From solo shows to storytelling: A guide to different podcast formats | Podcasting | DW | 01.07.2024
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Podcasting

From solo shows to storytelling: A guide to different podcast formats

Choosing a podcast format takes consideration. It determines how your show develops, who you reach and how you collaborate. Here’s a look at several formats so you can see which one fits your idea, skills and resources.

A podcast format is the way you organize your show. It’s the structure over which you lay your content. A podcast’s format gives listeners and viewers a sense of what they can expect from your show and can determine why they came to you in the first place.

Some people want to lose themselves in a sound-rich story and will gravitate toward narrative formats. Others want information and expert input on a topic, so they might find interview formats more to their liking.  

Choosing a format takes some thought. You need to consider your goals, personality, subject matter, resources, time and production skills, etc.

Let’s look at some of the most common formats and their pros and cons.

Solo/monologue

Solo podcasting involves a single host delivering content directly to the audience. While production is pretty easy, you need to have the charisma and storytelling skills to pull it off. Good solo hosts can build strong connections with listeners. The true-crime podcast Criminal with Phoebe Judge has had great success. 

Pros: The host has full creative control and isn’t dependent on others’ schedules. Solo shows can be less expensive to produce and usually require less editing.

Cons: Keep an audience engaged can be challenging since there’s no interchange among different people. There’s a lack of different viewpoints as well.

Interview podcasts

These podcasts tend to have the longest runs and are very popular. Hosts bring on guests to talk about a certain topic. A well-known, long-running one is NPR’s Fresh Air.

Pros: Guests bring new energy, points of view and knowledge to shows. Audiences can get a lot out of the guests’ insights.  

Cons: Finding and scheduling good guests can be a challenge. Good interviews require preliminary research and preparation. Hosts need interviewing skills. 

Co-hosted conversation podcasts

These shows feature two or more hosts who discuss a topic or topics. The style is conversational and relaxed, such as on Critics at Large by the New Yorker magazine.

Pros: A lively conversation among hosts can be very appealing. It’s like overhearing a talk between very smart or very funny (or both) friends. Hosts share responsibilities for the episodes.  

Cons: Co-hosts need to have good chemistry. A structure must be organized keep things on-topic and clear. (Often one host takes the lead.)  

Narrative storytelling (fiction and non-fiction)

These podcasts feature scripted stories and are often sound rich and immersive. They can be fictional with a focus on drama, sci-fi, fantasy or other genres. They can be non-fiction, exploring real-world events and people. Serial, a non-fiction investigative show, is a stellar example. For fiction, there are shows like Welcome to the Night Vale.

Pros: Can be very captivating for listeners and allow producers great creative freedom.

Cons: Require a good deal of research, writing and production. Usually are more demanding financially and in terms of time. Good storytelling/reporting skills are needed.

There are other innovative formats out there, such as recordings of live events that take people straight to the action like the storytelling show The Moth. Or producers mix things up in one episode, such as starting off with a monologue and then moving to an interview, such as Marc Maron’s WTF. Short-form formats give bite-sized information, such as the Merriam-Webster dictionary’s Word of the Day.

How do you choose?

There are several things to keep in mind when deciding on a format.

Content

What’s your subject? Personal expertise might favor a solo podcast while providing perspectives or being more entertaining might suit interviews or co-hosted shows.

Target audience

Who do you want to reach? Young people might like a fast-paced co-hosted show while older audiences might be interested in storytelling. Business professionals might lean towards interviews.

Resources and Time

Do you have the equipment you’ll need and the time? Are your contacts full of potential guests, do you have the equipment you’ll need or can you buy it. How much time are you willing to commit?

Skills

Play to your strengths. If you’re a great talker with lots of personality, a solo show might work. If you love to go deep with people, try an interview format. If you’re more introverted but get at structuring and sound, a narrative show might be a good option.

Do you have to stick to one format?

Not necessarily. As with DW’s Living Planet, the producers have developed three formats to keep things interesting. There are many other examples of podcasts playing around with different formats. Some podcasts are hybrids and might have a monologue at the beginning and an interview later on.

One option is to try out a few different formats early on in your show and see what your audience likes. Even ask your listeners what they’d like. The occasional format change, even if just for an episode or two, can keep things fresh and interesting.