When you think about launching or fine-tuning your podcast, the elements that get most of your attention often contribute to attaining a professional sound. Naturally, your microphone, studio setup, and editing software will be prioritized as vital to achieving this sound. But, perfecting every other element of your podcast won’t matter unless – or until – you’ve perfected your podcast script, because the real unsung hero is the writing. Much like an award-winning title or box office hit doesn’t exist without a captivating movie script, a great podcast doesn’t exist without phenomenal planning and writing.
Types of Podcast Scripts
Podcast scripts aren’t all the same. Instead, there is a popular podcast format that exists for your recording style and objective. If you’re having guests on your podcast, it wouldn’t be feasible to pull out a Quentin Tarantino-style script and have each guest read their lines; instead, a less formal outline could help guide the conversation and ensure guests remain on topic and can prepare.
The same applies to formal content like a sponsored segment, which isn’t the time to ad lib.
This flexibility is highlighted in the two kinds of popular podcast formats: the word-for-word script and the open questions format.
The Word-for-Word Podcast Script
Podcasts covering in-depth topics, especially ones with a solo host, will benefit from a word-for-word script. This kind of script is also necessary when recording formal content — like that sponsorship — because it enables you to get preapproval for the dialogue and rehearse it.
When developing this script, write the dialogue line-by-line to ensure you cover the talking points as intended.
To avoid sounding rehearsed or robotic, write how you talk. Use the phrases, terminology, and inflections you use in daily speech.
But since writing isn’t like talking, after writing the script, read it aloud. Listen to whether it sounds natural or forced, and make corrections when something doesn’t sound the way it should or doesn’t make much sense.
A word-for-word script only works if you read every draft aloud, as you would when recording. The purpose is to have a final draft that sounds natural but still has the value, clarity, and entertainment factor you want to achieve.
As you become more adept at creating the word-for-word script, you’ll recognize that you don’t need as many drafts before you’ve landed on your ideal sound.
The next step is to practice reading your script, creating cues as you do.
Begin by printing the script. A hard copy can be useful when creating cues and delivery notes. Notice that you’re talking too fast? Add a delivery note reminding yourself to pause, breathe, or emphasize a specific word or phrase.
You can add the same pointer if you need to sound more animated, speak in a lower town, or slow down.
The Open Questions/Interview Podcast Script
If you’re interviewing guests on your show or have co-hosts, you’ll benefit from using this format as it enables you to be more conversational and ad lib to an extent.
Instead of having a fully-scripted show, you’ll work from bullet points that include a list of questions or talking points and detail the podcast outline.
Within this category of podcast script, you have several categories which can implement depending on the podcast you’re hosting.
Question and Answer Format
The question and answer format require you to write a list of questions for your guest. To prepare guests, allowing them to give detailed answers thought-provoking answers, hosts will send the list of questions to a guest in advance.
But what makes this format akin to adlibbing is that despite having scripted the questions, you have to remain in tune with the conversation to ask follow-up questions and remove questions that become redundant in the flow of conversation.
The Roundtable Format
Rather than having one guest answer a specific set of questions, the roundtable allows each guest — usually more than 3 — the opportunity to speak and share their opinion on predetermined subjects.
The host will typically moderate the group, directing the flow of conversation and the questions asked, in addition to keeping the group on track with the time allotted to each topic.
Typically, the script will include the title of the topic and the time allotted for it, and guests will adlib.
The Podcast Outline/ Freestyle Script
If you have one or more co-hosts, it can be challenging to script what they would say. Therefore a freestyle format enables you to keep the podcast structured while keeping the conversation moving.
Here, you’ll stick to an outline of the podcast and talking points. You and your hosts will then follow this structure, discussing the topics you’ve prepared.
Common Elements in a Podcast Script
If you’ve never created a podcast script before, you may be unaware that every podcast script typically has the same four or five elements: the podcast intro, episode intro, the main segments, sponsor message, summary, and outro.
These elements dictate the podcast’s structure and are vital to creating a uniform sound that is crucial to developing a loyal audience.
These elements will also be used in every podcast episode and form your podcast script template.
The podcast intro is the most crucial element of your show, as it determines whether potential listeners decide to tune in. Typically new listeners will use your episode titles and description to ascertain if they want to listen. However, the intro seals the deal by ensuring they listen past the first minute.
A cold open — the part of a show that dives into dialogue before the formal introduction — is optional.
However, this format, which gives listeners an “unedited” glimpse into the topics up for discussion and a taste of what’s to come, can be compelling. A cold open also works best in a Q&A, roundtable, or multiple co-host format.
In it, you’ll play the parts of the show that immerse listeners into a topic before you give the formal introduction. If you cover fascinating topics, this first minute of engaging dialogue can be more captivating than the show’s scripted introduction.
To embrace the cold open, you’ll start by finding the most salacious, jaw-dropping, or fascinating aspect of your show, clip it, and play it at the beginning of the show.
