Choosing the wrong podcast format is one of the most common mistakes new company podcasters make. Often, when people think “podcast” they think: “interview,” but it’s not that clear cut. Depending on which of the Business Podcast Blueprints you’re using, and which specific success metrics matter the most to you, not to mention your specific needs around time and budgetary investment, there are styles of show that make more or less sense for your business.
The most important consideration of course, is how well the format helps you meet it your overarching, and specific podcasting goals.
We’re going to talk about Interviews, Solo episodes, Co-hosted conversations, Panel Discussions, Demonstrative Shows, Documentary style, Clip Shows and Lives. There are other formats of course, like narrative, fiction, news and more – but these are the ones most likely to find a place in podcasts that exist AS businesses, or are passion projects. We’re always balancing the desire to create with the needs of a business, and while quality is always critical, efficiency matters too!
If you’d like to listen to this content instead of reading it (or in addition to – live wild!) You can check our our Business Podcast Blueprint Episode all about Episode Formats!
Interviews are a hugely popular podcasting format, and with good reason! They’re dynamic, let you network and help you bring fresh new ideas to your audience. But there are different kinds of interviews. High level, there are ‘interviews’ that are really conversations between equals, and there are interviews that are about sharing another person’s expertise with your audience. They each have their place.
If you are looking to use your podcast to establish Thought Leadership, you must be seeking out conversations between equals, where you and your guest are contributing equally to the informational output of the episode. If you are just asking questions and going, “mmhmm, I agree, and what do you think of…” you are not establishing thought leadership. And that can be totally fine! But not in a Thought Leadership style show.
In a conversational style interview, you want to make sure that you and your guest are talking to each other, digging into ideas as they come up, and each contributing your own experience and expertise to the topic at hand. You are not just going to run down a list of prepared questions, and you’re not going to spend the whole conversation getting your guest to talk about what they’re great at – that’s an informational interview.
Conversational interviews are a little tricky – it takes practice to have equal conversations with strangers! But they are brilliant for enhancing your own thought leadership because when you’re talking to another expert it conveys that you have access to experts and are on the same professional level that they are. Of course this means you need to really curate who you are talking to. This is not the style of show where you’d be coaching a client, for example. I’ll be getting into those in Demonstrative podcasts later in the episode)
Having conversations with fellow professionals also gives you the chance to build and nurture relationships with them, and explore aspects of your own subject matter in new an interesting ways.
An informational style interview is different from a conversational one in that the focus is really on the guest, and not so much on the host. The host is shining, rather than sharing the spotlight, for the purposes of bringing valuable information to an audience (Audience Engagement podcasts). This style of podcast is also highly valuable from a Relationship Building standpoint.
These interviews work the best when you know that your audience could benefit from information that you don’t necessarily possess yourself or within your company, and when your key goal for podcasting is expanding your own professional network of experts who serve similar audiences.
(Remember, you’re always going to be able to use an interview to network and build relationships – that is always a relationship building benefit you can get from them!)
Solo episodes are a popular podcast format for Thought Leadership and Audience Engagement podcasts – as well as being a massive boon to the content-motivated among us.
In a solo podcast or episode (lots of shows like to mix up interviews and solo content to get benefits from multiple blueprint styles *ahem*).
Solo shows can either be scripted or off the cuff. Scripted means you plan in advance more or less exactly what you’re going to say and in what order, either with a detailed outline or a full script.
Off the cuff is when you have a key topic, or a brief outline and you just go to town on it. Only testing it out and practicing will determine what is best for you. What you need to watch out for is that reading often sounds like reading and that is unendurably boring to listen to. On the other hand, off the cuff can be so scattered that it’s hard to follow. You’ll also be at risk of pressing publish and realizing you’ve left out important details. A mistake I have never made. Ever. Not once.😉
Try out a few different methods to see what strikes the best balance for you.
Another issue that people sometimes run into with solo episodes is that when it’s just you and the mic, building the momentum and excitement can be a little challenging. There is a dynamism to having a conversation with another person that keeps the energy going, and for some hosts – that’s a necessity, not a nice to have. It really comes down to your own skills, style, and preferences.
Monologues or Solo Episodes
A monologue style show can be viewed like an audio essay or blog post. You have your topic, the different points about it that you want to cover – hopefully a few stories and opinions to keep things interesting, and off you go! These are great when you want to talk about things that are going on in your industry, share the results of research or experiments (these are also demonstrative podcasts, in many cases!), provide actionable information, theory and strategy to your listeners, and generally teach. The key idea is information transfer from the host to the listener, in an efficient, portable way.
Q and A
Another very popular style of solo show is the Q and A format, where the hot answers questions that were either submitted by listeners (and sometimes audio clips of people asking them are included! But not always), or culled from inboxes and social media. These are great for a lot of reasons too.
First and foremost, if one person drums up the courage to actually ASK – you can be reasonably certain a lot of people are wondering, and providing a direct answer is a real service to your community. Secondly, it’s so, so, so repurposable. Massive Q and A lists, multi-media resources for the sales team to distribute, content to put on social, you can use these all over your online presence.
It should also be said that for a lot of experts, answering questions is fun… but can get tedious when it’s the 400th time, so having a definitive answer to a common question to share can save a lot of time.
These shows can also be quite quick to put together. Pick a theme, find a few questions you’ve been asked, read and answer them, and send to production.
We included a Q and A section in the last season of the Business Podcast Blueprint Show – here’s one of the videos we made out of it!
A co-hosted conversational podcast is exactly what it says on the tin – two hosts talking to each other, and sharing information with the audience. These kinds of shows are often – but not always, really about education – taking subject matter and conveying it to the listener in an organized and enjoyable format.
