How to Structure Your Podcast in 4 Steps
Structuring a podcast episode is like any other creative process: the individual elements have to be in the right order and cadence to make an impact on your audience.
Podcast structure refers to the framework of your show, the flow of its segments, and how you arrange each element to fit together.
So how do you structure a podcast in a way that keeps people listening without sacrificing your creativity and unique style? How can you make each episode entertaining from start to finish, without losing listeners along the way?
Here's a step-by-step guide to crafting the best possible podcast episodes, so each one is as effective, entertaining, and profitable as it can be.
Note: If you haven't started your show yet and need help developing a podcast idea, we suggest coming back to this blog after you develop a podcast concept and look over the How to Start a Podcast Checklist!
How a podcast structure can help your show
Your episodes don't have to follow a strict outline, but a little order and predictability tends to get listeners hooked on your content more quickly, and keeps them engaged for longer.
Even though creating a structure requires some time and thought, in the end, having a clear plan and goal for your episodes saves you time — and makes the recording process go more smoothly.
If you know the boundaries you're working within and your objectives for each show, you're free to be more creative since you won't be worried about what you'll say next, how you'll segue into the next segment, etc.
So what are the elements of a podcast you need to have before you can start getting creative?
The essential elements of a podcast episode
Podcast episodes have three basic elements: the introduction, main content, and conclusion (with intro and outro music as the bookends of your show).
There's a lot of room for creativity here. You can add distinct segments to your main content section, break up parts of your show with segues and sound effects, and add creative elements with as much production as you want.
Later on, we'll learn how to make each of these sections build on each other, so they work together to engage your listener from start to finish.
Applying structure to your podcast depends on several factors, so let's review the most common podcast structures, and how each one changes the flow of a show.
#1 Choose a podcasting format
There are several podcast styles to choose from, and each one has a slightly different structure.
Before you decide on a format, ask yourself these questions to make sure sure you choose a style that is sustainable long-term:
- What's the theme/genre of my podcast?
- Do I want to include distinct segments within my show? If so, what kind?
- Do I prefer to improvise, chat with guests, or read from a script?
- How often will I release episodes, and how long do I want them to be?
Once you have answers to these questions, you're ready to choose a podcast format. Take a look at these popular podcast structures so you can familiarize yourself with their different elements.
An interview show
Most podcasts feature podcast interviews with a guest or expert in your field. Interview shows give you an endless source of content and make each episode unique.
You can interview guests in person, or record a podcast phone call over Skype or Zoom and edit the conversation together in Audacity (or your favorite editing software).
Genres: This format works for just about any kind of non-fiction podcast
- Podcast Intro
- Introduce you and your guest
- Podcast interview
A solo show
Recording a podcast by yourself has pros and cons, but it's a great option if you don't want to worry about booking guests and enjoy sharing your thoughts directly to listeners.
Solo shows are easy to edit and take less time to produce. The hard part is having enough to say without bouncing off of a guest or a co-host.
Genres: Self-help, spiritual, comedy, music, art, etc.
- Topic #1
- Topic #2
- Listener emails & social media comments
A roundtable podcast
A roundtable podcast is usually two to three times as long as a typical podcast episode and features anywhere from three to ten guests.
The number of guests might change each episode based on who's an expert on that episode's topic, so you have some flexibility.
Genres: Gaming, technology, and long-form podcasts
- Podcast intro
- Introduce each guest
- Audience Q&A
A show with multiple co-hosts
Co-hosting with multiple people can be a fun dynamic for a podcast. The challenge with this format is getting everyone together in one place, which is why most shows with multiple co-hosts choose to record long-distance over Skype, Zoom, or Google Hangouts.
Genres: comedy podcasts, beginner podcasters, and any show where you want lots of opinions and commentary
- Podcast intro
- Introduce each guest
- Topic #1
- Topic #2
Now that you have an idea of the different layouts for each format, it's time to decide how long you want your podcast episodes to be.
#2 Decide on your episode length
Setting a time limit for your show gives you a basic foundation to work with, so you can add segments and structure around it.
There's no set rule for how long a podcast should be, and the length depends on your preference, genre, the frequency with which you release episodes, and how much time you have to commit to your show.
Episodes released weekly are usually 15-60 minutes long, and monthly episodes are roughly 60-90 minutes long.
In general, it's better to start with shorter episodes and increase the duration of your show as you build trust with your audience. Once listeners know you have valuable content, they'll be willing to listen to longer episodes.
