Technical Expertise

8 Popular Podcast Formats

Last updated on: 
July 21, 2023

There are a variety of podcast formats that you can test out for your series, we broke down eight of the most popular formats.

From engaging interviews with notable personalities to captivating storytelling that transports listeners, podcasting has revolutionized how we consume and engage with audio content. 

As the medium continues to evolve, new formats constantly emerge, providing creators and listeners alike with endless possibilities for innovative and thought-provoking experiences. Here’s a glace at the most popular podcast formats in 2022:

If you're new to the realm of podcasts or simply looking to explore fresh content, understanding the diverse formats available can be an excellent starting point. Each format brings its own unique style, structure, and purpose, offering listeners an immersive experience that resonates with their personal tastes.

In this blog, we will delve into 8 of the most popular podcast formats, shedding light on their distinct characteristics, although it’s truly up to you to personalize each format and make it your own.

1. Podcast interviews 

One of the most popular podcast formats, the interview is pretty much exactly what it sounds like - an interview. Usually, there is one host that’s interviewing one guest but there can also be multiple hosts or multiple guests on the episode. 

Episode lengths vary but we recommend trying to keep it between 20-35 minutes as just straight interview formats can sometimes get a little dry for the listener depending on the content that’s being discussed. 

One thing to keep in mind for interviews is to try to keep the number of guests or hosts on the series to a minimum. Sometimes if there are too many voices happening at once the listener can get confused with who they’re hearing from.   

Benefits of the Interview Format:

  • Thought leadership
  • Building a strong host-audience relationship
  • Diverse content (each episode brings a different wealth of knowledge through new interviewees)
  • Credibility
  • Sharing tips or advice
  • Lead generation (ask potential partners or clients to join you on the series)

Challenges of the Interview Format:

Samples of Interview Format Podcasts: 

  1. Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard 
  2. Expedia’s Poweing Travel
  3. Velo 3D’s Laser Focused

2. Discussion podcasts

Similar to the interview, the discussion format occurs when there is more of a natural conversation between hosts, a host and a guest, or a host with multiple guests. It takes a step away from the more structured, Q&A style of an interview format and flows as a more organic discussion between all the voices you hear on the series.

Episodes can definitely run a little longer than interview-format podcasts. There are plenty of podcasts that take on this style and go above the one-hour mark (but usually those tend to have more known voices on them) so we recommend going no more than 40 minutes. 

Benefits of the Discussion Format:

  • Build a stronger connection with the host 
  • Ability to add more personality to the series 
  • Thought leadership 
  • Sharing tips or advice
  • Lead generation (ask potential partners or clients to join you on the series)

Challenges of the Discussion Format:

  • Effective editing of multiple audio tracks
  • Balancing out the conversation to hear all voices and opinions
  • Recruiting and organizing guest speakers

Samples of Discussion Format Podcasts: 

  1. The Joe Rogan Experience 
  2. The Michelle Obama Podcast
  3. Smartless

3. Fiction storytelling 

Also known as podcast theatre, fiction storytelling is one of the most engaging and intriguing formats for a listener but also one of the most difficult to produce. 

A fiction storytelling format means that the entire podcast is telling a story. You’ll have characters, a story arc, soundscapes, and so much more that go into producing this style of series. It’s like writing a book -- each episode is its own chapter where something new happens that makes the listener want to press play on the next episode in the same way that makes a reader want to turn the page. 

Episodes range in length. Some will be around the 30-minute mark but others will stretch out to an hour. Since it takes a lot more work to produce than other formats, aiming for the 30-minute mark may be a reasonable goal. 

Overall, if there’s one word that we can use, to sum up the fiction storytelling format, it’s planning

Benefits of the Fiction Storytelling Format:

  • Highly engaged and dedicated listeners
  • More consistency with listeners (since to hear the entire story they have to start from episode one and run through each episode)
  • Each episode is already pre-planned and laid out
  • The least popular podcast format, so your show is more likely to stand out

Challenges of the Fiction Storytelling Format:

  • Competing with TV, film, and radio dramas – not just podcasts 
  • Very niche format
  • Lots of planning, production, and editing involved (including casting and rehearsals) 

Samples of Fiction Storytelling Format Podcasts: 

  1. The Two Princes 
  2. S-Town
  3. The Horror of Dolores Roach

4. Non-fiction narrative 

A non-fiction narrative is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s a nonfiction story that is produced into a podcast series. 

One company that does this incredibly well is Wondery. They have a single narrator that guides the listener through the entire story and series. Soundscapes and specific interviews may be added to provide deeper context or answer questions but the main voice you’ll hear throughout these shows is that of the host (narrator). 

Non-fiction narratives can also range in length but usually sit around the 30-45 minute mark. A large reason for this is that it takes a lot of research, planning, and scripting to create this sort of series since factual accuracy is key.

Benefits of a Non-fiction Narrative: 

  • Highly engaged listeners
  • More consistency with listeners (since to hear the entire story they have to start from episode one and run through each episode)
  • Each episode is already pre-planned and laid out
  • As it provides factual information on a real-life story, listeners may come to you as a resource to learn more. 

