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A Guide to Planning Out a Podcast Episode

Planning is an essential part of many creative processes, from recording an album to making a movie. And producing a podcast is no exception. Podcasting is a multifarious medium combining elements of radio, journalism and audio production, and creating them can be an arduous process. But if you take a considered approach with planning, each of these elements will fall into place much easier (and more harmoniously).

While every podcast is different and will require a tailored approach when it comes to planning, there are some key things you will need to think about. Below we take a look at the ins and outs of planning out a podcast episode with a little help from Brad Gilmore, co-host and producer of 'Heated Conversations’ with WWE Champ Booker T, and host of his own podcast, 'The Brad Gilmore Show', as well as Trevor Long, producer and host of popular podcasts, 'EFTM' and 'Two Blokes Talking Tech'.

CREATING AN OUTLINE

For the purpose of this article, we’re going to assume that you’ve already established what your podcast is about, the overall theme, made a website or landing page (a Facebook page, for example), and bought all the necessary gear – all that basic stuff you need to cover before actually starting to produce your podcast. What we’re talking about here is the process of planning out each show.

The first step is creating an outline for your episode – establishing what it’s going to be about, the title, the overarching theme, mapping out what research is required, who you’re going to interview (if this is an element of your show), what assets you are going to need (ads, music, sound effects etc).

“The single most important thing before any show is planning a rundown,” says Long. “Critically, this doesn’t have to mean a minute-by-minute plan, it just means have a plan. What’s first, what’s next, how do you get from one thing to the next, and if multiple people are involved, who’s doing what.”

The goal of this phase should be to end up with a brief but fairly comprehensive outline of how the episode is going to run. You may choose to do this one at a time or plan out an entire season/series – it’s really up to you.

This is a fairly loose phase in the production process – a time where you can throw around ideas, brainstorm and get creative. There’s less pressure to make definitive decisions and you may be surprised at the different ways this stage shapes your show. Enjoy it while you can, because the next part involves actually putting these plans into practice.

One important thing to keep in mind during this phase is the audience. What do they want to hear? Are you moving in the right direction? For Long, it’s the most vital element of his plans: “Is this content the stuff people are downloading us for?” he asks himself. “How can we ensure this is not the last podcast of mine they download?”

RESEARCHING, INTERVIEWING AND WRITING A SCRIPT

This is the most intensive part of the planning process, the part where all of the elements defined in your outline begin to take shape. How you approach this is really up to you – like we said, every podcast is different. For example, interviews may not play an integral part in your show. It also should be noted that writing a script is not absolutely essential – some podcasters swear by it, others say that it can make a podcast sound sterile and lifeless; it really depends on your format. But if large sections of your show are very talk-heavy, writing out a script may be vital.   

Researching

Like any great story, news article or radio show, research is extremely important to help define and drive home your key points, make it easier to discuss a topic intelligently, authoritatively and charismatically, inform your interviews, and engage your audience. This process may involve reading academic articles, news pieces, interviewing people, listening to music or reading someone’s work, or trawling the internet. 

“People love the free-flowing nature of podcasting, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t research,” says Gilmore. “In my experience, I just take a notepad and just dot bullet points of things I want to go over during the podcast and cross them off them list as I go. If you don’t plan at all you will find yourself stumbling and bumbling around trying to go from subject to subject.” 

Long agrees, but from his experience, leaving plenty of room to discuss a topic during the podcast is important too. “If it’s a topic one of the other team members have brought to the show, we all take the time to read the related article or link which should be in the rundown. But at the same time, we don’t want everyone to be an expert. Our shows are about someone bringing a topic and everyone having an opinion to ensure a free-flowing discussion.”

Interviewing

Depending on the format of your show, you may choose to interview your guests before or during the show. Either way, preparation is key.

“When preparing to do an interview, you first have to prepare for what kind of interview you’re going to be conducting,” says Gilmore. “If you’re doing the interview in person, I would once again implement the simple outline strategy and have key points that you want to cover, not so much specific questions. If the guest is promoting something, make sure you have that written down at the very top of your notes underlined and bolded to ensure you don’t forget it. Also, quadruple check and make sure you know how to pronounce the guest’s name correctly. Believe it or not it’s a common mistake by podcasters and radio hosts!"

