Episode Content Structures that Listeners Loved ♥️
In this blog post we’re going to talk all about the podcast format – what types there are, the ones we loved in 2022, and the pros/cons of each one.
2022 was a standout year for podcasts. One third of all Americans, or about 104 million people, keep listening to podcasts regularly. Of those, about 60% bought something because they heard about it in a podcast ad. 📈
There are a lot of reasons for this success, but today we are going to focus on one: Excellent podcast formats. Below are what we consider the best seven podcast formats of 2022, along with their pros and cons.
Let’s start! 🚀
Podcast Format #1: Interview
Nickname: “The Classic” 😎
This tried-and-true format keeps giving.
It sticks to the basics: A solo host interviews a different guest every episode.
The show usually has a general topic that it sticks to in order to give its audience consistency across the different interviews and episodes.
There isn’t usually a script, though the questions are typically prepared ahead of time.
One of the reasons this work horse continues to top the list is because it is the most video-friendly format. A single camera is all that is needed for recording both the host and guest. 🎥
With YouTube on the move to potentially dominate the podcast scene, the option to easily pivot to video is a valuable one.
Of course whether you choose to pivot to video or not, high-quality audio remains the utmost importance. The method lends itself to a simple, but dynamic audio landscape. 🎧
Two good mics and simple editing software is all that’s needed. The conversational tone is easy to capture and relay to an audience.
Another reason this is one of the best formats is because it lends itself to cross promotion. The guest can promote the show to their followers, growing the podcast’s audience at no cost. 🔝
Cross-promotion also helps podcasts’ growth in another powerful, and free, way: Search engine optimization. As the guest references the show across social media and other websites, the podcast’s SEO will grow and it will appear higher on searches about the topic it covers.
Overall, this is a great structure for beginners and podcasting experts alike.
Episode production and recording is pretty simple. ✅
Booking guests gets easier over time as the podcast grows its audience and becomes more attractive to guests. ✅
It is also great for filler episodes or variation in podcasts– A fictional storytelling podcast may choose to intersperse its grand productions with some episodes of a host interviewing an actor. ✅
What is a fictional storytelling podcast? Well, funny you should ask. That’s the next format on our 2022 list. Keep reading!
Podcast Format #2: Fictional Storytelling
Nickname “The Theater Kids” 🎭
In a lot ways, this is the total opposite of the interview format.
It doesn’t lend itself to video recording, because that would just make it a TV show. The audio is usually pretty advanced or at least it is very involved. Cross promotion is somewhat possible, but not really. Ok, but what are we even talking about here? Let’s back up. ⏪
The fictional storytelling structure is like old time radio shows, or modern TV shows. 📻
There are often multiple characters, a compelling narrative, and sound effects. The story arc spans multiple episodes across a whole season. The content is, of course, non-fiction.
This format is just plain fun. Fun to create and fun to listen to. 💃
Listeners are immersed in whole new worlds, whole new realities. They are locked in, hanging on every scene, feeling the rising tension and the relief when it is resolved.
And that’s what makes it such a powerful, popular format. Audiences will often be very loyal through the whole season– they need to know how the story ends! They also tend to listen through the whole episode because every detail is important to the narrative.
This makes it much more likely that they listen through ads too. This makes advertisers very happy and eager to invest. 💸
The structure also lends itself to powerful social media marketing. Think: Fan fic communities, fictional characters having their own social media handles, bonus content.
The potential for growing an active audience base is huge. 🤯
To be sure, this format is not for the faint of heart. Writing good scripts, embodied complex characters, and engineering sound effects are not easy. It takes a lot of time and potentially a chunk of resources. 😅
However, there are many people who would love to have the opportunity to be part of a fictional production. Lots of aspiring writers and actors are willing to take part because it is a way to show their skill.
And of course, plenty of people are happy to take part because, like we said earlier, it is fun (sometimes a bit stressful, but fun)! 💃💃💃
Podcast Format #3: Non-fictional Storytelling
Nickname “The Binge Maker” 🤩
When you think ‘non-fictional storytelling’ think ‘Serial,’ the 2014 podcast that catapulted the entire industry to new heights. Everybody who was anybody was listening to the reporter, Sarah Koenig, walk through the investigation of a murder in Baltimore, covering a narrative of youth, culture, violence, and truth. It was a classically compelling whodunit, but with real lives on the line. Listeners devoured episode after episode. It wasn’t popular because the content was exceptionally unique. It was the structure.
And the non-fictional storytelling structure is still incredibly powerful today. 💪
If the fictional storytelling format is like a TV show, the non-fictional storytelling format is like a docuseries. 📹
The narrative production doesn’t have as many bells and whistles (figuratively and probably literally).
