Choosing your podcast format is a crucial decision for all podcasters. And even if you already have a format in mind – like solo or interviewing – I think it’s important to consider which formats suit different goals.
For example, which format is best for selling your own products and services? Which is best for going viral? And which is the most expensive?
In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk you through the most common podcast formats, share the pros and cons of each, and ultimately help you decide which option is right for you. Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
What’s a podcast format?
Your podcast format explains how many voices are on your show, as well as their purpose.
Sometimes there’s only one voice carrying the entire episode. Other times, there’s a host who brings in small audio snippets from many voices. Or perhaps it’s somewhere in between.
On top of the number of speakers, you also have to ask, “What’s their role?” Are they equal partners, like cohosts? Or is there a clear moderator-interviewee dynamic?
In this post, my goal is to help you identify the right podcast format to suit your style and your goals. I also recommend saving this post for later, since it’s something you may want to re-reference as your podcast evolves:
How to choose the right podcast format for your show
There are five primary podcast formats, or you can choose a mixed format. Each one suits different hosts’ goals and preferences.
To help you decide, I produced a podcast mini-series where I hosted one Wit & Wire podcast episode in each podcast format. You can listen to all five episodes here, or continue reading to learn more about each format:
1. A solo podcast
As a solo podcaster, you are the sole soothing voice on your show. You are most likely delivering prepared content, although it doesn’t need to be fully scripted. (Many hosts choose to work from a rough outline instead.)
A solo podcast mimics the feeling of attending a lecture or watching a TED talk. Since there’s only one “presenter” – you! – it’s a one-way stream of communication.
Who should start a solo podcast?
Going solo is a great choice for educators and motivators, or sometimes investigators. If your goal is to share knowledge with a wider audience, then this could be a great fit.
It’s also a great way to build authority, which is why it’s a great podcast format for coaches, course creators, freelancers, speakers, and experts.
Another way to think about this format is to ask, “Does this feel like something I would get up on stage or in a classroom to share?” The classroom could be 4-6 people, but you should feel like it’s something you could confidently communicate and hold your own. For entertainment-based podcasts, it might feel more like a comedy act or a one-woman show.
But when you podcast alone, you’re the only perspective or expert on the show. Obvious as that sounds, many podcasts benefit from bringing in guests or a co-host (see below) because it invites new viewpoints into the conversation.
Oh, and it also creates an actual conversation, instead of a one-way knowledge transfer.
The downside to solo podcasting
Lastly, going solo means you’re fully responsible for everything. You may choose to outsource elements of production, but you’re ultimately the one in full creative control. Depending on your perspective, this is either a blessing or a curse.
But based on my own experience, I can confidently say that solo episodes have been the most profitable podcast format for Wit & Wire’s podcast. They’re how I build trust with listeners who may ultimately become students or community members, and that’s why I wanted to create this short solo episode to talk through the pros, cons, and my process more in-depth:
You can also read the full episode write up here: Solo Podcasting with host Melissa Guller
2. A co-hosted podcast
A co-hosted show shifts the dynamic from one host to a team of 2-3 equal voices. This introduces multiple perspectives to listeners, and it turns a one-way monologue into a true conversation.
This can be a great option for podcasts of almost all topics, and it typically creates a casual, welcoming tone, almost like you’re inviting listeners in on your conversation.
This friendly vibe can be a huge advantage. Because whether you’re sharing a passion, building a platform, reacting to the latest episodes of Bachelor in Paradise, or analyzing different ways to grow your email list, it’s almost always beneficial to you – and to listeners! – to hear more than one voice.
In a lot of ways, co-hosting is more natural than podcasting solo. Most of us don’t regularly talk for 20 minutes straight; we chat with friends and engage in two-way communication.
It’s that easy back-and-forth between co-hosts that makes listeners feel like they’re literally sitting right next to you. They’ll start to feel like they know you, and that intimacy and genuine connection is why co-hosted shows are so popular.
I invited my Book Smart co-host Em Hammel Shaver to join me for this co-hosted episode of the Wit & Wire podcast, where we talked about our process, how we worked together, and what we’d recommend to all new co-hosts out there before you get started:
Click here to see the full show notes: Co-hosting with Book Smart co-hosts Em Hammel-Shaver and Melissa Guller
The benefits of co-hosting
The benefit of “multiple perspectives” is undeniable. But another huge perk to co-hosting is having a partner to share the workload.
In Book Smart, Em & I tag-teamed so much of the podcast production process. While Em was writing our show notes, I was managing our social media accounts or handling the episode production process. (Read up on my podcast editing tips here.)
When we were deciding which books to read next, we’d have fun conversations about why some books might make for a great episode. We also bonded over popular books that we kind of hate, but that’s a story for another day. 😬
Having each other made the whole process not just easier, but truly more enjoyable! A big reason why we started Book Smart was to create an outlet to share our mutual nerdy love for personal development books. And our recording sessions are fun! We record in the morning, take a lunch break to catch up and brainstorm new podcast ideas, and then record some more.
