How to Design a Narrative Style Interview Podcast: 10 Easy Steps to Level-up Your Interviews

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Are you struggling to make an impact with your interview podcast? Narrative-style podcasts are breaking the mould when it comes to unique listener experiences. Here's how we do it

For many budding podcasters, the typical entry point is the interview format.

Successful podcasts like The Joe Rogan Experience and The Tim Ferris Show have only increased the format's popularity. So much so that almost every niche imaginable has multiple long-form interview shows catering to their community.

Herein lies the problem. Because the industry is full of interview-based shows, differentiating yourself from everyone else isn't easy. You can't exactly ask your guests to be ‘more interesting!' So, you'll have to find more creative ways to level up as a host.

What's wrong with regular interview podcasts?

Nothing! They're great. Making an interview podcast is an excellent place to start, especially since the barrier to entry is so low. 

Some of the benefits include:

  • They are quick and easy to create
  • You can leverage the expertise of your guests to generate good podcast topics
  • Editing and post-production can be simple, especially with tools like Alitu

But, since this format is somewhat easy to produce, competition is high. Within a few short years, the ‘quality bar,' as Ben Thomson refers to it, has been set.

The 'Quality Bar' graph: How to Design a Narrative Style Interview Podcast
The ‘Quality Bar' graph

Okay, so you understand that you need to do better, and you need to find that special something to take your podcast production to the next level. But what does ‘next level' sound like, and how do you get there?

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“What is important to note, though, is that while quality is relatively binary, the number of ways to be focused — that is, the number of niches in the world — are effectively infinite; success, in other words, is about delivering superior quality in your niche — the former is defined by the latter.”

Ben Thomson, Stratechery Newsletter

What is Narrated Interview Podcasting?

Narrated interview podcasting is where you take your everyday interview and turn it into an immersive experience. So, rather than publishing an interview in full, an episode is made up of cutaways, scripted inserts, music, and sound design. 

This type of production allows podcasters to tell a story in a non-linear way, which keeps listeners tuned in from start to finish. 

For many, companies like NPR, Wondery, Gimlet Media, and the BBC have set the gold standard in narrative storytelling. And shows like How I Built This and Without Fail are prime examples of how a narrated podcast can take listeners on an audio journey by using creative editing. 

If this sounds like something you'd love to do but don't quite have time or skill set for, a dedicated podcast production service can help simplify the process.

Given the success of these types of shows, narrative podcasts are a fantastic way to engage audiences. But why should you put in the effort?

The Benefits of Narrative Style interview Podcasts

Narrative Interview Podcasts Hit All the Right Emotional Buttons

Recent studies have shown that stories can trigger a deep emotional response. When our brains hear a good story, oxytocin (aka “The love” hormone) is released, causing us to feel empathy, trust, and a sense of bonding. 

As these feelings flood our bodies, we naturally start to become invested in the narrative- causing us to want to stick around or take action. 

You Have More Quality Control

The standard interview podcast format makes it hard to guarantee consistent quality across all your episodes. This is often due to the recording process being a one-take deal. You sit down, record the conversation within a predefined time frame, and that's your entire episode – warts and all. 

If you're not “on form,” the conversation is boring, or there is zero chemistry between you and your guest, listeners are more likely to drop off. 

Investing in the narrated interview format gives you so much more control of the final result. 

Knowing that you will edit, refine and tweak the conversation later will encourage a more free-flowing interview. You can both take your time, ‘um,' and ‘ah,' restart thoughts, backtrack and redo answers to your heart's desire- because only the best stuff will make the final cut.

Simple Tips To Take Your Interviews From Standard To Outstanding

If you are looking to make your interviews binge-worthy, the narrative format can create a listener experience unlike any other.

Yes, it can be labour-intensive, slightly more expensive, and more complicated to produce than a standard interview. But it's worth the effort. Here are some simple tips to help you start creating a more listener-friendly experience.  

Map out your edits. You want to condense the interview down to the best parts. If your interview is 60 minutes long, can you whittle it down to just 25 minutes? Listen to the recording in full. Make notes along with the timestamps of where you want to make significant edits and/or include narration. From there, you can easily map out the entire episode structure, which will simplify editing later on.

