Podcasting 102: Structuring your Podcast
Last week we discussed how a podcast can take many forms. This is part of the fun of the medium, and we want to encourage you to explore what works best for you, your story, your voice. But! We also wanted to equip you with some tools and conventions that can help you make your podcast feel really put together, flow naturally, and give your idea a polished feel from start to finish. So let's get into structure!
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY “STRUCTURE” AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
Some standards to know about, if not always abide by:
From our experience, podcasts that last between 35-45 minutes are best. In small cities, people listen to half on their way to work and the other half on their way home. In larger cities, people can listen to entire episode during their commute.
Weekly releases are industry standard and have the strongest engagement.
Structure means different things for different formats, but one thing every podcast can use to its advantage is segments. We bolded and underlined that for you so you know we mean business. Segments break up your episode and give each episode a cohesive and familiar rhythm. Segments give your audience a place to pause when they arrive at work, a beat to process new information, can help you break up a story and lend it a natural momentum, and offer a built-in space for advertisers if that’s something you’re interested in.
Listener mail is a great segment worth your time to include. Engaging your audience is important and can only benefit you. Hello From the Magic Tavern is a show that does an excellent job creating a space for listeners to write to the characters, and they’ve fostered an extremely loyal fanbase.
BREAKING DOWN STRUCTURE
Here, we are discussing three popular podcasting formats: Fiction, Interview, and Research/Information. If you have a style of podcast you want to know more about, we'd love to do a one-off class surrounding a topic we are not currently covering! And of course, if you have questions or resources you'd like to share, we'd love to hear from you! Visit our contact page to reach out.
Fiction podcasting is a really exciting place to be. There are an infinite number of ways to create your world and tell your story—a show called Witchever Path even lets the audience choose what happens in their narrative. Here are some storytelling resources that might help you navigate writing fiction:
Online sketch and improv classes like those offered at The Second City or The Pack Theater
Books: The Comedy Bible by Judy Carter; Sitcom by Saul Austerlitz; Syd Field's The Screenwriter's Workbook
5pt story structure (an oldie but a goodie: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement)
2 Act/3 Act/5 Act structures: Act breaks are an organic way of segmenting your podcast episode. A good guiding principle is that at every act break, you should leave your audience and yourself wondering “but what happens next?”
This breaks down a classic 3 Act structure as explained by Syd Field. While aimed at a feature length screenplay, it might still be helpful to shrink down and use to frame shorter mediums.
-Advice from the writer/creator of fiction podcast Elaine’s Cooking for the Soul Alli Slice:
“One thing that’s worth remembering in writing fiction is that conflict is critical. Conflict drives a story forward.”
A quote from August McLaughlin, author and host of Girl Boner Radio:
“My favorite thing to tell people is to aim to be interested, versus interesting. I think it’s easy to get caught up in how we sound, what we say, when really genuine care and curiosity are most important. That applies to actual interviewing as well as seeking guests.”
Good interviews tend to be more conversational, flowing. They ask questions tailored to the guest specifically. Remember that you can edit out extra content if the interview runs long. Take your time and be engaged and present with the person who you are interviewing.
There are some great ways to break up the monotony of a straight-interview show. Some interviews do a rapid-fire question section, listener-submitted questions, or a game with their guest.
Many research-based podcasts such as The Dollop, or Last Podcast on the Left feature one person who researches heavily, and one person who digests/riffs off the information being presented. How Stuff Works is a podcast where both hosts present their research, but they don’t talk about it beforehand, so there is still a sense of surprise and genuine back-and-forth.
Formats like RadioLab and Serial focus more on telling their information like a story. They’ve done a ton of legwork to compile as much information as possible, and then go about telling it in a compelling narrative and stylistic way that keeps an audience engaged.
If this is your medium, breaks and pauses are still clutch. With NPR’s stuff, you might notice the phrase “we’ll be right back,” or “more after the break.” Most of the time, it is literally just a short musical riff without ads. But it breaks up the story into digestible bits.
BUILDING ON LAST WEEK’S IDEA:
Last week we decided to do a “fictional interview” podcast. This week we explored that idea a bit, and developed it further. We decided to create a podcast where we interview a fictional person’s best friend!