Usually there is a host, typically a journalist who investigated the topic or a researcher who is very knowledgeable about it. 🕵
The content is scripted- voiceover for the host and bits of recording from participants’ answers to interview questions. Sometimes there is environmental audio to help the listener feel like they are at the same location of the host or interviewees.
One of the biggest benefits of this format is that it is usually very attractive to advertisers. 🧑💻
The demographic attracted to non-fiction shows is demographic that are of high value to advertisers and are hard for advertisers to access in other mediums: Relatively young and affluent.
This format is not easy though. A lot of research and fact-checking has to go into it and the script has to be very well written, keeping the audience hooked. 🔍
There are a lot of ethical considerations involved, and if the story is based on modern events, there is a risk of lawsuits or general blowback.
On the other hand, recording a podcast is much cheaper than doing a docuseries about the same topic. And, at the rate the podcast industry is growing, a much larger audience might be reached with a podcast!
Podcast Format #4: Monologue
Nickname “Flying Solo” 😌
If there is anything that non-fiction podcasts teach listeners, it is that humans are messy, chaotic, and just a lot to handle sometimes. That’s why the monologue format has made the list this year!
A monologue formatted show is one where there is a solo host. That’s it. Beautiful in its simplicity. 🧘
No schedules to coordinate, guest pitches, no sharing control over what to include in the content or narrative. Just the podcaster and a recording microphone (and super great intro, interlude, and outro music, of course!).
If there is any episode format that is more video-friendly than the interview format, it is the monologue format. It is perfect for YouTube or any other platform.
The solo host can center themself at the middle of the camera and then speak straight to the virtual audience. 🎙️
There won’t be any banter, but it can be a nice change of pace for an audience to just listen to one calm voice.
These episodes are generally semi-scripted. The solo host has a script outline to make sure they cover all the content they want to, but they freestyle the meat of the content so it sounds natural.
While the recording production is super simple, the content needs to be very strong. 🏋🏋
Listeners set a high bar when listening to a monologue format, so solo hosts can’t skimp out on preparation. They need to practice, practice, practice, and then edit well.
The show’s topics should be strategically planned weeks or months in advance, building on themes or action ladders.
The biggest con of this format is probably that monologue podcasts might be the easiest to start, but hardest to grow. The solo podcaster has to be patient while working their email/website/social plan.
Growing and maintaining an audience with this structure can hinge on if the solo host can form a close connection with their audience, so they may have to spend more time than other podcasters developing personalized communications. 🤝
Podcast Format #5: Co-Host Conversational
Nickname “Don’t You Just Love Those Two” 😍
Bert and Ernie, Will and Carlton, Laverne and Shirley. People love dynamic duos. And what’s not to love? Two friends riffing off each other is entertaining and lovable.
That’s the heart of the co-host conversational format. It is about the chemistry and the banter, the perspectives and the peccadillos. 💁♀️💁♂️
The content topics can be somewhat broad because the relationship between the hosts is the consistent factor.
Caution: Sometimes co-hosts rely too heavily on off-the-cuff banter and the podcast falls flat. Just because this format seems easy-breezy, it still requires preparation. 💯
There might not be a script, but there should be an outline. Practice is needed sometimes.
Editing is super important with this kind of format. Without good editing, the episode might just be a recording of a rambling conversation.
Like the interview format, one of the big pros of the co-host format is that it does lend itself to video since there are usually just two people speaking.
However, editing can be much more difficult. Interviews are more structured so it is relatively easy to cut parts from a video without the listeners noticing much. But with a natural conversation, more animated nonverbal movements, and everything else that comes with two people just having a good time, it can be hard to cut parts of the video without it seeming unnatural or awkward. 😬
The co-host format is a good foundation for growth, especially if the co-hosts initially bring separate audiences with them.
The initial cross-promotion can go a long way. 🎉
The format is also good for search engine optimization. Not only can future listeners find the podcast based on keywords, but they can also use the co-hosts names to easily find the show.
Last but not least, the format also is good for social media. 🤳
Posting clips and asking the audience to chime into the conversation in the comments is a smart interactive marketing method to get seen on social media while also forming a lasting bond with listeners.
The audience demographic for shows with format vary widely, depending on the topic and the co-hosts. If the podcasters are pitching advertisers, it will be very important for them to present detailed data about their listeners and how they are the perfect audience for a particular brand’s ads.
Co-host read ads are generally very popular since the audience is there for them! 💞
Podcast Format #6: Short Informational
Nickname “The Power Lunch” 😤
Ok, let us toot our own horn for this format. Have you checked out our podcast, “TIPS”? All of the episodes are under 10 minutes and they are chock full of concrete information, specifically useful for podcasters. Besides being a great podcast, it is a great example of the ‘short information’ format!
