Which podcast format is best?
On the surface, it may not seem like a particularly complicated question, but I constantly see would-be podcasters struggle with this.
Unfortunately, that struggle often translates into putting off starting their shows, then kicking themselves for it months later.
And I get it—it can be overwhelming when there are so many options, and lots of people feel like they don’t have any real reference point for where to start.
So in this article, I’m going to break down and simplify the main podcast format options and the why behind each so you can understand which will be the best fit for you and your goals.
I’m also going to share the top 3 podcast formats that are working right now for thought leaders, speakers, and other entrepreneurs across industries so you can take confident action with a proven strategy and finally get your podcast out to the world.
The Podcast Format Options
There are essentially three major options for podcast formats:
- Interview Style
- Content Style
- Co-Host Style
Of course, there are variations and different directions you can go within these options.
And it goes without saying that you don’t have to choose one and stick to it forever.
But for the sake of simplicity—and to help you pick a style for getting started—let’s look at the basics of each, the pros and cons that come along with them, and the main goals they help podcasters achieve.
1. Interview Style
As the name suggests, interview-style episodes involve bringing guests onto your show and asking them questions around a certain topic.
Typically, these guests will be experts on various subjects that will be of interest to your listeners.
Why choose this style of podcast?
It’s fast, easy, and fresh content that’s also valuable—without requiring you to have tons of firsthand knowledge of the subject matter.
Instead, you can rely on your guests’ expertise and share that with your platform.
What’s more, interview-style podcasts create a powerful networking opportunity for connecting with people that you otherwise wouldn’t have a good reason to reach out to.
By contacting potential guests as someone who’s going to feature them on your show, you not only have a solid reason for making the connection with them, but you also have a chance to expose your message to and connect with new audiences through your guests.
And as a side effect of this, you gain “association authority” that makes you look even more credible for being associated with powerful players in your field.
But you also have to consider that interviews require you to coordinate timing with your guests, which means you may not always have control over your schedule.
So if you do go with this podcast format, make sure to have a plan for reaching out to the people you hope to interview well in advance.
Pro Tip: Turn one interview into multiple episodes by talking to your guests about several different topics. Then you can chop up the audio into different chunks to create two, three, or even four episodes!
Now, there are two approaches to interview-style podcasts. You can host either:
- Structured Interviews; or
- Open Interviews.
What’s the difference?
Structured interviews are done with a set list of questions that the host creates beforehand and sticks to during the conversation.
This style is great for high volume production, meaning you can crank out lots of interviews and create lots of content with a consistent listener experience across episodes.
It also has broader market appeal (think John Lee Dumas’ Entrepreneur On Fire podcast), as it offers a more general view of the subject matter.
Alternatively, open interview podcasts are a little more conversational.
You may have a particular direction you want to go, but it means going with the flow instead of sticking to pre-planned questions.
This allows you to dive deeper and offer your audience more topic depth, as well as explore your own curiosities along the way.
In other words, you can really dig for the powerful nuggets of wisdom and pull out the best information.
A great example of open interviews done right is Jonathan Fields’ Good Life Project.
Jonathan does an amazing job of advocating for his audience by asking questions that will benefit them and give them deeper insight into the topic at hand.
Whether you prefer structured or open interviews, I’ve seen over the years that focusing on the interview format for podcasts tends to work best for people who want to network with A-players and build up quick association authority.
2. Content Style
This style of podcast features you as the host discussing a particular topic or teaching a particular lesson.
In other words, you are the expert sharing your expertise with your audience.
What’s great about that is it naturally positions you as the clear authority on the subject because you’re the one covering the content.
It also offers great social proof because your listeners tune in episode after episode for advice or content that comes directly from you—not from your guests.
(Keep in mind that this also means you’re going to have to really know your stuff to carry the episode on your own.)
Another benefit of this style of episode is that it is incredibly leverageable.
Because you can sit down and record whenever you want, you have flexibility and complete control over your recording schedule.
Pro Tip: In order to get the most out of said schedule flexibility, I recommend recording two or three episodes per session. If you pre-plan what you are going to talk about and record multiple episodes in one take, you can knock out a whole month’s worth of podcasts in a single afternoon!
As with the interview-style podcasts, there are two main ways to approach creating content-style episodes:
- Lesson Content
- Open Content
With lesson content, you’re teaching your audience something in particular.
This approach is especially powerful for positioning yourself as the expert and providing social proof because what you’re teaching is going to get people results.
For example, the lesson content offered in Brooke Castillo’s The Life Coach School addresses particular issues that people in her core audience have and helps them overcome these issues.
As such, lesson content works great as a lead generation tool for the programs or services you offer.
In Brooke’s case, the small steps she helps her listeners take to make progress toward their goals confirm that she knows what she’s talking about and can actually help them solve the problems they are eager to solve.
This kind of teaching-oriented content warms people up very quickly and makes them eager to look into the paid offers to help them get a bigger result.
Meanwhile, an open content approach builds up trust and builds a connection with your listeners in a different way.
With this more conversational type of episode, your audience sees more of your true personality and opinions.
Instead of a direct “how to” lesson that breaks down what listeners need to do or the information they should come away with, open content positions you as more of a movement or industry leader because you’re a bit more relaxed about the content.
It also builds a consistent following of people who are tuning in to hear what you’re up to and news about how things are going.
