Studio #10 Choosing your show's format
Today’s Studio explores some of the most popular formats for podcast shows. Will you go it on your own or will you bring friends? There’s not a right or wrong way to set up your show, but there certainly are pros and cons for each approach.
One of the first things that you’ll want to do is establish your show’s format? Who’s going to host it? And who will be the guests? Will you have a co-host or not? Or, do you want to do something maybe a little different? The different formats that I’m going to discuss today include:
- The solo host (or the monologue format)
- The host with guests
- The host with co-host;
- The host with co-hosts and guests
- The narrative podcast (guest driven)
The solo host (or the monologue format)
If you’re the kind of person that doesn’t mind the sound of your own voice, and I don’t mean that in a narcissistic way, but someone that just isn’t turned off by hearing their voice recorded, and you’re somebody that has a lot of things to say and a lot of time to say it, you may decide that you want to be a solo host. You have guests once in a while, but, for the most part your content is delivered by you.
Here are some of the pros for the solo host format.
The first is that you can do a podcast anytime you want. If you wake up in the middle of the night and you decide, “Hey, I got something on my mind. I really want to explore,” then you can do that. You can set up your recording equipment, and you can just go!
You don’t have to worry about scheduling other people. Scheduling is one of the bigger obstacles to hosting a show, not only finding other people to talk to but then getting them to commit time and getting them to show up.
You don’t have to worry about getting approval. Typically, when you record podcasts, or at least when I record podcasts with guests, there’s a courtesy there to let them hear what the finished product sounds like before you release it. Of course, when you’re the solo host of the show and you’re the only one doing the talking, then really the approval falls on you or whoever you may lean on to give you feedback.
Some of the downsides I would say are it’s really on you to make the entire show interesting. The whole show rests and falls on your ability to capture people’s attention, to communicate articulately and effectively, and to bring energy. Sometimes, you just don’t feel like doing that, and sometimes it’s easier to rely on another person to help you do that. It can be difficult to always get up for recording a podcast.
Another challenge is consistency. If you have guests, if you have other hosts, that means you’ve done some scheduling to pull all of those people together, and you force yourself to make sure that you’re recording and you’re committing to a schedule. When you’re doing this on your own, you’re being a solo host, you’re being essentially the subject matter expert, then you can do them whenever you feel like it. It’s really easy for you to put things off or procrastinate. When you have other people that are involved, whether it’s a co-host, whether it’s a guest, then you’ve done some scheduling upfront to make sure those people are going to be there. It’s kind of a reinforcement that you also need to be there and you also need to be recording.
Let’s face it: a lot of people are not comfortable with hearing the sound of their own voice. I mentioned from the outset that I happen to be comfortable hearing the sound of my own voice, but, a lot of people, they don’t like it. It might be a big turnoff to them that they’re the solo voice on their show.
Finally, the promotion of the show really falls on your shoulders. Some people have a problem with promoting themselves, talking about their show, why other people should be listening to it. It’s one of the bigger challenges that I faced in creating podcast content is finding people to listen to it and talking about yourself and what you’re offering people. Some people just aren’t very comfortable with that, but this format works well if you’re somebody that has a lot of passion and energy, you’re not averse to hearing the sound of your own voice, and you’re self-motivated.
The host and guest format
This is the more traditional format for podcast shows. Most of the shows that you listen to will have somebody asking questions, somebody answering those questions. This is a format that’s been tested and something that listeners come to expect. With that comes some advantages.
Your guests may have an audience. One of the best ways to grow your podcast audience is to have your guest promote their appearance on your show to their own audience.
Sharing the load. You don’t have to be interesting in every moment. In fact, sometimes it’s nice for the guests to be inquisitive, to ask questions, to play devil’s advocate. That can set up some interesting conversation and discussion points. The listener is there to hear the guest, so your job as a host can be easier if you’re letting them do the talking!
Learning something new. In theory, you’re bringing in guests to come on your show because they have expert knowledge on something that maybe you don’t have. This is another pro that you get to learn from your guest, and I think that that’s really important.
Just more interesting. Finally, it might just be considered more interesting having a guest. You’ve got two different voices. You have different perspectives. I think, from a formatting standpoint, that this is one that works really well to capture attention and keep attention.
Some of the cons, at least in my opinion, are that you have to schedule guests. This will be a recurring theme in a lot of these additional formats that I talk about after the monologue format is that one of the challenges to podcasting and having a show is finding guests and then making sure those guests show up and do all of the different things that are expected of the guest.