The short informational format is usually for how-to or fact-based content, often related to the business world. 📊
It is scripted, making sure that every sentence is effectively answering any questions listeners might have.
This doesn’t mean that the host isn’t important. ‼️
For example, our host is Sarah Donnelly, a comedian. She infuses our script with wit and delivers it with cheer.
Yes, people want straight information into their veins, but they do want a decent audio experience too. 💆
As you may have guessed, we have a video podcast version of “TIPS” on YouTube and this format works well on video. We do highly recommend using some visual graphics in the video to help the content not be dry, and to help visual learners.
Of course anything with video is going to excel on social media and this format is no different. Depending on the social media platform, it is possible to embed the whole episode in a post.
Often social media can provide additional context or information, including answering listeners’ questions in the comments. This interactive content is great for gaining visibility on social media and growing a podcast audience. 👀
Often these short informational podcasts are part of a bigger program. They can stand alone, but they also fit with blog posts, longer courses, email content, etc. They can play an impactful role in a larger SEO strategy. 💼
Sometimes there are ads in this kind of format, sometimes there aren’t. The reason that sometimes there aren’t ads is because the podcaster is using the episode as kind of an ad for the podcasters’ organization. Why send listeners somewhere else when you want them to engage deeper with your own different types of content?
Overall, this format is generally not the first that comes to mind when one thinks of podcasts, but in some ways that is one of its biggest strengths. This format can attract listeners who otherwise might not listen to podcasts.
So though it is tiny, it can be mighty! 💪
Podcast Format #7: Panel
Nickname “Perspectives” 😁
Rounding out our 2022 format list is the panel format.
If you need a non-podcast example, think of Sunday morning political shows. Experts or relevant figures discuss current topics, each giving their opinions and interacting with each other to some extent. 👨🏫
Luckily, in the podcast world, this format is used a little more diversely.
A good example of a panel podcast is Uninterrupted’s The Shop. The structure intentionally mimics that of a barbershop where people have conversations as a group. There is no script. They talk about music, being pros in their industries, and whatever topics are popular at the time.
The Shop has a small advantage over other podcasts because it has the likes of Lebron James and Lisa Leslie gracing the panel. 👸🤴
But this could be a great format for even a beginner podcaster!
By having multiple people on the show, there is less pressure and work on each individual.
But getting the panel chemistry right is key. 👨🔬
They need to have enough in common to hold a lengthy conversation, but different enough to create an interesting dynamic.
Sometimes there is one person who fills the host role, sometimes that responsibility rotates, and sometimes there is no clear host at all.
In terms of guests, some panels are the same people every show, some panels constantly rotate, and sometimes there is a set panel and one new guest every episode.
This format can be more technically demanding in terms of recording. 📋
Since there are multiple people, it is best for there to be multiple mics, and the mics need to be high quality enough that they are only picking up the individual’s voice that is right in front of it.
Editing can also be more difficult since there are more audio tracks to deal with and panelists may talk over each other at points.
Unless you have the budget of Undefeated’s The Shop, you probably are going to have a hard time capturing the podcast on video. To get good visuals of individual faces, multiple cameras are needed. That means video editing will also need to happen. 🎞️
One of the biggest strengths of this format is the high potential for growth based on the separate audiences each panel member brings in.
If there are guests on the show, there is an even higher potential for cross promotion marketing. ⬆️
Multiple panelists also means the potential to build a very strong, diffuse social media marketing structure. ⬆️⬆️
Additionally, with multiple panelists referencing the show on their own platforms, SEO will increase. ⬆️⬆️⬆️
There’s an old adage that if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go with a group. That rings true for this format– it may take some time to find and schedule the panelists, but the potential for growth is high.
Each format, each structure has its pros and cons.
Decisions about picking the right option should include considerations about what kind of host is available, access to guests, audio recording capabilities, content, script vs no script, and start date. 🔣
Keep in mind, many podcasts include two or more of these formats.
Sometimes the blend is within episodes- an episode may have a monologue intro and then an interview section. Other times the blend is across episodes- most episodes will be non-fiction storytelling, but some episodes will be non-narrative interviews.
Regardless of the format, the fundamentals stay the same. 🍎
Episodes should be clearly structured: Intro, Sections of Content, Outro.
Finding the right music for each part of the structure is key. Sound is a critical part of a podcast’s brand so it needs to be spot on. Create an intentional ambiance for listeners.
It has been a pleasure to listen to these different podcast formats all year, and to work with our podcasters figuring out what format works best for them!