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Podcast Structure: How to Easily Create One + Templates to Try

Easily create engaging podcasts with our guide to podcast structure. Get tips, templates, and expert advice for structuring episodes that keep listeners hooked from start to finish.
Ortal Hadad
Content Specialist & Blog Editor
Published:
Oct 17, 2023
Last Updated:
October 16, 2023
11
min
Reviewed by
Ortal Hadad

The best podcasts tell a story.

Sure, some listeners don’t mind tuning in to hear their favorite co-hosts’ meandering conversation about whatever comes to mind. But in most cases, you need a consistent, narrative structure if you want to keep them engaged.

Your podcast’s structure doesn’t have to be a literal story—though there’s a reason why narrative podcasts are so popular!—but it does have to feel like it’s going somewhere. 

In this article, we’ll show you how to develop a podcast structure based on your goals and show type. And if you need some inspiration, we’ll also give you a few templates taken from some of the most popular podcasts on the airwaves.

What is podcast structure?

Podcast structure refers to the elements that make up your episodes and the order in which you present them. 

Broadly, this just means each episode should have a clear beginning, middle, and end—in that order!

But the elements you include in each of those segments make the difference between a run-of-the-mill show and a novel creation. Below, we’ll tell you what to include and how to put it all together to tell a compelling, coherent story that will engage your listeners.

Why does podcast structure matter?

The right podcast structure maximizes listener engagement and minimizes the time you invest into each episode.

Well-structured podcasts are:

  • Organized: Presents similar pieces of information together
  • Coherent: Episodes communicate a single clear message
  • Smooth: Each segment naturally flows from the previous segment
  • Predictable: Your audience knows what to expect in each episode
  • Engaging: Holds your audience’s attention throughout the episode
  • Efficient: Consistent structure across episodes (this also saves you time in post-production!)

These elements are essential because if your audience is confused, they’ll stop listening to your show! 

Below, we’ll tell you how to structure your episodes strategically to ensure that doesn’t happen.

What elements should you consider for podcast structure?

You should include three basic elements in every episode: introduction, delivery, and application. You can also think of them as setup, confrontation, and resolution.

The introduction sets the stage for the episode’s primary content, orienting listeners to what you will discuss and how it is relevant to them.

Then, the delivery builds a compelling narrative that leads up to the application, which communicates the key takeaway message to the listeners.

If that breakdown gave you flashbacks to the last novel you read, that’s because novels, movies, and shows use the same structure! It’s called the three-act structure, and it’s all about storytelling—weaving a relevant narrative to your audience.

image source

Next, let’s dive into exactly how to use that structure to engage your audience.

How to structure your podcast successfully

Step 1: Choose a theme

Your show’s theme—or podcast topic—is the idea or lesson you want to communicate to listeners. Each individual episode should center around that theme in some way.

The theme will also determine how you structure each episode. That’s why it’s important to jot down what you want your audience to get out of your show before choosing a structure. 

Also, be sure to keep your target audience in mind! 

One way to do this is to develop a listener persona—a profile description of your target listener. What are their interests? What problems do they face? Your theme should center on those topics.

Once you’ve attracted a small audience, you can further develop your listener persona—and thus refine your theme. You can even host a live Q&A to help you better understand your audience’s reaction to your content. 

An easy way to do that is with podcast-recording software like Riverside that allows live audience call-ins while recording an episode.

Step 2: Decide episode duration

You should decide how long your episodes will be early in the planning process because that will inform the structure you choose. For example, if your episodes are only ten minutes long, you probably won’t be able to include ten separate segments in your main content.

If you want to base your episode length on average runtimes, new data shows that most podcast episodes average over 30 minutes long.

Episode length for podcast structure

But a good rule of thumb is to keep each episode as short as possible. This is especially important when your show is new. You can get away with longer episodes as you gain a loyal audience.

It’s also a good idea to make each episode roughly the same length. Remember, listeners like predictability. It’s okay to have a longer or shorter episode now and then, but you should explain why.

Step 3: Plan your pacing

Strike a balance between a sluggish show that bores listeners and a hectic show that stresses and confuses them.

