Podcast formats are like little roadmaps for your episodes. They’re the framework you build your content on, and the way you deliver it to your audience for maximum impact. There’s no single best podcast format. But, podcasts do tend to boil down to one of six typical methods. Let’s decide which is the one for you!
This ‘Best Podcast Format’ guide was initially written in 2016. We update our popular posts periodically to reflect changes in technology, our recommendations, and because we’re always learning new things!
What Are the Best Podcast Formats?
- Solo: flying on your own
- Co-hosting: working with a partner
- Interview Podcast: new guest every week
- Roundtable: wider panel of guests
- Documentary: highly produced content mix
- Fiction: telling a story
How do I Choose a Podcast Format?
Like many other decisions you make when starting a podcast, this can cause a bit of decision paralysis. After all, what if you mess up and choose the wrong podcast format!?
But any 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 best fit your personality, as well as your schedule.
Even later in your show, mix it up a little from time to time. Experiment and ask your podcast listeners what they think. That’s the driver for change, for innovation in your show, and that’s what keeps people interested. Alongside amazing content of course!
Types of Podcasts by Format
So, what are our options, here? Let’s run through the most popular types of podcast formats you’ll encounter, along with some real-world examples.
1. The Solo Podcast Format – Recording Alone
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.
That said, it’s the most popular podcast format amongst aspiring creators, according to data from our free Podcast Planner Tool. 43% of over 1500 new podcasters told us they plan to do it alone and take a single host approach.
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 scripting.
2. The Co-Hosted Podcast Format – Having a Conversation
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. If you’re fortunate enough to start making money, how will it be split?
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 adds to the show’s depth.
3. The Interview Podcast Format – Asking Questions
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. Conversational podcast interviews can create consistently fresh content and offer a diverse range of perspectives. Again though, this podcast 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. Interviewing is also a skill that you’ll have to hone and prep. And, no matter how good you get, you’re still heavily reliant on how your interviewee comes across.
Paint All The Minis
Paint All The Minis is a deep dive into the tabletop and board game hobby and 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, game designers, and enthusiastic collectors.
4. The Roundtable Podcast Format
A roundtable refers to the idea of getting a handful of folks together to discuss a set topic. Usually, 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 experts in the topic at hand.
The host or hosts will direct the roundtable, asking questions and steering the discussion, so that everyone gets a turn and contributes to a great conversation.
Roundtables can be a great way to build authority in your niche, allowing 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.
5. 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. Here are some tips on how to create a documentary-style podcast.
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 podcast format takes a lot more time to create and edit but produces a much more engaging, high-quality product. Again, not for everyone, though.
6. The Fiction Podcast Format – Telling a Story
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 dark myths and legends with original stories. The recurring theme is the outstanding production level, with music and sound effects that build an entire movie in your ears!
Podcast Formats: FAQ
Okay, now that we’ve covered the six common podcast format options, you’ll hopefully have a clearer picture of which direction you’d like to take. But, there’s every chance you still have a few burning questions before you head off to plan that first episode. Here are a few of the most frequent podcast format questions we get asked.
Which Podcast Format Will Get Me the Biggest Audience?
There is no silver bullet podcast format for growth. If you took a bunch of successful podcasts, you’d find that they came in various formats, shapes, and sizes. Just like podcast topics and subject matter (where we’re often told that true crime podcasts have the best chance of success) this misses the point of what makes a show prosperous. A big part of that is your passion, enthusiasm, and reason for showing up consistently behind the mic.
And, speaking of consistency, we need to keep things as sustainable as possible, so…
Which Podcast Format Has the Least Editing & Production Time?
The more time you can spend on your content, the better. But that doesn’t necessarily mean hours in front of your podcast editing software. Bite off more than you can chew, and you’ll soon burn out and give up.
Unsurprisingly, solo podcasts are the most efficient when it comes to editing and production. On the flip side, fictional podcasts, documentaries, and roundtable or panel podcast formats can really start to eat up the hours.
Alitu has everything you need to record, edit, and publish your podcast, from call and solo recording and automatic production to slick, intuitive editing tools, and built-in hosting. That’s all under one login and subscription, too, so you save money as well as time!
Should Every Podcast Episode Follow the Same Format?
It’s your podcast, and you’re the boss. If you’ve been doing interviews but fancy testing out the solo podcast format, go for it. Whilst it’s arguably better that your listeners know what to expect, the most important thing is that you have the time and enthusiasm to keep publishing new episodes. So, if you take one thing away from this post, it’s don’t be afraid to mix things up!
Summary: Choosing a Podcast Format
Aspiring podcasters can suffer from decision paralysis when choosing their podcast format. But this isn’t something you need to nail perfectly the first time.
Perhaps you’ll launch with a solo show, test out some interviews, and find that you really enjoy them. Maybe you’ll start with the interviews but relish 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 an entire podcast series on a new topic 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. Our free Podcast Planner tool will help you a lot, here, too. It just takes a few minutes to fill out, and it’ll get you set up with your own personalised program.
Finally, for more tailored help, you can join us in the IndiePod Community, where you’ll find courses, live Q&A sessions, and a whole bunch of enthusiastic, passionate, and curious creators just like yourself.