Learn about different podcast formats, and choose one that fits your strengths and your audience.
Here’s a scene that’s familiar to podcasters: You’ve got your microphone, your topic, and a whole lot of passion for getting your voice out in the world. But when you sit down to record, it hits you—a podcast can take so many different forms.
Some people have the gift of narration—they can speak into a microphone for hours and produce a funny, thoughtful, and engaging show. But that doesn't come naturally to everyone, and it might not work for every show.
That's why it's important to try and choose the right podcast format.
Podcast formats are types of shows determined by:
How a show is created
The structure and style of a show
Podcast formats are important for podcasters for primarily two reasons:
They provide consistency for your listeners. Your listeners will know what to expect because of your chosen podcast format.
They provide consistency for creators. Once you choose a podcast format, you don’t have to start every episode from scratch. This makes production easier since you’ll have a template you can use to structure your episodes quickly.
Podcasters should consider learning about each popular podcast format to decide which format is right for their show. In this article, we’ll break down seven popular podcast formats with insights from podcasters who host shows in each format.
The solo podcast
Solo podcasts have one host who explores one or many topics in each episode. They use a monologue style of narration to guide listeners through each talking point.
“Carefree and Black Diaries” is a solo podcast hosted and produced by Shaakira White. In the show, Shaakira explores topics on culture, politics, music, education, and anything else she finds interesting.
Solo podcasts are easier to produce for creators because they don’t depend on a guest’s or a co-host’s availability.
Solo podcasts can offer a more intimate experience for listeners. Shaakira’s listeners tell her that her episodes “[feel like] there’s just a friend in the room talking to me.”
You have complete control over your recording and editing process. You can script sections exactly how you want to record them. And if you don’t like a section of an episode, you can always re-record it.
Solo podcasts can be challenging to keep interesting for listeners. Do you love long-form narration? Is there a range of topics you can talk about? Think about your strengths as you’ll be the sole person to capture your audience’s attention.
It can get lonely working on a solo podcast without having anyone to collaborate with and brainstorm new concepts for your show. One way you can avoid this is by networking with other podcasters and building a community with your listeners on social media.
The interview podcast
Interview podcasts are shows in which hosts talk to a guest in each episode. They’re one of the most common types of podcasts because they don’t require too much logistically—as long as you can land a guest for each episode.
“PODCAST NOOR” is an interview podcast hosted by award-winning journalist and podcaster Noor Tagouri. She works with guests to craft their dream interviews on her show. “I’m asking them [her guests] what are the stories you’d like to share that you haven’t shared,” says Noor, “or something that you’d like to reclaim or share in your own way.”
Interview podcasts can be less production-intensive. Interview shows are built around two people having a conversation, so they can be easier to produce than a nonfiction or a fiction podcast, which tends to require more complex sound design.
It can be easier to grow your audience. Your episodes often have built-in distribution with your guest’s audience, so they can grow faster than other types of podcasts.
Landing guests can be challenging. Your ability to land interesting guests determines the quality of your show. If you choose to create an interview podcast, you should be comfortable consistently pitching to prospective guests for your show’s production schedule.
The roundtable podcast
Roundtable, or conversational, podcasts have multiple co-hosts or speakers moderated by a single host, and they discuss topics or interview guests together. They can be more loosely structured and casual than solo and interview podcasts.
“Black Wealth Renaissance” (BWR) is a roundtable show produced by David F. Bellard Jr., Jalen Clark, Kelly Rhodes, and Jarred Spiller. The four co-hosts discuss topics around personal finance and wealth in the Black community.
Having multiple co-hosts makes it easier to share the production workload. Not every member of the BWR team participates in every episode. “If a member has something important to do, the podcast can still be recorded,” says BWR.
A roundtable format creates space for a diverse set of perspectives. The BWR team has the benefit of “being able to share perspectives and points of view that may differ and help to create more meaningful content” for their listeners.
Roundtable shows allow for fun and engaging banter. Fans of roundtable shows frequently return to these shows for the banter and camaraderie.
It can take time to find a rhythm with your co-hosts. “Having a good system for incorporating everyone in the conversation without interrupting each other has been a learning process,” says BWR.
There are more moving parts to getting episodes produced. Scheduling, for example, can get difficult with multiple co-hosts. If you all aren’t in the same city, you’ll have to coordinate production remotely, which adds more complexity to your production process (Anchor’s Record With Friends 2.0 makes this easy for podcasters).