Do the hard work for the listener. If a question can be easily Googled, either don't ask it or cut it out and narrate the answer instead. Do the research upfront and respect your listener’s time by only airing the parts of the conversation that you can’t find elsewhere.

Record narrations in one sitting. It's incredible how our voices change throughout the day. Before you record your narrations, do a vocal warm-up exercise and record everything all at once. That way, your vocal tone will be consistent throughout the episode.

Create narrative signposts – Don't let the audience get lost. Your narrated segments should act as a guide for your listeners. Adding in carefully scripted narration can signpost key turning points within the story. Use these moments to break down and answer questions, recap segments, add valuable thoughts or information before moving onto other topics.

Reset and re-engage your listeners – Sadly, people have short attention spans. So as producers, we want to reset our audience's focus every 2-3 minutes to keep them engaged. Thoughtful narration, sound design transitions, or background music says to the listener, “Hey, pay attention, this bit's important.” Break up those lengthy conversations!

Music holds a lot of power- Just like a movie soundtrack, well-chosen music can help amplify your narrative. Try to weave appropriate music and sound throughout your podcast episodes to highlight key points or take your listener on a journey. There are multiple places to find and use royalty-free music, as well as free-to-use music.

If you're a brand looking to create this style of show, then working with a narrative podcast service could be the way to go for the best results.

building wearing headphones: creating a narrative podcast

10 Steps to Creating an Effective Narrated Interview Podcast

We know that every podcast is unique, and different podcasts use different production methods. But, here are some simple steps that could help take your podcast to the next level.

  1. Plan Your Interview: Planning your questions is essential as they will help keep you on track. Try to ask open-ended questions that will go beyond a simple ‘yes' or ‘no' answer. You want to encourage your guests to tell an anecdote.
  2. Record your interview: The quality of your recording is important, so take your time to think about how and where you will record your show. Could you hire a recording studio? Are you going to be on location? Is recording online or over the phone your only option? Whatever your choice is, ensure you understand how your gear and software works and that it's functioning correctly beforehand. 
  3. Transcribe your full interview: Get your unedited audio transcribed in full using a program such as Descript, ExpressScribe, or a transcription service such as Rev. Here's our full guide to audio transcription.
  4. Edit the interview in written form first: Use the transcripts as a guide. Look for portions of dialogue that can be removed, edited, or switched around. This method is perfect for mapping out where to place music, narration, or additional recordings.
  5. Write your narration scripts: Once you've decided how you want to edit the audio, look for points within the narrative that you can address or make a comment on. Can you answer a question or recap for your audience? Remember, these segments help tie the story together. Avoid using unauthentic sounding, pre-made intros, and outros. Instead, use this as the perfect opportunity to create a custom intro hook and thoughtful outro.
  6. Record your narration: It's time to get back on the mic and record the scripts you've written. As mentioned before, your voice changes throughout the day. Do a vocal warm-up to get those pipes nice and relaxed. Record everything in one sitting if you can, including your customized intro and outro!
  7. Pull your tape into your editor: Let's put this audio puzzle together! Using your pre-made plan, start lining up the narration, intro, and outro with the pre-recorded interview. 
  8. Add sound design: Sound design is what will make your show pop! For narrated podcasts, music, recordings, and sounds can be a fantastic tool in setting the mood and enhancing the story. Use carefully timed sound effects, music, and recordings to help enhance the listener experience.
  9. Mix it: With so many more elements than a standard interview, your dialogue, narration, and sound design will need to be carefully combined. Spend some time learning how to equalize, compress, apply noise reduction, and treat your audio for the best results. Your hard work deserves it. 
  10. Review Your Show: Once you have your entire episode pieced together, you want to take the time to listen to the whole thing- from beginning to end. (EditPoint is a great app for this stage! – ed) You'll quickly get a feeling for how the story flows and whether any elements need to be altered. Get someone outside the production process to take a listen. An unbiased listener will be able to tell you what is and isn't working. Once you're happy with the result, it's time to publish!

Summary: Creating Narrative Podcasts

Creating narrative podcasts is more challenging than simply recording an interview and uploading it. But by focusing on a more immersive form of storytelling, your show will offer something unique for listeners. By putting in the extra effort you'll stand out from the crowd, with an all-encompassing experience rather than just another interview show in your niche.

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Next Steps: Resources!