How To Come Up With Podcast Episode Ideas, Backed by Science

Coming up with episode ideas is more of a mental experience than physically “getting things done”. Here’s why you might need to step away for a bit.

coming up with episode ideas

By Daren Lake for The Podcast Host

Do you ever struggle to come up with new podcast episode ideas? If so, we’d love to use evidence based science to help you out. Most people think art and science are two different things that work against each other. Recently this has been proven false. Art and science work together, cooperatively. 

Coming up with episode ideas is more of a mental experience than physically “getting things done”. You might think you need to sit down and churn out a bunch of great topics, but unfortunately, our brains aren't wired for that type of on/off switch like thinking.

In this article I offer up an evidence based and self tested model to help you come up with great episode ideas week after week.  It’s a fun mental experiment because it gives you something to constantly be improving upon (input) while also having tons of material and podcast episode topics (output). Moving forward you should feel confident because you will have more episode ideas than you will know what to do with.

We'll cover four main areas;

  • The Four Bs of Ideation & Science (The Bed, The Bath, The Bus, and The Bike)
  • The Science Behind Generating Many Topics Consistently (Good and bad) 
  • Creating Buckets and Banks 
  • Using Research Tools And Asymmetrical Thinking 

The Four Bs of Ideation 

Art and generally, creativity can be daunting and stressful. I've put together a few simple hacks to help with that. If you implement these hacks regularly, this could help you create a wealth of episode ideas to be used by your future podcast self.

The famous philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein is credited with observing that our creativity and ability to generate innovative ideas are all enhanced when we are relaxed. His phrase “The bed, bath and bus” has been used by many creatives to help capture those imaginative ideas. I would go one step further and say the bike is also a great vehicle for inspiration.

For podcasters, this is a welcomed aid when attempting to come up with episode ideas. Coming up with something brilliant doesn’t happen on demand. You need to have systems, processes, and triggers to tease these out. Podcasting is a creative medium and creative rules and best practices apply to this.

If you break down each section of his phrase, you might remember when you've had an “a-ha!” moment yourself.

Bed. Resting, sleeping, or dreaming lets your unconscious mind run with the idea.

Bath. Anything water-related like showering, taking a bath, or even swimming works. This allows you to focus on the flow and ease of being in and around water.

Bus. Obviously, this was in a time when people didn't drive cars. The concept is that most people go into default mode network when you are travelling somewhere. TLDR: Default Mode Network (DMN) is when you “zone out”.  When your brain goes into this passive state, it's easier to passively solve a problem or come up with great ideas.

Bike. I've added this in here because of my passion for cycling and many hours on the bike. A few of my best ideas have come when I'm just peddling away in a repetitive trance, one foot over the other.

The Science Behind Generating Many Ideas Consistently 

It's best to approach ideation, similar to putting systems and processes in action. This mode of operation will gain you a plethora of ideas to choose from when it's time to sit down and come up with a podcast episode topic.

The secret to creativity, according to science, is persistence. You want a lot of ideas. With a lot of ideas, you will get a ton of bad ideas. This is great because bad ideas lead to good ideas. Accepting those bad ideas as bad will lead to better ideas, more quickly. 

When you sit down to come up with a topic, you need to have large buckets to pull from that will lead to a great podcast episode.

Creating Buckets By Capturing, Collecting and Organising

Imagine you're riding your bike along a flowy trail that gives you a beautiful view of a river. You are zoned out a bit, and out of nowhere a fantastic idea pops into your head. You are so excited about it you want to produce the show now! You say to yourself that you will write it down when you get home. You get home and have forgotten it.

That story happens to the best of us. The critical difference between the people that capture most ideas and people that don't is that they have a consistent and straightforward system.

This capturing system can be as simple as emailing yourself or jotting down the idea in a digital or analog notepad. Most people do the capturing, but they don't do the critical next step, which is collecting and then organising. It takes discipline and mental energy to do this on a schedule. This is proven to be the difference between the people with many ideas and the people with a few.

The way I've found to always have my “cup of great ideas overflowing” is to create idea buckets.  

These buckets are then organised by where they are in the process of creation, the type of episode it could be, and where it may sit in the publishing schedule. Feel free to make your own process and groups, but I'll share below what's worked for me.

The first bucket is the process location bucket;

  • Ideation
  • Research
  • Fleshed Out Outline 

The second bucket is the type of episode it is;

  • Deep Dive Problem/Solution
  • Just For Fun
  • Blog Post Only
  • Montague/Magazine Style
  • Narrative

The third bucket is where it is in the publishing cycle;

  • This Season
  • Next Season
  • Future Seasons
podcaster has a new idea

Using Research Tools to Find Episode Ideas

Research means different things to different people. For some people it's fun. For others, they picture people late at night, in a library, sitting nose-deep amongst dusty large boring books. 

