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Not just interviews: A guide to podcast formats

Updated: Jul 18

Back when I was first getting into podcast production for other people, it probably took a bit longer than it should've for me to realise that for a lot of folks, podcasts were synonymous with interview podcasts. I had questions fired at me like "what do you do if you can't get any guests?", and "isn't that just a radio show?". When I mentioned that you could do a podcast all by yourself, there were looks of horror. What, talk? To nobody?!


But you see, friends, you're not talking to nobody! Whether you're taking some time to have a one-on-one with your listener, telling a story, having a chat with a co-host... there's plenty of ways to fill an hour's worth of airtime, and an interview might not necessarily be the right one for you.

What podcast format is right for me?

It all depends! What's your audience? What's your topic? Is it a fast-changing, dynamic niche, or is it one with a lot of complexity and depth? What's your audience looking for? Do they want the latest news or are they looking to be entertained?


Chances are it's a combination of all of those things and chances are there's a podcast format that's right for you in your situation.


What types of podcast formats are there?

There's plenty of different podcast types, including plenty I've probably forgotten. But let's run through a few lightning-round style just to give you an idea.


I'll put some of the positives and negatives of each style, and some recommendations about who might try each style depending on your podcast goals. There's also some recommendations for you to listen to in there as well, from some of the big players as well as some from the other ends of the value spectrum!


Interview/Chat Style

I probably don't have to explain this one to you! It's by far the most common podcast format, where each episode you bring a different guest (or guests) onto the show and ask them questions.


Two males recording a podcast


Optimum Length:

Depends on a few factors, including how interesting your guest is and how deep your topic is.


A quick update from an expert on a news item might only need 10 minutes, while a career retrospective with your favourite athlete or artist might need to be broken into two whole hour-long episodes.

Positives

If you manage to snag an interesting guest, you can fill an entire episode with podcast gold with not that much work. A podcast allows your guests to provide more in-depth answers over media like video, too.


If your guests have a public profile all their own, they can help your show reach even more people.


Some even treat their interviewing as part of their networking: Instead of "Do you want to meet for coffee?", it's "Do you want to come on my podcast?"!

Negatives

Guest wrangling & interview prep can be a lot of work. You also need to make sure your audience and guests are a good fit for each other.


You give up some control in this format, too: success really depends on how good you are as an interviewer and how engaging your guests are, so choose wisely!


You have to remember it's not about you, it's about your guest! Which means you'll probably spend most of your time helping your guests show their expertise in a topic, not yours!

Try this style if...

There's lots of experts in your niche that your listeners would really love to hear from, or you'd like an excuse to network with some really cool people.


Really suits journalists looking to showcase their interview skills; entrepreneurs or business owners in knowledge-based industries; or peak bodies looking to keep their members updated with the latest from experts in their field.

In addition to all the usual stuff, you'll need...

A two-microphone setup (at least) for in-person interviews, or some remote recording software. Make sure to factor in some time to record an intro and outro separately, too.

Listen to...

If you're a business owner, I will recommend How I Built This with Guy Raz for as long as I have breath in my lungs. For some indie podcasts, check out a couple of friends of mine: Why We Travel and Seek, Travel, Ride.

Narrative

​Probably another format you're pretty familiar with, although you might not know it by name. Here's the format where you tell a story through a podcast, often using things like voiceover, interview excerpts, archival audio, re-enactments... likely if you think of your favourite true crime podcast, it'll be one of these.


An interviewer recording an interviewee with a handheldmicrophone


Optimum Length:

I like about half an hour to 45 minutes. Less and your story might need beefing up, more can get hard to keep track of.

Positives

Probably the most fun style IMHO. Opportunities for creativity are through the roof, and if the popularity of a true crime podcast is anything to go by, audiences love them too.

Negatives

Huge amounts of work to source interviews, sound effects, music, write scripts... these work better for short, limited-run seasons, rather than an ongoing "once a week" type podcast.

Try this style if...

​You've got a story to tell, or you want to place your audience in the story.


This style works well for journalists who are looking for an alternative to writing a book, or organisations charities looking to highlight the impact of their work and explore complex issues. Not-for-profit organisations can benefit hugely from these.

In addition to all the usual stuff, you'll need...

Interview equipment, a sound effects library, perhaps a portable recorder to record on location, a script... and probably someone to help who knows what they're doing, as these can be a bit tricky (I can!).

Listen to...

Dirty John was huge when it came out and ended up becoming a feature film starring Eric Bana. Or for something closer to home, have a listen to Nick Richardson's The Maiden Summer, telling the story of women's cricket in Australia.

Solo

​You. Microphone. Hit record! That's pretty much it! Forget co-hosts or guests, this one's all about you!


Man speaking into a microphone attached to a computer

Optimum Length:

Err on the side of shorter is better for these ones. Twenty minutes max unless you break it up.

