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Introduction to Podcasting

A series of short audio tutorials for those just getting started.

The Four Archetypes (11:27)

In this installment of Introduction to Podcasting, we examine the four archetypes, or styles, of podcasting. For each archetype, your host discusses:

  • what to expect
  • how to prepare.


[Intro music]

Hi, I’m lisa Hooper, a librarian and Head of Media Services at Howard-Tilton Memorial Library. This is Introduction to Podcasting, a series of short audio tutorials for those just getting started. Thanks for listening. Over the next few minutes, we’re going to discuss the 4 main archetypes, or styles, of podcasting.

If you have any questions, comments, or just want to talk about your work, send a line to That’s l h o o p e r, the number 1, at Tulane dot e d u.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

Ok. Podcasting, just like any other medium of communication, crosses all genres; from news reporting and true crime serials, to children’s story telling and motivational exercises. It’s genre-agnostic, you could say. One of the things that make podcasts sort of fun to do, is that there are 4 stylistic archetypes to play around with. And by archetype, I mean the form and structure of your podcast. Perhaps a simpler way to think of archetype in this context is simply your style of storytelling. Generally speaking, podcasts follow one of the following 4 archetypes, or styles: the interview, the panel or round table discussion, the narrative, or the performance.

Now let’s spend just a couple minutes with each of these styles.

The interview. It’s deceptively simple; just two or more people around a microphone. One person asking questions and the other answering. Don’t be fooled, interviews take time and preparation! If you listen to podcasts that follow an interview model, listen really, really closely to the person asking the questions; how they preface their questions, how they phrase their questions, how they organize and order their questions, and even how they develop follow-up questions right there on the spot to get the person they’re interviewing to delve deeper into their answer. If you do that, you’ll certainly realize that the interviewer might not be a subject expert per se but they’re certainly deeply knowledgeable. In other words, if you want to have a truly meaningful and insightful interview, then you need to do the work and you need to the research and learn as much about the conversation topic as you can.

It’s not just the topic you need to do your homework on, but also the person you’ll be interviewing. You need to be sure you pick the best person, and that takes research! Look for someone who is deeply knowledgeable or who has first-hand experience; someone who is excited about the topic; and  someone who is a great talker, who stays on topic, and knows when they’ve sufficiently made their point (‘cause for real, the last thing you want to have to do is constantly reign it in, interrupt them, or redirect them!).

Finding just the right person for an interview can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you don’t have that network of connections yet. If that’s you, then ask your colleagues, classmates, professors, friends, family for suggestions and do a little web research to give yourself a starting list of possible candidates. Then don’t be afraid to cold call them. Listen, I’m in the middle of my career and I still, absolutely hate contacting strangers out of the blue, and yet I’ve come to do it pretty regularly as part of my job these days. It’s a learned skill; it’s something you can still be uncomfortable with but at least you can get it done. So, introduce yourself, if a mutual connection gave you their name, then let them know! Name dropping in this context definitely has value. Once you finish with those basic introductions, briefly let them know why you’re contacting them. Consider including the following talking points:

  • The topic of your podcast. For example: I’m developing a podcast examining why plant and bug diversity is important and how individuals can design their personal environments to support this diversity). If your podcast has a title and catch phrase, share it here!
  • The next talking point would be one to three goals for the episode you’re currently planning and that you’re inviting them to be a part of.
  • Then, let them know you’ve done your research by referencing their work and briefly describing how it relates to your project. For example, you could say something like: “Your lecture last week about how back yard habitats can support small form wildlife really grabbed my attention and I think would be deeply interesting to my audience.”

And now, here is where you make the first ask: would you be interested in being interviewed for this project? You can leave it there, or you can invite them to a discussion to more fully explain your project and get to know each other a little bit better.

Regardless of whether you ask for that meeting in that initial email or after you’ve had a little bit of back-and-forth correspondence first, at some point before your interview you’re going to want to schedule a pre-interview meeting. From their perspective, this will help them learn who you are and your commitment to the topic. They’ll also be able to better home in on exactly what your expectations are of them. From your side, this meeting is your opportunity to assess whether they truly have the qualities you’re looking for in an interviewee. If they do, then fabulous, work out your mutual expectations and keep on running. If not, then think about whether you can still get a meaningful sound byte from this person and move on.

Increasingly, interviewers are sharing their questions with the person they’re interviewing in advance. This gives the person being interviewed time to formulate their responses and brush up on the topic as needed. While it runs the risk of creating rehearsed and stale sounding responses, this is generally considered best practices for accessible interviewing that supports neurodiversity. If you’re the person you’re interviewing agrees to it, then another way to be accessible and responsible but avoid the opportunity staleness would be to provide your interviewee with very clearly stated topic areas that you plan to discuss and hold onto your questions until the actual interview. Remember though, this is something you should discuss with the person you’re interviewing and agreed upon by both parties.

Ok, so the next archetype: a panel or round table.

For this one, take everything we just discussed but multiply it by the number of people you want to have on your panel. In addition to everything just said, you also need some serious moderator chops. As a moderator, your job will be to:

  • Introduce your panelists
  • Develop and ask the questions
  • Set the ground rules for the conversation that’s about to unfold
  • Make sure everyone has an opportunity to respond fully
  • Keep your panelists on topic (sometimes that’s incredibly difficult)
  • Know when it’s time to ask the next question
  • And then finally, bring the session full circle to a logical and meaningful close.

There are very few opportunities to practice and hone this skill outside of actually moderating panels! One way you can prepare yourself is to watch or listen to as many panel discussions as you can, focusing on how the moderator handles themselves, the conversation, and the panelists. Take note of what worked, what didn’t work, things you’d like to emulate, things you’d like to avoid, and things you’d like to do but maybe a little differently.

Alright, narrative. What you’re listening to right now is narrative form. It’s frequently just one person talking into a microphone. It’s perfect for simply sharing information and for storytelling. One of my favorite podcasts, RadioLab, uses a narrative style to entertain and inform. Now this program is a little bit different in that it has multiple hosts who play off of each other in a conversational style, and yet both remain deeply attuned to the narrative and the story they are weaving as a means to share information. A narrative podcast can be very simple, like what you’re listening to now, or quite complex, like Radio Lab, that is heavily produced with snippets of interviews woven throughout and extensive sound effects.

Narrative form seems simple but it does take a lot of research and preparation which means, of course, time. So not only do you have to become knowledgeable enough to have something to say about a topic, but you have to come up with the arch of the story – how does it begin, where does it lead, and where does it end. You also need to keep it engaging, keep your audience listening even after they finished the chores they needed to do while listening. Now keeping the audience engaged is a whole conversation and there is another installment in this series on just that topic.

That’s the narrative. The last archetype to discuss is the performance.

And now, performance podcast is pretty well what it sounds like. It could be a reading of a theater work or a musical performance. Often you’ll find some basic introduction of the artists at the top of the podcast and sometimes a performance will be followed by discussion with the artists; but not always, other times it’s a simple signing off that closes the podcast episode.

Now, performance podcasts require a different kind of work. With a performance podcast, you’re much more of a project coordinator and an arts management director working to secure performance rights, booking the artists, etc., etc.

And those, my friends, are the four podcasting types: the interview, the panel or round table discussion, the narrative, and the performance.

Thank you for listening, I’ll catch you next time.

[Outro music]

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