These shows can be a lot of fun, especially for Audience Engagement podcasts, where you have a crowd of engaged audience hungry for more content from your organization. You can fill that need for them, and provide a huge amount of content without the considerable trouble and expense of a guest management process.
Sometimes you will have guests join the co-hosts on a show like this, but from a production standpoint, that can get a little chaotic, not to mention be a little rough on a guest! Two interviewers and one interviewee isn’t the most comfortable situation for most people.
Now, lets talk about demonstrative podcasts – these are shows that are primarily used to show that you can walk what you talk. Think case studies, live coaching, analysis of events, reviews and commentary in your industry. These are generally for Audience Engagement style shows, and they can be a little more difficult to arrange than a straight interview or solo episode, but they can be enormously valuable for both your audience and your business.
Coaches can also find a lot of value in this style of show, if they have clients willing to be coached on the air, it can be a fabulous way to demonstrate the methodology the coach uses, and the kinds of breakthroughs their clients can see. Again, this helps the listener, by giving them an example to relate to and proof that the service or coaching works, and gives the business a chance to demonstrate the value of the services.
Not every demonstrative podcast needs a direct case study, of course – the goal with these types of podcast is to show in a very real way that the company knows what it’s talking about, so providing reviews of products, services, books and other content creators can accomplish eh same goal, and likewise researching, analyzing an communicating news and developments in the industry can have the same impact.
So those are the main, high level options for weekly or bi-weekly release schedules – once you get into the swing of things, they’re fairly quick to create, and you can build a solid workflow that meshes seamlessly with the rest of your week. There are a whole bunch of other show formats, of course, that take a little more arrangement on the front end, or more of an investment in post-production, and so aren’t typically great for businesses to do every week, but that can be amazing for a special series, event, or milestones like 100th episodes or book and product launches. They don’t fall under one Blueprint or another, since they’re really for special purposes.
A documentary style podcast is one that tells a story with a beginning, middle and end, either within a single episode, or from the beginning of a season or series to the end. Very often these will be more highly produced, with more sound elements than a standard interview or solo-show, and as such, they can be a little more challenging and expensive to produce, but the results can be astounding – and generally evergreen!
Sometimes, a single host will provide all of the narrative and information, or there will be a combination of a host providing the framing and context, supplemented by other speakers with personal anecdotes, specialized information or additional context. There is going to be a lot more planning on the front end for this type of show, which is why you will see it more frequently as a special or a standalone than something that is created every week.
Some business use cases for a documentary style show could be the origin story or your organization, or a brilliant snapshot of your current company culture or an event – you an also use this style to develop fascinating case studies for your clients – something they might appreciate sharing with their own team and audience.
Clip shows are a lot of work, you probably won’t want to do it every week, but for major events and milestones – and after you’ve got enough of a podcasting archive to support it, they can be a lot of fun, and a real bump in production!
A clip show is an episode composed of selections from other episodes, for example, the top 10 lessons from 100 episodes, or the 10 best insights from a year of podcasting. Individual clips from previous episodes will be selected, on a particular theme, then re-edited into a new episode with the host “framing” the clips being presented, providing the context for them, why the clips are important, and what connects them. This means the production process can get a little ungainly, but it can be well, well worth it
We often create clip shows for milestone episodes – they’re a lovely celebration of the work that has come before. Check out the 100th Episode on the Free Time Podcast with Jenny Blake!
Another benefit of a clip show is being able to amp up promotion! Every guest who is featured in the show can be contacted to say something along the lines of: hey! Your insight about XYZ was so good we included it in this super special clip show! Here’s a link!” As always, not everyone will share, but it’s a very nice email to be able to send from a relationship building standpoint!
A panel discussion show is one where you gather multiple experts on a topic, and moderate a conversation between them. You’re seen these at conferences, I’m sure! A moderator, the host in this case, will post questions and then get insights from each of the guests. These can be fascinating podcast episodes, if a lot of work.
They’re enough work that I would not recommend them as a weekly, or even a monthly part of your schedule – just getting that many people on a call at the same time can be a bit of a headache, but they can be a fantastic capstone to a season, a special to promote a major launch or release, a bonus episode or a quarterly event that features largely in your promotions. As with any panel, make sure that you’re giving each guest a hance to speak and be heard!
Lives comes with a big, fat asterisk as far as podcasting is concerned. There is a dynamic sort of engagement on a live event that doesn’t translate perfectly to audio, but that said, sometimes they are appropriate, and can a great way to add a little variety and get double duty out of something you’re already creating.
Now, of course, within all of the above there is plenty of room to move around to experiment.
So… how is your Podcast Format Stacking Up?
If you are starting a new show: You get the fun of picking a show format! From all you’ve read about today, what sounds like it’s the best match for your business goals, and your workflow? Consider the time you’ll have to spend coordinating with other people (there are several lessons about workflows coming your way in a few weeks!), and the amount you’ll need to invest in post-production.
You aren’t bound to this decision until the end of time, and you can make changes and experiment with special episodes as you go on. If in doubt, plan to have an interview style show that is either conversational for thought leadership, or informational for relationship building and audience engagement.
lf you already have a show: Honesty time. Is your show’s format aligned with your business goals? And if you’re conducting interviews, are they conversational or informational and is that appropriate to what you’re trying to achieve? If it is in perfect alignment – congratulations, no homework for you this week, other than to maybe plan a bonus episode or mini-series to stretch your creative legs.
On the other hand, if you are creating a show that isn’t perfectly aligned for what you want to be achieving, then start altering your format to get closer to the goal.
You can plan to make the switch next month, quarter, season or year if you don’t want to make any abrupt changes, but it is important that you are taking advantage of the different benefits each of these formats provides. Let us know if you need help.