S15E4: Presentation Styles

In this season, The Way of The Podcaster, I’m delving more deeply into my podcasting philosophy. Today’s instalment, Presentation Styles, looks at what’s required to have the greatest impact on listeners from the Less is More viewpoint. 

What are Podcast Presentation Styles?

There are as many ways to present a podcast as there are podcasters. What has worked in the past, seems to be working still but and this is a big but, there’s a sameness to many shows. The same guests appear across many shows, the same questions, the same back stories, the same hubris, the same shallowness. 

Let’s unpack this through the “less is more” lens of the Way of the Podcaster.

Formats can be broken down into four types.

  1. The monolog
  2. The interview
  3. The co-host banter
  4. The Round Table

These are fairly self explanatory. Types 1 and 2 are the most common. The monolog works really well for “history of” shows including the True Crime genre. The interview is dependent upon the quality of the interviewer, the host usually and the point of the guest.

The co-host banter style of presentation can be spectacular but tends towards “in jokes”, ramblings about what happened last week, what the weather’s doing and so on. Now if your show is a weather related one with a climate change angle then this may be appropriate. It’s when the show’s title would suggest, say, Online Course Promotion that the ramble becomes infuriating. It not only wastes your listener’s time, it shows a lack of respect for that time.

The Round Table model is under utilised and has its own issues. Rambling again can be exponentially ramped up with each additional co-host. The key is to have a strong facilitator. One who will keep the conversation on point and a savage editor who cuts the extraneous from the feed. These types of shows often begin as a Youtube live or something similar. Your podcast listener does not need to hear the team of co-hosts greet people from around the globe who happen to tune into the live event and they certainly don’t need to hear about the weather.

The Monolog

Looking back at type 1, the monolog, there are a couple of steps to create a powerful episode with just the correct amount of content and no bloat. The first option is to script the show. Writing for the spoken word is different from writing for the reading public. I’ve a separate episode on that coming soon. The benefits of a fully scripted episode are many. Everything you wish to cover will be. The narrative flow, the story arc, the tensions and resolution of those tensions are all fully crafted into the script. It is a powerful way to podcast. The drawbacks are minimal. Sounding like you’re reading a script being the most obvious. I’m sure many of you listening have sat through presentations where the speaker simply read from a script in dull monotone for up to an hour. Statistical analysis of economic conditions in the late mediaeval period springs to my mind as one such horror show. This is fixable and relatively easily. 

Firstly, make sure your script is tight with only the content you wish to share. This means editing! Editing your words before you record them. Secondly, a little practice will have your personality shining through your words. I imagine I’m reading my scripts to an individual. This helps to personalise the delivery and allow me to be me which is easier when I’ve written the words. 

Podcast Footnote:

I have used our robot overlords to write scripts and they were woeful. I struggled to put any personality into words that were not mine. I edited the robo-script and still had difficulty. On occasion when I’m stuck, I’ll use the robots to write a script and rip out all the words except the section headings which I’ll edit and this does help with the terror of the blank page. As a rule of thumb, AI sucks for personal connection.

End Podcast Footnote.

In the beginning I wasn’t overly fussed with putting “me” into the presentation. I was overly fussed with the technical aspects. Not so much the recording, though that was in the back of the mind but with the publish and see the episode populate across the interwebs side of things. And that was ok, very few people listened to the first few episodes anyway and I’m happy to report, the publish and populate processes have never let me down.

Not everyone is a fully written script type of podcaster. I would suggest for history shows in particular you should be fully scripted with footnotes and references in the show notes but otherwise, there are two more options for the monolog show. Dot points and freeform.

Think of dot points as “fully scripted” lite. You still have the ideas you wish to cover but you’re freer to wander off the general train of thought because you have the dot point way markers to bring you back. You must audio edit this style rigorously or they will sound rambling at times.

If the dot points are subject to a ramble factor, the freeform is almost designed for it. If you have your thoughts organised in your mind and are confident to let rip, this is an acceptable way of doing things. Again, I would be and have been in the past, heavy handed on the editing. Not only for the sake of clarity but also for the benefit of the listeners. Tight is good, a variation on “less is more”. Remember though, too much less is actually less. This comes with practice and/or coaching but it does come into being.

Ahh, the interview.

A mainstay of the indie and corporate podcast, the interview depends as much on the host as the guest. The options are numerous. A set version of questions or a “play it by ear” approach and all points in between. The key to this presentation style is an empathetic host. The good ones are great, the majority are mundane. Too often the host is bringing the flow back to themselves which gets repetitive, show after show or the guest thinks they’re in an unpaid infomercial.

To start right from the beginning, the host, the podcast team, if there is one, all need to know the purpose of the show. And with any show it’s the listeners who matter most. If a guest won’t stick to adding value for the listeners and keeps trying to sell their course, their book, their coaching, then you may have to can the whole episode. To avoid this a “Guide to Appearing on the XYZ Podcast” is valuable. It reinforces for the host just why they’re doing the interview and for the interviewee what’s expected. Clearly there’s an implied quid pro quo involved. The guest will provide value from their lived experience and they will receive some form of publicity for their efforts. As a host you do  not have to nor even should you give the guest an open mic at any stage to rattle off their website, Insta, FB, TikTok or any and all locations they may be lurking on the web. Instead have all that information prior to the interview and present it in the show notes, either on the podcast app or, better yet, as a post on your website. Using words like: “And you can find guest X at the best contact location by following their links in this episode’s show notes.” or something similar.

It is difficult for beginners looking to find guests to be this disciplined but it is critical for the benefit of both your show and your listeners. The final step in all interview shows is to edit heavily. Stick to the point of the show and how your guest feeds into that vision.

The Co-Host Catastrophe

Done well, this format is entertaining, educative and informative. Done poorly, it’s a rambling babble with no point. Structure is the key. Dot points are probably the best way to do this. Fully scripted can sound stilted. The chemistry between the co-hosts is as equally important as the material covered. Some tension is good for dramatic effect but it must arise naturally out of the two viewpoints of the co-hosts. Anything manufactured is obvious to listeners. I’ve heard this format work well in history, comedy, tech and other genres. The key is to have a content plan and designate one co-host to do the reading and prepare the material whilst the other provides pertinent questions. The sort of questions someone too close to the material has a blind spot around. The balance between narrative and interjection will make or break the show and will vary between episodes. The chemistry, as mentioned, is really difficult to overstate.

The Round Table

This is really just a co-hosted show on steroids. Every positive and negative from that format applies to this format times 10. Leadership is key. A strong central coordinating host keeps all members on track. If there are insufficient differences between co-host’s voices, it can become confusing. Again edit like a daemon.

The most important single point I can make about any podcast format is discipline in the recording process, stay on track, and really tight sound editing. Your show should only contain the content that helps the listener in relation to your episode title and your show name overall. Indeed less is more until it becomes less is less. You will learn through doing.

I will be back with episode 5 in this season and that will cover writing for podcasts. An oft neglected artform.