No matter how often you release episodes, we suggest keeping your episode length to no longer than is necessary to get your message across.
Pro tip: A podcast can take six to eight times the length of an episode to create.
Follow this formula from Orielly.com to determine how long your own podcast episodes should be, relative to the amount of time you have to dedicate to each.
Number of hours you can commit to each week ÷ six = episode length
Once you have these basics of your podcast format figured out, you can move ahead to writing a script, so you have a clear plan going into your show.
#3 Plan ahead by writing a podcast script
Writing a podcast script doesn't mean you have to read off a sheet of paper or have a formal, stilted show.
A podcast script can be anything from a list of bullet-points that help you stay on track to a word-for-word monologue.
A script or guide can also help you decide how to break up your segments, how long to spend on each one, and where to include segues and sponsor ads.
Sketching out a brief outline can save you time editing out unnecessary content in post-production, and gives you a basic idea of how you want to organize your episode.
It's up to you how detailed to make your script/outline; the important thing is to have a rough idea of the flow of your show before you press record or interview your guest.
Plan your podcast interview
A little preparation goes a long way toward making your conversation sound seamless and easy to the listener, and the more prepared you are, the more at ease your guest will be.
Spend some time planning the flow of your podcast interview by jotting down the questions you want to ask your guest, and how you'll transition from one topic to the next.
You can also send your guest your outline ahead of time to ensure you're both on the same page going in.
Outlining is an important part of structuring your episode, but how can you take the elements you've decided to use and put them together to both capture and keep your listener's attention?
#4 Apply the basics of storytelling to your episodes
Ultimately what sets your show apart is its unique content, but incorporating the basics of storytelling helps to form a narrative arc in your show, so you take your listeners on a compelling journey.
Apply this basic structure to your content, regardless of your podcast's genre or format.
Purpose: To build interest and suspense and make your audience want to hear the rest of the episode.
The setup is a critical part of your podcast episode and the first stage of storytelling.
Let's say you have a tech podcast and want to share the top ten iPhone apps of 2020.
Instead of launching right into the list of apps your listeners should use, take your time explaining why they should want this list in the first place. What is the problem that needs a solution?
Now that you've generated interest in your topic, give a brief overview of what to expect in the episode, and a reason to stay till the end. An aimless podcast is easy to stop listening to, so keep your audience in the know to avoid listener drop-off.
How long should the setup be?
If your show is around 30 minutes long, spend roughly 3-5 minutes teasing out topic, but there's no hard and fast rule. The important thing is to make the setup long enough to build suspense and interest in the episode's topic without stringing the listener along.
Purpose: To teach, entertain, or inspire your audience.
Now that you've teased the setup, it's time to get to the meat of your message.
Continuing with the fitness app example, this is where you deliver your top-ten list and educate your audience on the benefits of each one.
If you're interviewing a guest on their new start-up, this is where you take a deep-dive by exploring their obstacles, failures and setbacks, and ultimately, the resolution.
Add optional segments
The delivery portion of your episode can stand alone, or you might decide to add additional segments to make the body of your episode more dynamic and entertaining. Segments can help keep the listener's attention by breaking up long portions of content and adding creative production elements.
Purpose: To apply the content to your listeners and summarize the episode.
Your listeners are more likely to remember the beginning and end of your podcast than what's in-between (a phenomenon known as the serial-position effect).
Of course, the middle of your episode is crucial to your podcast, but keep this effect in mind as you're wrapping up your show so that you can take full advantage of the episode's ending.
Spend time leveraging your episode's conclusion like it's the only thing your audience will remember — because it might be!
- Summarize your episode: Do the hard work for your listeners. Even a 15-minute episode is a lot to retain, and summarizing your episode's main take-aways helps listeners easily digest what they just heard. Recapping your episode distills your content and makes your message accessible and memorable.
- Apply the episode's topic to your audience: How can your show's content improve the life of your audience, or help them solve a problem? Try breaking your audience up into three categories: Group A, Group B, and Group C. How does your message apply to each group? Tailor the content so it applies to everyone in your audience.
- Call-to-action: Top your episode off with clear, actionable advice. We suggest only giving your audience one thing to act on per episode and to save the call-to-action for the very end. Your call-to-action could be to sign up for an e-course, download a free resource, fill out a survey, or book you for a one-on-one coaching session. Whatever you want your listeners to act on, include simple directions and a compelling incentive.
Feel free to use these suggestions to get you started building your episodes. Once you're comfortable with the the basics, you can break the "rules" and create a show structure that suits your own unique podcasting style.