Challenges of a Nonfiction Narrative: 

  • Extensive research, planning, scripting, and fact-checking
  • Consistency can be tricking as new developments can unfold and push back production 

Samples of Non-Fiction Narrative Format Podcasts: 

  1. The Mysterious Mr. Epstein
  2. Young Charlie and Hollywood Crime
  3. Man in the Window

5. Multi-story podcasts

Multi-story podcasts string together multiple interviews or stories within one episode. Interviews/stories are kept short and concise since the host has to move through multiple sections or people. 

This format helps to keep listeners engaged since there are new voices to be heard and conversations to be had. Rather than one, 30-minute long interview, maybe you’ll listen to three 10-minute long interviews. Although a multi-story format does help to keep the listener tuned in and present, it is still up to you to make sure that the content is still interesting and valuable. 

Multi-story podcasts usually sit around 30-45 minutes since you don’t want to get overly repetitive with how many interviews/stories you have on an episode. 

Benefits of a Multi-Story Format: 

  • Short and concise conversations with guests
  • Keep listeners highly engaged and interested 
  • Have multiple voices and perspectives that get shared
  • Access to more guest networks for promotion 

Challenges of a Multi-Story Format: 

  • Keeping each story equally entertaining and engaging 
  • Work against listener drop-off rates (some listeners may just listen for one story)

Samples of Multi-Story Format Podcasts: 

  1. What the Peeve
  2. Fearless Beauties
  3. The Moth 

6. Solo Conversation

Solo conversation formats feature a host and a microphone. They tend to not be scripted and provide a chance for the host to have candid conversations with their listeners. We see this format used most often in the comedy category. 

For this format, the host is incredibly important since that’s who the listeners will be connecting with. You need to engage with your listeners and make it feel as if you’re truly speaking to them. If you’re a strong host, a solo conversation format may be for you. 

Solo conversation podcasts tend to run a little longer, around the 60-minute mark since they're candid, natural, and authentic. Most of the time as a listener it’ll feel as if you’re just listening to your friend tell you a story or have a very one-sided conversation. 

Benefits of a Solo Conversation: 

  • No need to guest source 
  • Usually results in a highly engaged audience and fanbase 
  • Simpler recording style
  • Simpler editing style 
  • More cost-effective 

Challenges of a Solo Conversation: 

  • The entire weight falls on the host to keep the conversation going, provide thought-provoking insights, and engage the audience for an extended period
  • Often times the host is doing the research, recording, editing, etc; themselves

Samples of Solo-Conversation Format Podcasts: 

  1. You Up with Nikki Glaser 
  2. Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast 
  3. Yoga Girl: Conversations From the Heart 

7. Live or Repurposed 

A live or repurposed format is usually used when the content stems from an in-person or online event that’s happening. The audio gets pulled from that event and edited into a podcast format. 

The length of this format can really vary depending on the event. Whether it’s 10 minutes or 60 minutes, either can be created into a podcast series. 

Benefits of Live/Repurposed Podcasts: 

  • It’s repurposed content -- you get to use it in multiple places! 
  • If you had an audience at your event then you already have a listener base
  • Simpler editing style since you want to keep some of the authenticity of the event 
  • Can easily make into a multi-story format as well 

Challenges of Live/Repurposed Podcasts: 

  • Little post-production editing, so must be well-prepared in advance
  • Typically required a loyal listener base who is willing to join you in person/in realtime

Samples of Live/Repurposed Format Podcasts: 

  1. The Moth 
  2. GrownUps Read Things They Wrote as Kids
  3. The Tech Haus: Live at Soho Innovation Lab

8. Investigative podcasts

In an investigative podcast, the host will start the episode with a question or curiosity about a subject. Throughout the episode, the host will then investigate that topic to find answers. Usually, guests will be brought on to provide expertise or context around the topic. 

This is an incredibly engaging podcast format and it’s used quite widely among different categories. Listeners are drawn in by the host's original question or curiosity and want to find the answers alongside them. 

The length of investigative podcasts usually sits around the 30-45 minute mark. It’s the right amount of time to truly get into an episode topic without having it trail on for too long. 

Benefits of an Investigative Podcast: 

  • Highly engaged listeners
  • Each episode is already pre-planned and laid out
  • An in-depth discovery on a specific topic or story, listeners may use you as a resource

Challenges of an Investigative Podcast:

  • Safety and security 
  • Maintaining objectivity 
  • Resource limitations

Samples of Investigative Format Podcasts: 

  1. Reply All 
  2. The Cut 
  3. Sold in America

Need help finding the right format for your podcast?

With a plethora of options available, from narrative storytelling to interview-style conversations, there's something out there for everyone. By considering your preferences, interests, and goals, you can narrow down your choices and discover the format that not only entertains but also educates, inspires, and connects with you on a personal level. 

Different formats bring different experiences for the listeners. Some let you connect more with the host while others focus more on the guest. Some require a heavy amount of research while others might happen more organically during the recording. Each offers something different, so before you decide on the format, identify what your overall goal is for the series and what you want it to achieve. This will help to point you in the direction of what format is right for you. 

Remember, experimenting with different formats can be an exciting exploration, so don't be afraid to try new styles and dive into diverse podcasting experiences. 

If you want help choosing a podcast format, chat with our team!

Alison Osborne

Director of Growth Marketing

A passionate storyteller, Ali is Quill’s Director of Growth Marketing, previously the co-founder and CMO of the branded podcast agency, Origins Media Haus (acquired by Quill). She excels in merging creativity with data in order to successfully build and grow a brand.



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