In other words, they’re listening to hear your thoughts on different things, as opposed to coming to your show for specific information.
A great example of this style of podcast is The Dave Ramsey Show.
His listeners show up because they know he’s sharing his true personality and honest opinions.
That not only creates a powerful feeling of connection, but it also builds up trust.
Whether lesson-oriented or more open conversation, content-style episodes are ideal for those who have really nailed down their offer and know exactly how their products, services, coaching, etc. can help people in their target audience.
From there, it’s easy to tailor content to match that message and give listeners the information they need to make progress toward their goals.
Then, once they see you know your stuff, they are eager to see how much bigger a result they can get from working directly with you.
3. Co-Host Style
As you’ve probably guessed, the co-host style podcast is one that has more than one host.
This approach is powerful because it offers dual authority to your show and gives you the opportunity to highlight two people’s expertise.
It also gives you the potential to cross over industries for additional exposure.
So if you have a company co-founder, business partner, or even a trusted friend with knowledge in a similar industry and common interests in podcasting, it may be worth teaming up.
And if you listen to them, you’ll likely notice one of the more exciting perks of co-hosted shows: the chance to infuse more fun and personality into them.
Co-hosts can have a friendly—and often playful—back-and-forth that isn’t as easy with a direct conversation between a single host and his/her audience, or even in a typical interview scenario.
This approach can also make podcasting more enjoyable simply because it gives you a teammate who has your back.
But it also means coordinating times to record, so you run into the possibility of dealing with less control over scheduling like with interview-style podcasts.
And speaking of, it’s worth pointing out that co-hosted shows can still use the first two podcast formats I previously mentioned.
That is to say, co-hosts can interview guests or offer education about various topics.
The only difference is that they do this with more than one host.
So think of the co-host element as more of an additional layer over the interview- and content-style shows.
And if you are eager to cross over industries or bring even more credibility and authority to your show—or even if you just want to bring in someone to make recording more fun—it’s worth looking into creating a co-hosted show.
What’s Working Right Now
Now that you’ve got an idea of the different formats your show can follow, let’s dive into the ones that are working for other entrepreneurs right now.
These are formats that you can totally swipe and start using today.
Again, choosing one doesn’t mean you can’t change it up later.
But these podcast formats are working for other entrepreneurs out there, and they have a good chance of working for you in the same way.
Top Podcast Format #1
The first hugely successful podcast format I’m seeing industry leaders use is the open interview style.
As mentioned above, an “open” interview means having a conversation that isn’t pre-structured.
So instead of going through a fixed list of questions, these hosts are doing deep-dive interviews that give them a chance to ask more about the areas that their audiences would benefit from learning about the most.
Again, this is what it means to be an advocate for your listeners.
And doing so is great for long-term, consistent platform building, continual growth, and forming deep connections with your audience.
Now, deciding how often to release episodes and how long those episodes should run is something that I recommend basing on the needs of your listeners, but the shows I’ve seen really crushing it using this podcast format publish weekly and run anywhere from 15 to 55 minutes.
Top Podcast Format #2
Another podcast format I’m seeing work wonders for podcasters is the lesson style content.
This is educational, goal-oriented or “how to” episodes that offer instruction.
They aren’t particularly long—usually around 15 to 35 minutes at most—and (again) released weekly.
Episodes that follow this format are perfect for positioning you as the powerful authority and the person who’s helping people get results.
This means offering a lot of value to your listeners, which makes these episodes great for building up social proof and drumming up leads.
Top Podcast Format #3
The third and final podcast format I’m seeing successful podcasters us is the open, conversational content style.
This can be co-hosted or solo-hosted, but the main thing is that it’s a relaxed conversation.
The shows I’ve seen really crushing it using this style publish two or three times a week and run anywhere from 15 to 35 minutes.
They are also typically very personal and inspirational in a way that builds a devout following of listeners.
So How Do You Know Which Podcast Format Is Right For You?
Before I share any advice for choosing which podcast format makes sense for you, I want to reiterate that your choice isn’t set in stone.
You don’t have to pick one and stick to it forever.
In fact, I recommend NOT doing that because you should always be open to pivoting and adjusting your show based on the needs of your audience.
After all, you’re there to serve them.
(Tim Paige’s The Lead Generation podcast started out as a daily podcast, but he found out through testing that weekly episodes got just as much engagement from his audience and grew email list faster than his daily podcasts.)
This kind of openness to adjusting is crucial when you’re trying to nail down what works for your show.
Even so, you will have to choose a format in order to get started, and doing so boils down to asking yourself three main questions:
- Which format would work best for your audience?
- What episode style is most conducive to reaching your podcast goals?
- Which style of podcast do you want to be doing?
If there is any overlap between those answers, that’s a great place to start.
If not, focus on that first question and create your podcast around that.
Still having trouble deciding? Feel free to schedule a time to chat with me so we can discuss your podcast and which of these formats will make the most sense for you and your show.
Again, the format you choose to start with doesn’t have to be the one you stick with forever, so don’t let the decision give you analysis paralysis.
Do your best to make the right choice for you, and then get out there and start your podcast.
Your future self will thank you.
Do you have more insight on how to choose a podcast format? Leave a comment below!
Ben Krueger is the founder of Cashflow Podcasting and he specializes in helping thought leaders and entrepreneurs amplify their impact through podcasting. He’s a world traveller, outdoor sports junkie and future enthusiast!