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(A Few) Types of Podcasts
This list is not intended to be an exhaustive list of podcast formats or types, merely an overview of some of the most commonly used non-fiction/documentary story shapes and formats. Many podcasts also blend components of several of these structures quite effectively.
- One track featuring solo voice—hopefully a compelling speaker—without much supporting material (akin to the format of Talk Radio)
- Might include interlude music or other breaks for the sake of variety
- Example: The Memory Palace
- A recording of a conversation between two or more people, with minimal editing
- Example: Sounding Out!
- Evidence of some basic editing to remove particles (ums, ahs, etc), possibly some restructuring of clips to create or clarify a narrative in post-production
- Might have a break in the middle for a change of pace (or to run an advertisement)
- Example: How to Science
- Evidence of more advanced editing, the addition of music or sound effects throughout, inclusion of multiple voices, etc.
- May be styled as a conversation after the fact in post-production for emphasis and clarity.
- Other times, the episode is styled as a conversation between a host and a reporter/producer, who "tells the story" to the host.
- Example: Reply All
Conversation Among Hosts
- Could have elements of all of the above, but its core structure is a conversation among multiple regular hosts/contributors (similar to a panel discussion)
- Example: How to Survive the End of the World
Narration/Voiceover + Interviews + Other Audio
- The voiceover provides the narrative structure for the story
- “Picking and choosing” pieces from the interview(s) and other audio clips to add dimension to the story
- Example: 99% Invisible
- A type of story where the voices of people in the story comprise most, if not all, of the story itself. While it may be edited by a producer, the story features little to no narration by that producer.
- Example: Radio Diaries
- A recording of a live presentation of some kind (poem, reading, interview from live event, etc.) that is ‘wrapped’ with a voiceover before and after to contextualize, and/or summarize it
- Example: The Moth
Fictional Narrative Podcasts
- Reminiscent and often inspired by the radio dramas popular throughout much of the 20th Century, these shows either create original dramatic content or adapt existing written content to the audio drama format.
- Example: Welcome to Night Vale
Podcast Brainstorming Worksheet
Download and fill out this worksheet to help you plan and organize your podcast.
Editable Word Document or Printable PDF are available.
Before You Start
Thinking about starting a podcast? Before you do anything else, you’ll need to do some careful thinking about your audience(s) and the kind of story you want to tell them. Spending a little time on brainstorming and framing your narrative will save you dozens of hours during production and post-production.
Follow the steps below (and provided worksheet), along with the wide range of resources included within this guide, to help you on your way towards bringing your story to life through podcasting.
Use the following questions to outline your thoughts and goals for your podcast. A worksheet is available to download and fill out and is located at the bottom of the page.
- What story am I telling?
- What is my focus?
- What angle do I want to approach the story from?
- Who are the people with something at stake in the story I am telling?
- Am I giving fair voice to their perspectives?
- Am I the right person to do the telling, or should I reach out to guests and interviewees who can lend the benefit of specific experiences, areas of expertise, or credentials to the narrative?
- Am I the authority? Or is someone else more qualified to give the data while I provide the narrative?
- Why is the story worth telling?
- Who is my primary audience?
- Who else might be interested in listening to my finished podcast?
- Who are my secondary audiences?
- What elements of the story will matter the most to each of these anticipated audiences?
Style and Technique
- What existing podcasts or podcast hosts do I listen to and like?
- What do I find engaging about them?
- What lessons can I take from these examples as I plan my own podcast?
- What styles and formats do they use?
- Can I incorporate that into my own podcast?
- What are some of the advantages of pure sound (audio only with no visuals or other media) as a story telling medium?
- What are the limitations and challenges?
- What audio techniques will I use to create a compelling atmosphere and texture for my audience (in ways that enhance rather than distract from the story I am telling)?
- What music, ambient sound, or sound effects might I use?
- Will I integrate multiple narrative styles? (voice-over monologue, recorded conversation, audio from a live event, etc.)
Planning Your Script
Using the answers to the questions above, map out your story arc. Feel free to shuffle, remix, add to, or ignore certain sections to suit the goals and needs of your project.
10-15 minutes is a good target length for your first podcast, and it probably shouldn't exceed 20 minutes unless you have a strong rationale for doing so (such as a particularly compelling or well-known guest/interviewee). Capping your podcast's length at 20 minutes will keep it within the attention span of most potential listeners and ensures that it will fit nicely into an average commute.
The table below will help you begin mapping out your podcast. The table is also included in the worksheet at the bottom of the page.
||Outline | Key Points | Audio Clips
|Body Section 1
|Body Section 2
|Body Section 3
The Next Steps
Where you go from here depends a lot on your own speaking style and the structure of your podcast or audio essay.
You could write out a full, detailed script containing everything you wish to convey. You might, however, decide that you’ll sound more natural and conversational without a full script. If that’s the case, you might rehearse using the map you drafted above, expanding conversationally on each key point in your body sections.
If your podcast includes interviews, you will need to do some preparatory research about your interviewee and their work, but rather than develop a script you will draft a set of interview questions and potential follow-up questions in case your guest’s answers are too succinct or need some unpacking.
If you will be using more than a single audio element (which you likely will be) it is always a good idea to draw up a list of the individual components that you envision incorporating into your project. This will help you make the most of your precious recording time and ensure that you get all the coverage you need with any interviewees with whom you’ll be working.
Ultimately, you are the expert on the story you are trying to tell, so you will be the best judge of what kinds of supporting documents will best serve you as you plan, rehearse, and record your project.
Tips & Tricks
- Find a quiet place with minimal distractions
- Practice like you will record; try to align your rehearsal environment as closely as possible with the environment you will be in when you record
- Imagine an audience member and direct your speech to them
- Bring your own personality and style to the narration (it will make it more interesting for you, and therefore more interesting to your audience)
- Speak slowly and consistently and try to maintain a constant distance from the microphone
- Make sure you are familiar with your equipment and have tested it several times before going to record, especially if you will be recording with guest interviewees or collaborators
- If possible, have a backup recording device (this could be a memo recorder, or even a phone with a little plug-in microphone) in case of technical difficulties
- Get familiar with a hardware and software setup and stick with it until you want to do something it can't handle
- If you are going into the field, make sure you make a gear checklist that you can use to double check your equipment as you pack it up
- Unless you are in a studio, record one full minute of 'room tone' or ambient sound of your recording environment that can be used to patch when editing
- 90% of the editing happens before you sit down at the computer; smart and thorough planning will save you lots of time
- When it comes to editing, you can easily spend as much time as you allow yourself to spend, so set an editing time limit that will help you craft a quality finished product without sinking needless hours into fine tuning at the micro scale
- Edit using high quality speakers and/or headphones, but then listen back to your finished recording using common consumer-level audio equipment that your listener will likely use so you can hear how it will sound to the majority of your audience
- Enlist the help of friends and colleagues as listeners who can lend a fresh ear to your project and give you constructive feedback at multiple stages of the editing process
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