Choosing a Podcast Format: At-a-Glance
- There are a variety of podcast formats to choose from
- Some podcasters like to fly solo, whilst others enlist the help of a co-host
- Many enjoy the variety of conversations they can have through doing interviews
- Roundtables, documentaries, and fiction podcasts are some other options, too
- You can stick to one podcast format, or you can try mixing it up to see which one feels right for you
- Read on to find out more…
When it comes to podcasting, there are as many ways to go about it as there are stars in the sky. And, if you've ever tried to learn a touch of theoretical cosmology, then you'll know they're almost as hard to figure out!
Today I'm going to try to demystify the world of the podcast format, and help you choose the one that'll feel right for you.
How do I Choose a Podcast Format?
There's no need to get caught up in this stage though. Your podcast format is like a good coat. Over your podcasting life, you'll try on every type. You'll find one that fits like a glove, that just seems right, and you'll wear it for a while. But then, as the seasons turn, you'll find yourself hankering for another.
Your podcast format changes over time, and it should, depending on the feedback of your listeners.
So, the secret is to experiment in the early days. Try a few different methods over your first 20 episodes. See which ones incite a lot of feedback, and which ones fit your personality.
Even later in your show, mix it up a little from time to time. Experiment and ask your listeners what they think. That's the driver for change, for innovation in your show, and that's what keeps people interesting. Alongside amazing content of course!
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The Range of Podcast Formats
So, what do we have to choose from? Here are the most popular types of podcast formats you'll encounter, along with some real-world examples.
The Solo Podcast Format
Just a podcaster and a microphone. With the solo format, you talk directly to your audience. This format means you only ever need to rely on yourself – but it can also be quite intimidating for the podcasting beginner.
Dan Carlin – Hardcore History
Dan's Hardcore History podcast is loooooooong (3hrs+ per episode), in-depth and just him. No FX, no fanciness, just one bit of intro music and his voice. But somehow he makes it really, really engaging. It's the perfect example of amazing, engaging scripting.
The Co-Hosted Podcast Format
Enlisting a pal to be your ongoing co-host can really breathe life into your episodes. There are potential downsides though, as always. You'll now be reliant on someone else, which means scheduling recording times that suit both. With a co-hosted format, there also needs to be a conversation about the ownership of the podcast.
Boagworld is a web design show hosted by the two co-founders of an agency – Paul Boag and Marcus Lillington.
It shows the way co-hosting can work really well to showcase personality and produce a really engaging experience. The banter and back and forth between Paul and Marcus is hilarious to listen to, and the question and answer format really adds to the depth of the show.
The Interview Podcast Format
If you're passionate about a topic, and have a thirst and curiosity to always learn more about it, then why not interview folks in that space?
Interview podcasts are ultra-popular and it has never been easier to record remotely. Interviews can create consistently fresh content, and offer a diverse range of perspectives. Again though, this format isn't without its challenges. The interviewer might not be seen as “the expert” (if that's your goal), and constant scheduling and finding guests become the order of the day.
Paint All The Minis
Paint All The Minis is a deep dive into the tabletop and board game hobby, as well as the collecting and painting of miniatures. Host Dan Adam interviews folks from all areas of the hobby, and has some cracking chats with industry legends on there.
The Roundtable Podcast Format
A roundtable refers to the idea of getting a larger number of participants together to discuss a set topic over a set period of time. Normally there would be at least one regular host, if not two or three. Then the rest of the ‘table’ is made up of guests who are expert in the topic at hand.
The host or hosts will direct the rountable, asking questions and steering the topic, so that everyone gets a turn and contributes to a great conversation on the topic.
Roundtables can be a great way to build authority in your niche as it allows you to invite prominent guests to the show and produce great content from their experience. Most of the logistics are very simple – editing, content planning, etc – but organising guests in the early day can be hard.
The Game Design Roundtable
The Game Design Roundtable is a long-running show exploring the art and craft of game design from the perspective of tabletop, digital, and role-playing games. TGDR's ongoing co-hosts bring on guests to discuss particular topics. It's a great example of the roundtable format.
The Documentary Podcast Format
Often referred to as “BBC-style” or “NPR-style” – the documentary brings in multiple voices, musical elements, and actuality to add an extra layer of production and storytelling. The end product can sound great, but the time and work needed to put them together will increase drastically.
The Startup Podcast
One of my favourite shows, the Startup Podcast is a really transparent look behind the scenes of starting up a business. Season 1 followed the founding of Gimlet Media, the producers of the show itself, and they've moved on to other companies since.
This format takes a lot more time in creating and editing, but produces a much more engaging, high-quality product. Again, not for everyone though.
The Fiction Podcast Format
They say everyone has at least one good book in them, but fiction podcasting is the new novel writing. Fiction podcasts come in many forms, from “audiobook style” to fully soundscaped audio drama where every footstep is accounted for. Here's our best fiction podcasts roundup if this is a world you'd like to dive into. And if you fancy making one – here's our ultimate guide to launching your own fiction podcast.
Campfire Radio Theater
Campfire Radio Theater is an immersive audio drama horror podcast. It's an anthology series mixing up dark myths and legends with completely original stories. The recurring theme is the outstanding level of production. Not one for the faint-hearted!
Summary: Choosing a Podcast Format
Some aspiring podcasters can suffer from decision paralysis when it comes to choosing their podcast format. But this isn't something you need to nail perfectly first time.
Perhaps you'll launch with a solo show, then test out some interviews, and find that you really enjoy them. Maybe you'll start out with the interviews but end up relishing the freedom of flying solo.
Your podcast can change and adapt over time. Or, you might learn the ropes with your first show, then launch a new one with the format you know works best for you.
Remember to use our ultimate guide to starting a podcast for a walk through everything else you'll need. And, for more tailored help, check you can join us in The Podcast Host Academy. In there we have courses on everything from editing to monetisation – and we run weekly live Q&A sessions too!