Give your audience a little time to reflect between episode segments. That’s why it’s essential to tackle this step early in your planning—it may change how much information you try to fit into one episode.

You can determine how much time is the right amount by recording part of an episode and asking a few friends to listen to it. Do they seem bored or lost? Adjust your pacing accordingly when recording the final version.

When in doubt, it’s better to leave more time between segments rather than less. You can always use podcast editing software like Riverside to remove unwanted footage.

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Step 4: Write a script

In this step, you thoroughly plan out your episode’s structure.

You could write out word-for-word what you plan to say, or you could just make an outline similar to the one in this example script video:

Whether you use a script or an outline, the idea is to organize your content—grouping similar information together and ensuring each segment flows naturally.

And if you’re interviewing a guest, be sure to jot down the questions you’ll ask and send them the outline ahead of time.

Read more: Podcast Script: How to Write One [Free Templates & Examples]

Now that you’ve finished the necessary planning, it’s time to start recording!

Step 5: Record the introduction

There are numerous ways to structure a podcast intro.

But regardless of the order in which you present them, here are the elements to include:

  • A hook (something to get listeners interested)
  • A short clip of music
  • Your name
  • The name(s) of your co-host(s) and guest(s)
  • The name of your show
  • A back sell (a review of any previous episodes relevant to this one)
  • A summary of what you’ll cover in this episode

One way to hook your listeners at the beginning of an episode is to insert a particularly intriguing clip taken from the middle of the episode, as we do in our HitPublish podcasts:

https://riverside.fm/hit-publish-podcast/how-to-know-what-your-audience-wants-to-consume

This technique makes the audience want to stick around to hear more.

You could also tell a quick story to introduce the episode’s topic.

Next, make it clear that your listeners will get something out of the episode. Tell them how it’ll help them solve problems or improve their lives.

If you’re having a hard time wrapping your head around what you’ll cover in the episode, try recording the rest of the episode before recording the intro. It’ll be easy to summarize what you’ve just finished talking about.

Lastly, it’s important to keep your intro short. You don’t want to get your listeners’ attention only to lose it with a drawn-out introduction. You could lose up to 27.5% of your listeners if your intro is longer than 5 minutes

Again, the ability to cut out extra content with Riverside’s Editor will come in handy here.

Step 6: Record the delivery (AKA main section of the podcast)

The structure of your episode’s main content should be a narrative. 

You could frame the information as a problem to be solved, then walk your listeners through the journey to finding a solution, including plot twists and ups and downs.

Or, if you’re sharing an event from your life, share the mistakes and failures you encountered. If you’re telling someone else’s story (perhaps a public figure), touch on the intrigue surrounding certain times in their life.

The basic idea is to keep your listeners wondering what will come next and to make the narrative relatable. Real life has a lot of twists and turns, and so should your podcast’s stories.

And remember—don’t give your listeners any resolutions or closure yet! Save that for the end of the episode.

It’s also good to include music or sponsored ads at transition points between segments since this section is the longest.

Step 7: Record the resolution

In this step, you finally share how the main character in your narrative (you, your guest, or a third party) overcame the problems they faced and grew from the experience. You reveal that final piece of information you’ve been holding back.

That’s your listeners’ payoff for listening to your story.

After tying up those loose ends, remind your audience how they’ve benefited from listening—in other words, how the take-away point is relevant to them. 

Next, give a call to action. You could ask listeners to review your show on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, download a resource, or fill out a survey. You could even promise a prize to the first 10 people to complete the task.

Last, give your listeners a way to contact you and any co-hosts or guests, like social media handles or e-mail addresses, and thank your co-hosts and guests for appearing on your show.

Note that you don’t have to structure this section in precisely that order. It’s okay to switch it up! 

Bonus: Podcast structure templates and examples to help you plan

Understanding the basics of creating a podcast structure isn’t quite the same as seeing an example first-hand. Let’s look at a few podcast structure ideas for different podcast formats to get you started.

