How to Plan Podcast Episode Structure #12


Improve Podcast School – episode #12

Think about your favorite TV or radio talk show.

I’m sure that you can vividly remember the opening sequence, music theme, text appearing on the screen in the case of TV. They were followed by the host greeting the audience. Always in virtually the same way.

Why do I talk about radio and TV when this is a show about podcasting?

Simple, podcasting as a medium should learn from their more profitable cousins.

Also, if there are already great and working best practices developed by others, you shouldn’t try to reinvent the wheel. Instead, learn from masters in their craft so that you can grow faster.

Many many successful podcasters are already deploying the same techniques.

38% of higher-income podcasters, who earn more than $50,000 per year, record their episodes having a full script ready. On top, an additional 36% have a very detailed outline. 

It means that at least 76% of podcasters who are financially successful with their show take complete control of the structure of their shows through detailed planning.

When planning a podcast, you ensure that you deliver a coherent episode before you even hit the record button. In the same way, TV and radio have been doing for decades.

I’m a huge fan of planning, as I constantly see that this brings greater results than randomness or even competent improvisation.

If you start planning your podcasts episodes, you can maximize engagement, boost the subscription rate, and deliver a high-quality audio experience. Good podcast structure also ensures that your target listener leaves satisfied and waits eagerly for another episode.

How to Effectively Plan Podcast Episodes?

An effective episode completes the goal of your show. Your show should have business goals, marketing or growth goals, and client satisfaction goals. All of those goals can be measured to grow your show and your business.

And you reach everybody’s goals when your podcast has a robust structure.

What does the structure of a podcast mean?

A podcast structure means that your show between each episode has repeatable elements. Those elements help you jump smoothly from one point to another, allowing for the show’s coherent pacing. They allow your listeners to recognize elements and build a sense of familiarity and belonging.

Here are typical elements each podcast can have:

  1. Most shows start with a Musical intro. It grabs attention and signals that the show is about to start. The best and legal way to do it is to order one on Fiverr
  2. Next go to Introduction. This varies, so check what works in your niche. Mostly it is a combination of the episode title, author and guest’s introduction, or some general greeting. Introduction can be lengthy or super short, but it is important.
  3. Some story-driven shows then jump into a recap of a previous episode. In the case of business podcasts, you can have a short back-sell moment. Both serve to encourage a new listener to review a past episode.
  4. The next big thing is a Promise, which means different things for different shows. But basically, it is what a person will learn – whether it is a vital business tip or a murder mystery. You will either know how to do it or know who did it.
  5. The following middle section is the longest and most flexible, but it should gradually deliver more and more answers to your listeners and deliver on the episode’s promise.
  6. The final section is either a short summary or a final act where all answers are provided in case of storytelling.
  7. Talk shows usually end with a short goodbye message
  8. Credits are optional for podcasting, but big shows sometimes include them.
  9. And the most popular way to end any show is a musical fade-out.

Most highly successful podcasts follow this very similar formula. 

Naturally, there can be more elements, especially in the middle section, where sometimes shows have recurring segments. And I’m not mentioning ads, but host-read ads can also be a part of podcast structure, but we will talk about ads in a different episode.

How do I add structure to my podcast?

You add a structure to your podcast by planning repeatable and familiar segments within each episode. That structure will build more engagement. As proven by multiple studies, engagement results in a higher number of followers, show downloads, email subscribers, and finally the sales numbers.

If you don’t know exactly where to start, then just copy the structure I’ve just given to you. It is a proven formula that will allow you to grow while you focus on your content.

But I have something even better for you. I have a full episode script plan available for you. You can download it when you visit improvepodcast.com and get my newsletter.

Whichever path you take, you need to remember what makes the structure so important. 

 Here are 5 key features of podcast episode structure:

  1. Predictability & familiarity – if episodes have similar elements the 
  2. Clear opening – give some value up-front, don’t hold back, and make a compelling promise on what an episode will be about,
  3. Lead with attention capturing open – try to capture imagination, shock, entertain, surprise. The more emotions, the better.
  4. Follow with a valuable middle-section – this will be different for every podcast, but we can generalize here and just say that you should get to the point quickly and gracefully,
  5. Close with a meaningful ending – leave people with a sense of wonder that they have learned or experienced something valuable.