"Now if it’s done over the phone," he continues," you’re going to need to give a bit more thought about questioning. Due to the lag over a phone, it’s hard to have too many little jokes and quick comments just because of the nature of the medium.”

For Long, a natural flow of conversation is key, and this means keeping questions loose and open. “Rather than a script, I prefer topics - areas of discussion. Include key points if relevant, but a good interview is one that sounds like two people sitting at a bar learning about what one or the other does for a living.”

A couple of things to keep in mind while interviewing:

  • Make sure you’ve done your research
  • Write out your questions beforehand (make them interesting too!)
  • Give your guest a rough outline of what you’ll be talking about before the interview
  • Write down your guest’s name
  • Conduct the interview in a quiet place
  • Make sure your gear is working beforehand (interviews are spontaneous – you don’t want to lose some grade-A content because your recorder wasn’t working properly)
  • Set a time limit (especially if you are recording the interview live)

Writing Out a Script

As mentioned, writing out a script is not essential. “I personally have never written a script for a podcast, and I would advise against it,” says Gilmore. “Unless you’re doing a show like ‘Serial’ or some sort of documentary-style podcast, I would avoid a script at all cost. I like to implement the Larry David school of writing: ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm is all improv, there’s just an outline.'”

Long agrees: “We don’t script anything on our podcasts. If the topic is not something we know, or can’t have a fun relaxed banter about, it shouldn’t be in the show - so you would say we work on the fly.”

Trevor Long, host and producer of 'EFTM' and 'Two Blokes Talking Tech'

However, as Gilmore notes, scripts are essential to some podcasts – in fact, some of the most popular podcasts ever created rely heavily on scripted segments. These are usually talk-heavy documentary-style podcasts (‘Serial’ is a great example) or those that have scripted segments in between interviews (think ‘Song Exploder’).

Some of the key elements in your script may be:

  • Your introduction
  • A summary of the episode
  • Guest introductions
  • Segues
  • Main content - the segments themselves
  • Ad reads
  • A conclusion/sign off (outlining what the next episode will be about)

If you do choose to write a script, do it right. Some tips for nailing a script:

  • Let your writing style and personality shine through
  • Make sure spelling, grammar and format are perfect
  • Write the way you normally talk (this will help the script sound more natural)
  • If you are having difficulty pronouncing something, spell it out phonetically
  • Keep an eye on your word count and make sure it’s under your desired run time
  • Edit, refine, repeat. Keep working on your script until your 100% happy with it

MUSIC, SOUND EFFECTS AND OTHER AUDIO

Music, sound effects and other audio play an important role in many podcasts. Even basic sound effects can pull a show into a new realm of professionalism, so even if it isn't central in your narrative, consider interspersing secondary audio throughout.

Some ways music and sound effects may fit into your podcast:

  • Intros and outros: theme music or jingle
  • To reinforce dramatic or comedic moments
  • To help establish a sense of place in a story
  • To segue between segments or introduce a guest
  • As a key talking point in your show
  • As background filler

There are loads of online resources where you can download a wide range of sound effects and music, both free and paid.

Once you’ve decided what secondary audio you are going to use for your show (and you’ve acquired it legally), you’ll need to figure out how it’s going to fit into your outline. Your final outline should dictate where each musical element or sound effect is going to be used and how long it's going to play for. Of course, sound effects can be used spontaneously too.

If you’re thinking of getting into podcasting, or you’re a seasoned broadcaster and are looking for the perfect piece of gear for your setup, the RØDECaster Pro is the only console you’ll ever need. With its 4 Class A servo biased mic inputs, broadcast-quality signal processing, ability to stream and record phone calls seamlessly, and 8 sound pads for seamlessly triggering sound effects, jingles and other audio, it really is pro podcasting made easy. Find out more about RØDECaster Pro here.