(Quick note: co-hosts don’t have to be in person! Modern technology makes it easy to record remotely. I cover the must-have tools for any budget in this guide to remote podcast recording.)
The downsides to co-hosting a podcast
The slight downside to co-hosting vs solo podcasting is the fact that you’re dependent on someone else. You can’t just decide to record when it suits your schedule; you have to coordinate with someone else.
Also, if you aren’t on the same page about responsibilities, finances, or creative vision, it can be a huge challenge. For that reason, both Em and I would recommend a written cohost between you before you get started. (We talk about it in this podcast episode.)
I personally think that the pros far outweigh the cons here, and I absolutely love being a co-host. But you do have to be willing to openly communicate and plan with a partner if you want to go this route.
3. A podcast panel
Similar to co-hosting, a panel podcast includes roughly 3-5 voices who regularly appear on the show. It often feels like a morning talk show or a casual roundtable conversation.
This can be a fun dynamic because like co-hosting, it brings camaraderie and diverse perspectives and experiences. It also brings more people to the table to split the workload.
One more benefit to a panel discussion is that in addition to multiple perspectives, you also have a wider reach as a group than any one person could individually. So from the start, you’ll begin with a larger potential audience.
Then instead of only one person (you) promoting each episode, now there are 3-5 of you. Your joint efforts will build an audience far faster than any individual, which is amazing.
The downsides to a panel format
But with mo’ people come mo’ logistics. So if you’re going the panel route, know that it means you’ll need to carve out time for 3-5 people to regularly record together.
This could be as straightforward as scheduling a weekly recording time, whether it’s in person or over the wonders of the internet (remotely). I will say that remote recording gets more complex as you add more people, but it’s certainly not impossible.
If you’re looking for that talk show vibe, or to bring together a group with a shared interest or diverse perspectives (or both!), then go for the panel.
To share more about their experience, I invited Andy and John from The Purple Rock Survivor Podcast to share how their podcast has grown over the last 7 years, how they keep things fun with their community, and why it’s so important for podcasters to have a point of view:
Click here to see the full show notes: How two friends built a Survivor podcast with a unique point of view
4. An interview-style podcast
Interviews introduce a new role to the podcast format conversation. Because unlike a co-hosted show or a panel show, an interview-style podcast has two clear roles:
The host and the interviewee.
The host is the constant voice and guide throughout the podcast. You’re the moderator of the experience, so you set the tone both by curating the right guests and by leading the interviews. Many hosts can interview the same guest with an extremely different final episode, so you’re the one who steers the ship to cater to your listeners.
The interviewee, of course, is the person you invite to share knowledge or perspective with your audience. Their background and reason for joining will depend on your topic, but you’ll ask them questions to help your listeners feel educated, informed, entertained, or all of the above.
The benefits of interviewing
Interview-style podcasts have a ton of advantages, and many go beyond the episode itself.
First, the interviewee brings the content. When you’re a solo host (or a co-host), it’s up to you to develop the episode material and create an engaging experience from start to finish. But with an interview, all you need to do is find the right guest and then they bring the good stuff.
But don’t get it twisted. You’ll still have to put in the work to find the right guests and do your research. The best interviewers I know spend time researching their guests and preparing smart questions. (I cover finding, pitching, and prepping guests extensively in my course Podcast Launch Accelerator.)
And being a great interviewer is a skill, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It will probably take you at least a few episodes to find your stride, so be patient with yourself if it doesn’t feel like you’re a natural.
But when you bring new guests to the show, you’ll be able to expand your listeners’ horizons and share a ton of great information.
Interviewing means learning & networking. (In a non-terrible way.)
When you’re an interviewer, you have the opportunity to ask smart, insightful people what they think about topics or experiences you find interesting. So not only do your listeners learn, but you do, too!
There’s one last major benefit to running an interview-style podcast. And that’s the opportunity to network in a truly authentic and mutually beneficial way.
WAIT, don’t leave because I dropped the word “networking.” I’m a book-loving introvert myself, but I was shocked to realize how open people are to joining a podcast if you just ask.
When I was interviewing guests for my first podcast, Figuring It Out, I only had 1 person ignore my cold outreach email. Literally everyone else I emailed said yes! And by the end, I not only had a guest application process, but I had to start turning people away.
It was insane.
So if you’re worried about not finding enough guests, I can guarantee that won’t be the case. As long as you’ve done your research to validate your podcast idea, there will be plenty of guests who want to join you.
If you have other questions about starting a podcast, I do have a free masterclass that I’d recommend where I talk about common mistakes I see new hosts making, and how to avoid them. You can save your spot for free here: How to Launch a Podcast in 60 Days (without feeling overwhelmed)
Is it hard to find podcast guests to interview?
Here’s the truth. I was shocked by how easy it was to find guests. Most people are excited and willing to join your show because it elevates their expertise and clout, too.
But what surprised me even more than the “yes” rate was how sincerely I connected with these guests.
I’m still in touch with several former podcast guests as friends, and it’s even how I met my Book Smart co-host Em! I wanted to interview someone with expertise about dating profiles, and an article from Men Ask Em popped right up. I cold-emailed her to join Figuring It Out, and we scheduled a time to record what later became my most popular episode.