Some people often even ask:

How do you structure your first podcast episode?

Your first podcast episode shouldn’t stand out from your next episodes. Make it actually the same, but try to touch broader topics your podcast will cover. In this one episode, build a sense of predictability and familiarity and, at the same time, make a bigger promise for your show.

You will probably be excited and worried at the same time when recording your first episode. Just remember that regardless if you are recording your 1st or 100th episode, you need to create value for listeners.

How to create value when you plan podcast episodes?

You create value for listeners with your episode structure when you plan exactly what your listeners should learn from an episode and then spread that across the entire episode. You add value when you plan how much is revealed at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of an episode.

This is important for all episodes. If you have a business podcast, then plan an episode around the business advice you want to give. Or fitness advice, fashion advice, whatever you are talking about.

If you are telling a long story, then make sure an episode progresses that story in a meaningful way and doesn’t contain filler content.

Podcast three act structure

All forms of podcast work well if they use the classical 3 act structure:

  • Act 1 – usually lasts for about 5 to 7 minutes in a 30-minute episode, where you introduce the main theme, characters, and background for the action. When you are telling a story then here happens the inciting incident or catalyst that your main character has to face. Followed by the failed attempts to deal with this incident ending in the first plot point.
  • Act 2 – is the longest and lasts for about 50 to 70% of the total duration of the episode. This is where the character development (character arc) takes place, where at the end the final challenge lays and resolution appears possible. In an advisory podcast, you reveal your solution here.

And finally,

  • Act 3 – lasting the same amount of time, or less as the first act. Here the climax of the story takes place, and all the plots are being resolved.

The 3 act structure is most important in the narration and storytelling shows, where you have characters. It introduces pacing and turning points. Those concepts – pacing and turning points – are also crucial if you have an interview show or even in any type of advice-giving podcast.

You can easily control how much each act or each part will last. The best way is to write the script and know how fast you will need to deliver it. 

We covered how and why the Speaking Pace is Important in Podcasting in the previous episode so make sure you check it out. But on average, you should be talking about 150 words per minute, so you need c.a. 1,500 words for a 10-minute episode.

Predictable length and format are crucial for satisfaction

The length of an episode is one thing where the audience likes predictability. Whether you choose to record episodes below 20 minutes, have episodes between 20-30 minutes, or, let’s say, up to one hour, try to aim for the same length as often as possible.

Predictability is vital. This should be part of your podcast planning before you launch your first episode. 

You may change the length when a show is already live, but let your audience know in advance.

If you have a good reason for having an exceptionally lengthy 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.

How to plan podcast episode length?

  • Episodes below 15 minutes are the ideal length for compact podcasts where you provide a lot of useful and actionable tips.
  • Episodes between 15 – 40 minutes are – great for most content, where you tell a story or have a simple and focused conversation with your co-host or guests,
  • Episodes above 40 minutes are usually good if you have passionate guests or have a long and less structured discussion, where you cover many topics.

Your episode structure should fit the planned length. Give yourself time for an engaging intro and a memorable summary.

And if you like how we have planned this episode’s structure, then following the show will help us grow and deliver more tips to you!

A crucial thing to remember is that you will…

Generate more listeners with podcast episode structure

But a good structure in place generates more listeners automatically because people simply enjoy formulas.

You generate more listeners when you back-sell and front-sell your episodes. Back-selling is when you mention a previous episode, and front-selling is when you announce an upcoming episode. Both techniques generate more listeners in the long run.

Can you exercise more control over your podcast structure?

Yes, you can. You can do it with an episode script. We are going to compare the recording with an episode script or just with an outline in the next episode, so make sure you follow the show.

SUMMARY

I want you to remember that a podcast episode structure is an extremely powerful tool. It can force you to produce higher quality episodes and, in return, will generate more listeners for your show.

You should plan all your episodes. Having a structure will solve multiple problems that occur when producing a new episode, as well as it will allow you to add marketing messages to help you grow faster.

About the Author

Chris Land

I'm the owner and creator of ImprovePodcast.com, the site dedicated to providing actionable solutions for podcast creators. My goal is helping people to develop their podcasts into effective marketing and sales tools.


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