time to start putting that knowledge into practice. By following these tips, you'll be able to create a high-quality show that's both informative and enjoyable to listen to. Don't forget to practice, practice, practice! The more comfortable you are with your materials and tools, the better your episode will sound.