Then, four months later, I asked if she wanted to co-host a podcast with me about personal development books. And in addition to our podcast, we now have regular FaceTime hangouts 🙂
So if you’re looking to provide your audience with tons of knowledge or you’re hoping to meaningfully connect with new business partners – or even clients – then interviewing could be a great fit.
In this episode, I interviewed pitch pro Angie Trueblood to learn more about both sides of the interview table. (Why is it great for hosts? And why is it great for guests?)
Click here to see the full show notes: Podcast interviewing tips & the power of being a podcast guest with Angie Trueblood (Go Pitch Yourself Podcast)
5. A narrative podcast
With a narrative podcast format, there’s usually a host or moderator who ties the episode together to tell a story. And what makes this format stand out is that bigger plotline, aka narrative.
Your narrative could be fictional or non-fictional. Both work really well!
But what all narratives have in common is the host’s voice throughout, who guides listeners as the narrator in the story.
In addition to the host, there are usually shorter sound clips from interviews from other people interspersed throughout. Scoring (music and sound effects) is also common in narrative shows to set the tone and build the storyline.
Benefits of a narrative podcast
Narratives can be a great choice for investigative podcasts, or really any topic where you’re piecing information together. It’s also a natural choice for storytellers, which is why it’s the preferred format in the True Crime podcast world.
They’re also the format most likely to go viral. Whether it’s fictional or non-fictional, narratives tend to hook listeners and keep them coming back for more. As a result, listeners will often recommend their favorite narrative podcasts to friends. (They might recommend podcasts of any format, but there’s something about the narrative format that feels immersive and memorable.)
Downsides to narrative podcasts
With a format so viral, it seems like everyone would be trying it, right?
Maybe if it were easier, sure. But the truth is that producing a narrative podcast is by far the most expensive format. It’s up to you if you pay in time, money, or both, but it’s not as straightforward as just sitting down to record an interview.
It takes storyboarding, scripting, multiple interviews, and sifting through recordings to find the bits of gold you’ll end up including in the final episode.
You’ll also either need to learn advanced editing skills yourself or find an editor to outsource the work.
That said, with high effort comes high reward. When they’re done right, narrative shows are some of the most engaging podcasts because the production value keeps listeners on the edge of their seats. (Er, their headphones.)
We love drama. We love suspense. We love a good resolution at the end.
Stories are the heart of entertainment for a reason. So if you’re willing to do the work, this could be a great choice for you.
(But my real advice? Don’t choose a narrative for your first podcast unless you’re absolutely convinced it’s the right choice, and you’re willing to put in the work.)
Hannah and Noa from Tight Lipped are masters of the narrative format. And in this Wit & Wire podcast episode, they took me behind the scenes on the production of one of their own episodes, called “Did I Dream?”
Click here to see the full show notes: Storytelling & how to create a narrative podcast with Tight Lipped Podcast (Hannah Barg, Noa Fleischacker)
6. Mixing podcast formats
Some podcasts successfully mix formats, and so can you!
For example, you might do a solo episode once a month, but weekly interviews the rest of the month.
Or maybe you usually stick with a co-hosted format, but occasionally it makes sense to bring in a guest expert.
A lot of Wit & Wire students end up doing a mixed format of solo + interview to build trust with their listeners (solo) and connections with other business owners (interviews).
So don’t be afraid to try new things! And if you aren’t sure about your format yet, try a mix. You’ll quickly find out which suits your style best.
Podcast format FAQs
What if my podcast is fictional?
Fictional podcasts are becoming increasingly popular, but not every podcast format makes sense for a fictional show. For example, interviews may make less sense (unless you’re doing a mockumentary like The Office. Which honestly, that sounds amazing.)
The most popular fictional podcasts are typically narratives or solo podcasts. But if you have a creative idea, run with it!
What if I want to produce a serial podcast (vs episodic)?
“Serial” is the name of one of the most popular podcasts of all time. But the phrase “a serial podcast” also refers to a show where the episodes are sequential, and pick up where the last one left off.
You can produce non-fictional or fictional serial shows. In either case, you’d be telling a small part of a larger story in each episode.
This approach only really works if you do have a bigger-picture story or plotline to share. Otherwise, most creators will opt for an episodic podcast, where listeners don’t necessarily have to listen to every episode in order from the start.
Final thoughts on choosing your podcast format
Remember, your podcast format explains how many voices are on your show, as well as their purpose. It’s a crucial decision all podcast hosts will need to make, and it’s something that can evolve over time.
So before you choose your format, think about your goals as a podcaster, and ask if the format you have in mind will suit those goals. And if you’re ready to start your own podcast, you can check out our free masterclass, How to Launch a Successful Podcast.
Melissa Guller is the founder of Wit & Wire, where we help everyday experts become profitable course creators. She previously worked full-time for Ramit Sethi, Teachable, and General Assembly. Today, she shares simplified tech tutorials and modern marketing strategies through our blog, YouTube, and Wit & Wire Weekly newsletter