Main things to consider when planning a podcast episode are:
- Plan for length
- Use three act structure
- Plan for pacing
- Have an episode’s theme
- Introduction, back sell and greeting
- Raise early questions
- Promote other content
- Reach closure, satisfaction and have the end in mind
- Front sell, thank your audience for listening
1. Plan for the length of your episodes
The length of an episode is one thing where the audience likes predictability. If you have only one format of all the episodes keep them to the same length. Whether you choose to podcast below 20 minutes, have episodes between 20-30 minutes or let’s say up to one hour try to aim in the same length as often as possible.
If you have a good reason for having an exceptional length of the episode address it upfront. Say why this episode is short or longer than usual. If your length is really extending the normal length consider splitting the episode into parts.
This and other interesting statistics about podcasts consumption we have gathered in our analysis Podcasting Demographics – Marketing Guide to Understanding Your Audience. Check it out for other valuable information.
2. Use three-act structure for episodes
Three act structure is a great tool you should embrace. It’s not only for long episodes or movies. Sticking to this will improve your narration even if you have episodes lasting 20-30 minutes. In this case, you can have:
- Act 1 – 5-7 minutes long introduction to the main theme, characters, and background for the action (the period in history, physical location, etc.). The occurrence of the inciting incident, or catalyst which your main character has to face. Followed by the failed attempts to deal with this incident ending in the first plot point.
- Act 2 – 10-14 minutes for the main action where a character takes more attempts to deal with his problem. Those attempts are wiser and followed by preparation and other story events. This leads to character development (character arc) where at the end the final challenge lays and resolution appears possible.
- Act 3 – 5-7 minutes finale where the climax of the story takes place (maximum tension and key story completed) and all the plots are being resolved.
3. Plan for pacing
Problems with pacing occur when events driving the narrative are incorrectly planned on the timeline of the episode. When struggling with this your episode can come off as too chaotic (too many events, not enough time to reflect) or too sluggish (too long breaks before major events)
Following the three-act structure and moving between inciting incident, first plot point, midpoint, second plot point, and climax will solve your pacing issues. The flow of the story will be smooth, pleasant to listen and rewarding for your audience.
4. Have a theme for an episode
A theme is more than a topic idea for a podcasting episode. A topic is a subject or general idea dealt within the episode. Your theme will be the specific idea or a lesson you as an author are trying to pass.
The topic of this entire blog is podcasting. The theme of this article is planning podcast episodes” so in this article I’m trying to answer any specific questions and address challenges faced which podcaster faces when planning episodes.
When you are going to plan your episode make sure from beginning to the end you stick to your theme so your episode won’t become a chaotic collection of thoughts.
If you are looking for inspiration for new podcast check our list of suggestions: 40 Podcasting Shows Ideas Available for the Taking Now!
5. Introduction, back sell and greet the audience
A start of an episode should have a familiar and recognizable formula, just like a favorite tv episode with key information. Good components to consider for having in an introduction is
- Musical intro – at the beginning have a memorable quick intro. It grabs attention and is a signal that the show is about to start. If you can’t create one from scratch start by doing a search on freesound.org – you can find a great library of sound under the creative commons license allowing to use those sounds for free
- Introduction – give your show title, your name as an author and the title of the episode and welcome your audience into an episode
- Commercial (optional) – this might be the part of your introduction if you have a website and are developing monetization you may want to encourage your audience to visit your website. Other options may include special offers you are running for your listeners.
- Back sell (optional) – you can consider telling briefly what you discussed in the previous episodes as an attempt to promote more of your content and encourage listening. Remember that for some listeners this might be the first time they are hearing you. Recommended if you are telling a multi-episode story.
- Promise – tell briefly what this episode will be about. If you have a guest introduce him and tell what you are going to talk about.
Tip: you may record this after you have recorded your episode. If you struggle with the promise part it will be clear to you what the episode was about once you have finished recording.
6. Raise some early questions you want to address
After you have finished the introduction you want to reaffirm your audience that your episode is worth listening. Tell them exactly what they are going to hear in this episode. By telling them what they will find out you are selling the value of an episode and increasing the likelihood that your audience will be satisfied after finishing your podcast episode.
When you are podcasting regularly some of your listeners might be familiar with certain themes you are discussing and find a particular episode not useful. By telling them what the episode will be about you are actually respecting their time. If you are honest about it they will gladly check out your next episode.
If you are looking for ways to get more traffic to your podcast we recommend: 10 step strategy for building a podcast brand and getting more listeners.
7. Promote your other content during the episode – make references
As your goal is to reach wider audiences you want to promote your content. During the episode mention your other work. You can:
- Directly reference your last episode – the last episode is easy to mention. You don’t have to give too much information on how to find it. It will be enough that you mention one of the most interesting things, the most valuable from the perspective of your listener, and reference it was discussed in detail in the last episode
- Mention some specific past episodes – if you already have a good material on which you want to build upon and don’t want to repeat yourself or simply if your goal is to promote more content you can reference one of the old episodes you have a recorder. It’s good to promote a variety of episodes like that but if you have multiple episodes and some of them are more popular than others you can mention them a bit more often.
- Send traffic to your website – if you have a website and a monetization strategy ask your audience to visit your website. However, you have to give them a reason for this visit. So don’t send them just to your homepage as without clear purpose people probably won’t go. Send them to a specific site where they can learn more about the thing you are saying. By giving them a reason and telling exactly where they can fulfill their need you are increasing a chance they will go and visit your website.
We definitely advise you to have a dedicated website for a podcast. If you want to find out more why it is a good idea to have one and what content you should have there, check our Podcast Website Marketing Guide.
8. Reach closure, satisfaction and have an end in mind
When planning an episode make sure that what you started talking about, all the questions you have raised in the beginning and promises you have made to your listeners find a satisfactory conclusion at the end of an episode.
You have to make sure you have delivered the value which was promised in the title and in the introduction. By closing all the opened themes you are making sure that the things you were talking about in the episode actually reached a point and were building up to something.
Also by delivering the value, you are supporting your monetization strategy. You are proving that your website is worth visiting and if on this website you will ask for their email they may be more willing to give it to you.
9. Front sell, thank your audience for listening, finish the episode
As opposed to the introduction and first minutes of the show, the last segment gets significantly less attention from your user. Actually, it gets the least amount of attention out of your entire episode. After all, you just have answered all the questions and gave them the value they were looking for.
At the end you will have less amount of time to say all the important things so you have to start with the highest priority:
- Front sell/promise – sell your next episode, tell your podcast audience when it is going to be published and what theme will you cover
- Commercial (optional) – same as previously. Send them to visit your podcast home site.
- Goodbye – be a good host and thank them for listening
- Credits (optional) – if you need to mention someone (a person, a company, an institution) which has contributed to your show. Maybe you have an agreement requiring you to give credits or maybe you used a public archive which requires you to mention it.
- Musical fade out (not necessary/optional) – less important than the musical introduction. How many people will last that long? Your goal actually should be to encourage them to turn on another episode while still in credit. Before you decide on using popular music samples on your podcast review this article regarding types of music you can play on your podcast.