Positives

No wrangling guests or co-hosts! Record on your schedule, when you want. Fantastic for showing your expertise in your particular niche. Great way of repurposing your existing blog content, too.

Negatives

It's really difficult to maintain your listener's attention for a long time as one person (hence the shorter optimum length). You really have to concentrate on staying conversational, too, as it's hard when you don't have anyone to bounce off.

Try this style if...

You're a business owner trying to give your audience useful, in-depth advice in your zone of genius.

In addition to all the usual stuff, you'll need...

Nothing! Just make sure you write a script at least.

Listen to...

​Small business owners should take a look at what we've done for Small Town Business, where Erika combines solo episodes with interview episodes to really put her advice into context.

Discussion

​Rather than a host and a guest, this is two regular hosts (or guest hosts) having a chat about a particular topic.


Two women sitting casually on the floor recording a podcast, with microphones placed on a coffee table between them

Optimum Length:

Having two people makes it a bit easier to bounce off each other, so you can get away with a bit longer than a solo podcast. Beware of clogging it up with non-useful stuff, though!

Positives

You and your co-host can share the load in prepping, suggesting topics and researching. Gives a more diverse range of perspectives than a solo podcast. Allows one podcast host to take the 'devil's advocate' position and present two sides of a debate.

Negatives

REALLY easy to stray off topic, especially if your co-host is also your mate. Remeber: this isn't your WhatsApp group! You have to be really disciplined to stay on-topic and not waste your audience's time with stories from your weekend (that aren't interesting) or in-jokes your audience don't get.


However, if you can invite your audience into the stories, and include them in the in-jokes... you can build a heck of a connection with your audience and THAT, my friends, is podcast gold.

Try this style if...

You can find a co-host you trust (and that will pull their weight!), and:

  • Your niche changes all the time, giving you plenty of the latest news to talk about, or:

  • There are a number of differing perspectives that you can take on the issues you discuss.

There's a great reason that most sports panel podcasts are this style. But it works really well for individuals and organisations podcasting in subjects like law, fitness, science, health and many others. You can show the breadth of experience within your organisation, and demonstrate your ability to navigate multiple sides of complex issues.


In addition to all the usual stuff, you'll need...

​A two-person podcast setup, or remote recording software. A podcast audio package that includes some mid-show 'bumpers' can help to divide out the topics.

Listen to...

Listeners love Isa and Amanda's back-and-forth on Sounds Like a Cult. For those listeners who are in Australia, Hamish and Andy were (and probably still are) the gold standard in inviting you into their friendship.

"Magazine"

Probably more my term rather than an industry term, this one really refers to a hybrid of a few styles. Like a physical magazine, a magazine podcast contains a whole heap of different stories, presented in different styles, around the same or similar topics. You might have a news segment that's solo, then a discussion with your co-host about a topic, then maybe a long-form interview with an expert, or a question and answer session... the sky's the limit!


Woman using a computer to edit a sound file

Optimum Length:

Because you're changing things constantly, a magazine show can work well for a longer format. But the joy of a magazine format is that it's constantly changing, so avoid making any one segment too long (or perhaps break it up?).

Positives

​Why choose just one style when you can pick them all? The flexibility to chop and change means that you can present your content in the way it works the best, no matter what format that is.

Negatives

Audiences do like a little bit of predictability, so if your format's too wacky it can turn some people off or be hard to follow. Pro tip here is to stick to roughly the same order for your segments from episode to episode - so if people don't like the 'news' segment playing now, they know they'll enjoy the long-form interview coming up later on.

Try this style if...

​your chosen topic has a mix of latest news and deeper issues to get your teeth into. As an example, this show type works great for sports, as you can go from reporting the scores in a news segment, to maybe playing a post-match interview excerpt, to discussing a team's injury list, to an interview with a retired player.

In addition to all the usual stuff, you'll need...

Think about what you'd need for a discussion podcast and work upwards from there. The microphone in your mobile phone works pretty well for capturing audio on location, so you could try adding some event audio from there, too!

Listen to...

​There were a couple I used to listen to back in the day... but they've all gone and I can't find any in my feed! Who's found a good one? Let me know on Insta or Threads at @jet.streamer!

Others:

  • Audio dramas like Welcome to Night Vale. Tell a story using narration, sound effects, and voice acting.

  • Comedy shows like Tony Martin's Sizzletown

  • Call-in shows or Q&As like Borderline Salty

Combining formats

You can even combine podcast formats in the same feed! Perhaps your 'normal' episodes are magazine-style, but you do a bonus episode that plays one of your full interviews in traditional interview style? Or do a special Q&A episode? A special investigation? An end-of-year clip show? It's up to you!


For help deciding what format's right for your podcast, get in touch!


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