Solo podcast

In this podcast format, you’re hosting a one-person show. The outline might look something like this:

  • Introduction
  • First segment
  • Message from sponsor
  • Second segment
  • Segue
  • Respond to audience e-mails or social media comments
  • Summary
  • Call to action

It’s important to keep the podcast outline interesting since one narrator can feel a bit monotonous to some listeners. Keep your segments short, and remember to break them up with segues—like music, ads, or even banter with your producer.

Podcast with co-host(s)

In this extremely common podcast format, you have conversations with your co-host(s) and occasional guests. Be sure to structure your outline so that everyone gets a balance of airtime. 

Your outline might look like this:

  • Introduce episode
  • Introduce co-host(s)
  • Discussion between co-hosts
  • Message from sponsor
  • Q&A with audience
  • Summary
  • Call to action

Interview podcast

Interview podcasts are another extremely popular format in which the host or co-hosts interview a guest. When designing your outline, be sure to organize your interview questions for a natural conversational flow.

A common interview podcast structure looks like: 

  • Hook
  • Music
  • Introduce host
  • Message from sponsor
  • Introduce guest
  • Easy opening questions
  • Main questions
  • Easy closing questions
  • Message from sponsor
  • Outro music

We’ll end with a few specific examples from popular shows to show you how the pros do it!

Serial

Serial

Serial is an extremely popular true-crime podcast.

  • Hook: Quotes from previous episode
  • Podcast title and description with music
  • Main content
  • Outro/cliffhanger

Missed Fortune

Missed Fortune podcast structure
Missed Fortune

Missed Fortune is the true story of a man’s search for a million-dollar treasure.

  • Hook: Quotes from previous episode
  • Intro to current episode
  • Episode title
  • Main content
  • Outro/cliffhanger

Radiolab

Radiolab podcast structure
Radiolab

Radiolab uses investigative journalism to answer a wide variety of interesting questions.

  • Episode title
  • Hook: Hosts give a short teaser on the episode’s topic
  • Musical transition
  • Main content
  • Outro discussion between hosts

Invisibilia

Invisibilia podcast structure
Invisibilia

Invisibilia discusses the unseen forces that influence human behavior.

  • Hook: Short story introducing episode topic
  • Main story #1
  • Segue
  • Main story #2
  • Segue
  • Outro

Those are just a few of the many templates you could use to structure your podcast. 

It’s important to keep in mind that even the best podcast structure won’t win over your audience if your audio quality is poor and your footage is badly stitched together. We recommend using Riverside's recording software combined with a high-quality microphone to be sure your show’s sound is just as professional as its structure.

FAQs on Podcast Structure

What are the 5 elements of a podcast?

Almost all successful podcasts boast the following five elements:

  • Center your show and each episode around a single theme
  • Understand your audience and cater your show to them
  • Release episodes on a regular, predictable schedule
  • Have a deliberate, consistent structure in each episode
  • Practice authenticity and encourage co-hosts and guests to do the same

Incorporating these features into your podcast ensures you’ll get the best return on the time you invested in it.

What is the best structure for a podcast?

The structure of your episodes depends on their purpose and whether you have co-hosts or guests. But here’s a general outline to get you started:

  • Intro: Something interesting to hook your audience
  • First segment
  • Segue (music or ads)
  • Second segment
  • Segue (music or ads)
  • Episode summary
  • Call to action: Encourage your audience to rate, review, and subscribe
  • Cliffhanger: Motivate your audience to listen to the next episode

How do you structure a solo podcast?

Begin your solo podcast like any other type—by hooking your audience with an exciting story or intriguing clip from later in the episode.

Then discuss your main content. In a solo podcast, pausing between segments or insert musical segues is especially important to break up the monotony of one person talking.

You could also incorporate other voices by having listeners submit questions ahead of time and answering them during the episode.

Lastly, end by summarizing what you’ve just discussed and give an interesting preview of the upcoming episode.

Riverside's all-in-one recording, editing, and streaming software makes it easy to record in studio quality. Easily invite remote guests, hold live audience Q&As, and polish your footage in post-production so you can focus on structuring your episodes for maximum impact. 

Start recording with Riverside today!

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