Research, however, can be a crucial aid in helping with idea generation for your next great podcast. Remember that you are searching for something specific. You want to provide value for someone. That someone can be you, your existing listeners, your fans, your clients, etc. 

If you are at the stage of finding topics for your podcast, then you should already know your “niche” and an area of focus. You also have a decent idea of what your listeners or potential listeners want. 

Here are a few places online (that are not in a library) that you can search to get put some ideas into your buckets;

  • Facebook groups/pages
  • Twitter advanced search
  • Quora 
  • Reddit
  • Search competitor podcast episode titles on your go-to podcast app
  • Google similar genre/niche blog titles
  • Youtube search videos that are you in your genre/niche

Facebook groups/pages. You can look to join a podcast's facebook group/page or a podcast group around the interest of podcasters. These are ripe with real people talking about your industry’s pain points and any news gossip.

Twitter advanced search. This is a very strong, yet underutilized tool. Either do a normal search for something on twitter and then you will see the advanced search button or click here.

With this you can search by date, account, people involved, included/excluded words, and more. Feel free to go as narrow and deep as you want to see what people are talking about at one of the world’s biggest cocktail parties. Because this is such a powerful tool, please read twitter’s official documentation on how to use it here.

Quora. A lot of smart marketers have figured out that Quora is great for giving long form answers to weird and niche questions. Quora has a pretty good validation system so that you can be confident the person knows what they are talking about. This is ripe with subject matter experts and sometimes industry known folks. (eg: James Altucher spends a lot of time on Quora answering people’s questions and furthering his credentials and expertise in his field).

Reddit. Think of it like this — If Facebook is people you kind of know posting things you don’t care about, Reddit is topics and ideas you love, shared by people you have never met.

The Reddit community is one of the most tight knit social communities around. The upvote system is great because you don’t have to scroll far to get some unique viewpoints and comments that could trigger your next podcast.

Search Competitor podcast episode titles. This is self explanatory, but a lot of people forget to just see what their competitors (or friends) are doing with similar genre podcasts. You might be able to take a topic of interest that has been explored and go into another direction, dig deeper, or look at it from a totally different lens. The more popular the podcast episode, the better this approach is because it’s now proven that people are interested in this.

Advanced Google Search. This is similar to twitter as it’s hidden and most people don’t know about its power. Bookmark this link here and use as few or as many filters as you want to find a unique angle on a subject.

Youtube Search. Most likely, the more popular or interesting videos on certain topics of interest may also play well as a podcast.

It’s also interesting to see what video/film makers are doing in your industry. You can tangentially pivot from those ideas and morph them into brand new ones. Compelling audio can break more rules than film and the written word.

Amazon Book Search. Similar to Google and Youtube, finding books and authors that are in your niche and industry would prove beneficial for ideas. You can also see reviews to see how popular these topics are.

Asymmetrical Thinking

Once you have a bunch of episode ideas captured, collected and organised into buckets, you can then do an exciting experiment that I call asymmetrical thinking. The hail Mary of idea generation. This is where you think the exact opposite of the topic you are considering. 

It's basically generating ideas that are opposite, contradictory or paradoxical. EG: I think an episode for my health/fitness podcast, “Master of Some” should focus on healthy eating during travelling. I started researching “What are the worst things I can eat when I travel to break any routines and habits that I have normally”, and see where that gets me.

Another way to approach asymmetrical thinking is to actually let your brain some rest. The idea is that the rest will prompt critical thinking and problem solving.

There may be some evidence that smartphones and the attention economy have given rise to folks never allowing their brains to enter creative states. Many people are constantly ingesting new info and never taking time to digest it. Having this “downtime” gives your brain the space that it needs for you to be critical. For more on this, check out Podcasting and Digital Minimalism.

coming up with new podcast episode ideas, as backed by science

How This Works For You

The famous scientist and thinker Albert Einstein said: “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination.”

Podcasting, while fun, is hard physical and mental work. Don't beat yourself up over not having the perfect idea when it's time to produce your episode. Give this stage of the production process space and time so that when you think about generating a podcast episode topic idea, you get excited.

Go out and use your creative tools that are on tap and ready to be applied for your next fantastic podcast episode.

Next Steps

If you're still at the planning, or pre-launch stage, you may yet be looking for an overall podcast topic. In which case, check out the article link. That'll help you to formulate some ideas that stand out and position you as unique.

And once you've got a bank of great episodes published, the next step is to spread the word and find some new listeners. For help with this, check out our Ultimate Guide to Podcast Promotion!

A big thanks to Daren Lake for this great article on coming up with new episode ideas. Be sure to check out his podcast, Master of Some.