You also may need to budget in time for coaching. Not everyone who you’ll talk to is comfortable talking on a microphone. Some people get really intimidated when they come in, they sit down with you, and they’re being interviewed. Interviewing is a skill all unto itself. If you don’t believe me, just try it. It can be very difficult. I would say the last con is that it requires more editing if you have another person talking. The more people that you have on your show, the more editing that you’ll do, the longer the process will take to get an episode out.
The host and co-host format
One of the pros for this format is that, depending on your co-host, you could have really powerful chemistry, which makes for differing perspectives, counter-points, arguments, humor, inside jokes, things that are interesting to a listener. Having a co-host also allows you to share promotion duties, so you’re not expected to carry the full load of talking about the show.
Depending on your release schedule for your podcast, having a co-host means that maybe you could take a break once in a while or, if you’re sick, you don’t have to worry about missing a week because you have a co-host, somebody that can step in and shoulder the load of hosting for you for a short period of time.
The cons here are very similar to the host with guests.
You’ve got to worry more about scheduling, because now you have more than one person that you have to account for. Depending on your release schedule, you may have to schedule guests far in advance.
There’s more editing, because, again, you have more voices. And you may find,that you also need to storyboard your conversation a little bit more to figure out who’s going to be bringing up topics, who’s going to be transitioning to the different topics, and so forth.
The host, co-host and guest format
This is a really interesting format because it gives you the ability to have a co-host who has maybe a different perspective than yours and a subject matter expert as a guest that you could both ask questions to. I personally find these to be among the most interesting podcasts that are out there because I feel like I’m actually a fly on the wall listening to a conversation.
The downside is that you have a lot more planning that you need to do. You have more people that you need to schedule. You have even more editing that you need to do, especially if your guest is someone that is remote.
The narrative or “guest” format
Many of the more popular podcasts out there that you may have heard of fit into this format, and that is a voice that introduces a topic, and then it’s mostly driven by the subject matter expert or the subject of the podcast itself. Think about a podcast like S-Town, Serial and Missing Richard Simmons. There’s a lot of new podcasts that fit into this format, which is called the narrative format, where you’re more using the medium of podcasting to tell a story.
One of my favorite examples of this is Song Exploder, which I think actually does the best job at the just guest part of the format. At the very beginning you hear a clip of the narrator introducing the artist whose music will be showcased. Then the artist does the rest of the speaking, answering questions which are taken out in editing to tell a complete story in the first person.
A new way to tell a story. I think some of the pros here are that it’s a completely new way to tell stories with podcasts, and I think, in that sense, it’s not an interview. It’s more of almost like an audio documentary, and that can be very interesting.
These require extensive production. The downsides really are all in the production. I’ll put air quotes around “downside” because I don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing, it’s just a huge time investment because you’re doing a lot of editing and a lot of coordination with other people.
Better get it reviewed. Because you’re using their voice to tell a story, you’re going to want to give review authority over to your guest. You may want to cede some of the creative control to your guest to allow them to make suggestions about how the edit was done, maybe the direction the story took, et cetera. This isn’t a format where you can necessarily just sit down on your own whenever you feel like podcasting and crank out another episode. This is the kind of thing which might take you several weeks to put together an episode.
Choosing the right format
As you can see, there’s lots of different formats and ways that you can build your show. Do you want to be a solo host? Do you want to be the one that’s driving the conversation and doing it on your own terms? Or do you want to host a show with guests? It’s the more traditional format. You can offload some of the responsibilities on your guests to help you promote it, and it might sound a little bit more interesting, especially if you’re someone that’s bothered by the sound of your voice.
Or do you have someone that you want to bring with you and make part of your show as a co-host, someone that can help you come up with topics, someone that can debate you, someone that can help make the content more interesting? From there, you and your co-host might decide that you want to have guests on the show. This is probably the most dynamic format possible for podcasting where you’re adding multiple new voices into the mix. Just keep in mind that it requires more editing and more scheduling. Or are you feeling artistic? Do you want to try a narrative podcast format? Do you want to tell a story in the first-person using your guest’s voice?
There are many different options, no right or wrong way that you can go. Really, it depends on you, how strongly you feel about podcasting, how committed you are to recording, how comfortable you are in interviewing, and what type of time investment are you willing to make.