The narrative nonfiction podcast
In narrative nonfiction podcasts, hosts conduct interviews, narrate past or current events, or produce live field recordings around specific incidents or historical topics. Most true crime and history podcasts adopt this format because it puts listeners in the center of a fact-based story in an immersive way.
“American Hysteria” is a narrative nonfiction show hosted and produced by Chelsey Weber-Smith. It explores the moral panics, conspiracy theories, urban legends, and fantastical thinking that shape American culture.
You have total creative control and creative freedom. Chelsey says, “Conversational shows just don’t have the same control that I seem to desperately need.” You have the ability to shape your stories exactly how you want to share them.
You can also mix in different types of audio—interviews, news clips, music, archival sounds, and more—to shape your narrative and tell your story.
Nonfiction shows take time to produce. From the research that’s required to ensure a show’s accuracy to the level of effort in recording and editing required to produce an engaging episode, nonfiction shows take more time to make.
Editing can be a challenge. Chelsey constantly wrestles with what to keep in and what to leave out of episodes. “We are always cutting stories we love because the main ideas of the topic have turned in a different direction,” says Chelsey.
The fiction podcast
Fiction podcasts feature stories that hosts narrate or produce as audio narratives for their listeners. Some fiction podcasts cast actors to play the characters that appear in these shows.
“MOONFACE” and “Vermont Ave.” are fiction podcasts produced by James Kim. Each show is an audio narrative that takes listeners through a story in real time.
You have total creative control. Similar to narrative nonfiction shows, you have the ability to shape your stories the way you want them to be heard. What makes fiction podcasts special is that you get to create the world of the story.
Fiction podcasts are a testing ground for good stories. A fiction show is a low-cost way to test whether a story resonates with an audience. Shows like “Homecoming” found success as a fiction podcast before they were adapted for television.
Writing fiction podcasts is hard. James says, “It’s easy to be too expository or to write something that is too overly complicated for audio.” He recommends using sound design to tell your show’s story along with each character’s dialogue.
Good fiction podcasts are technically complex. Strong sound design requires deep technical knowledge of sound mixing tools. If you’re new to podcasting, it might be more of a challenge to create rich soundscapes by yourself.
Not every story will work as a fiction podcast. You might have a story that you want to tell, but it might not be suited to the podcast medium. James recommends asking, “Why should this story be told in audio?” as you explore story ideas.
The reformatted podcast
Reformatted podcasts are audio versions of existing video or written content. YouTubers or bloggers who create audio versions of their videos and blogs make reformatted podcasts.
“rSlash” is a reformatted show hosted by YouTuber Dabney Bailey. Each episode features Dabney performing Reddit threads for his audience. Dabney produces the show for YouTube and reformats it into a podcast.
You can produce episodes quickly. If you’re already making videos or writing blogs, then you can make a reformatted podcast quickly. Each episode takes Dabney five minutes to make since he only needs to create an audio version of his videos.
They’re a great way to grow your existing audience. Some of your fans may want to download your episodes and listen to them offline. Podcasts are a great channel to cater to your existing audience and grow your fanbase, too.
In Dabney’s experience, “there is a massive audience out there that prefers to listen to podcasts. I was completely closed off to that audience before.”
You might have less creative freedom. Since you’re reformatting your existing content, you may feel limited if you want to innovate with this format.
The experimental podcast
Experimental podcasts don’t follow any of the traditional podcast styles or structures. Hosts might branch out and create their own format based on their interests.
“Sleep and Relax ASMR” is an experimental podcast that features ASMR soundscapes designed to help people relax and fall asleep.
You can do whatever you want. Experimental shows give you the freedom to make any kind of show. While nonfiction and fiction podcasts also give you creative freedom, you still have to shape a narrative for listeners. Experimental shows beat to their own drum, so to speak, and don’t need to adhere to requirements.
It can be challenging to stay motivated. Making an experimental show that stays fresh in every episode can be a challenge. George of “Sleep and Relax ASMR” says, “...it can be challenging to keep things fresh while maintaining a certain respect for the history of the podcast when it originally launched.”
Find a podcast format that works for you
Now that you know the benefits and challenges that come with each podcast format, you’re better equipped to choose a format that fits your strengths and your audience.
While these are some of the most popular podcast formats, they’re not the only ones worth considering. You might have an idea for a show that doesn’t fit into these formats or that combines multiple formats together, and that’s okay! Podcast formats help you get your show up and running, so if you can’t find one that works for your show, you can always design one that matches your unique point of view.