Introduce the Show
If you decide to use a cold open, the formal introduction will come second; however, in most cases, it’s the first segment of the podcast.
You don’t have to script the introduction word-for-word, as it’s typically a greeting that welcomes new listeners and welcomes back existing listeners.
This should be kept short but still clear. In the beginning, you may want to test different greetings, but as your podcast grows, the greeting will likely remain unchanged as more listeners grow accustomed to a specific style.
Your introduction should also be no more than two lines. In those first lines, you’ll extend a virtual greeting to your listeners and follow up by mentioning the podcast name.
Something along the lines: “Hi and welcome to The Office, a podcast about all things related to Dunder Mifflin.”
Establish Who Your Show is For
After the greeting, you’ll dive into describing your target audience.
In this dialogue, potential listeners get an understanding of the podcast’s purpose and can decide whether or not that would interest them.
You’ll begin by mentioning what you typically discuss on the podcast. It doesn’t have to — and shouldn’t — be a lengthy line.
Instead, following the greeting, you could give a succinct description of the show, something along the lines of: “I/We talk about [Insert Topic Here].”
You’ll then elaborate on the podcast topic in a way that intrigues possible listeners.
A simple line like “If [Insert Overarching Topic/s] interests you, you’re listening to the right podcast.
You can script this element as it becomes easier to insert into future episodes and builds rapport with listeners. Believe it or not, avid listeners enjoy the predictability of the opening lines.
Introduce the Hosts
Next, you’ll be required to introduce the podcast hosts. This segment doesn’t only ensure listeners who’ who but strengthens why you and your hosts should be the ones tackling the topics.
Essentially, here you get to detail why you and your co-hosts are qualified to host the show, whether that’s listing professional background, hobbies, or other interesting factoids about the group.
Once again, keep this brief. A host should only be afforded one line to their accomplishments, as a lengthy host introduction can become redundant episode after episode.
Moving from an intro you only need to script once; you now need to tackle a dynamic introduction.
Naturally, the episode intro will change each episode as you tackle new topics. Regardless it will still contain the structural components you should include when you script it.
This is also the part of the podcast intro that will have the most significant impact on listenership, as even loyal listeners will be convinced to stay tuned after this introduction, so be sure to make it as compelling as possible.
Unlike a typical podcast introduction, the episode intro should be more than a few lines. You want to give enough detail that casual listeners and preoccupied listeners will engross themselves in the episode.
Introduce Your Guest(s)
Most times, the guest you have on your podcast will be ones your audience is familiar with, but treat each introduction as though there is no audience overlap, mentioning who they are and why they’re joining.
If you have more than one guest, mention the guest’s name before relaying the most compelling characteristics that make them a fascinating feature.
Another aspect of hosting multiple guests is to ensure each guest’s introduction is allotted the same amount of time and praise to avoid an awkward episode.
Like the introduction for hosts, mention the guest name and succinctly describe what makes them qualified to be on the show.
Establish the Episode Topic
If you haven’t convinced a listener to continue engaging with your podcast episode, the final selling point will be the episode topic. Even if you have guests, there are a never-ending array of questions you could ask them, some more relevant and engaging than others.
Relay the most engaging questions you’ll ask, not verbatim, but by highlighting the key points you’ll cover in the episode.
If the podcast is prerecorded, you can record this segment after you’ve conducted the interview or question and answer session to make this episode introduction a teaser, divulging the main point but also creating anticipation for what’s to come.
Because if you know you’ll be delivering bombshell information or a particularly riveting segment, eluding to it in the episode introduction will keep listeners engaged, at least until that point.
Despite the introduction acting as a much-needed opening to get listeners excited for the podcasts, it’s the main segments that separate your podcast from the rest. This is the section that should be most entertaining for listeners and should maintain their attention.
This is also the segment that will explore your main topic or when you’ll ask your guest the interview questions.
If you’re a solo podcaster, you may choose to create a word-for-script for this segment. But if your podcast features multiple hosts or guests, you’ll implement an outline that covers key points.
To ensure every main segment is interesting, follow the tips below.
Research the Topics
Whether you’re adlibbing or reading from a script, discussing a topic on a podcast with no prior research is not only ill-advised, it can be embarrassing.
When you haven’t researched a topic, you won’t know you’re ignorant on the subject, and could say something either wrong, offensive, or — oftentimes — both. If your podcast features thought-provoking or in-depth topics, you don’t want to come across as unlearned or ill-prepared.
The better choice is to spend time researching your topic from reputable sources. Although Wikipedia can be a starting point for research on a topic, always verify anything you’ve read on the site through at least one reputable source.
Depending on how detailed your podcast is, research counterarguments, data and statistics, and articles on the subject. The caveat should always be reputable sources.
If you’re covering several topics within a podcast, especially if it’s current affairs, at least have a passing knowledge of the subject. Then, depending on how much research you’ve conducted, hold a view in line with this understanding.
If you’ve researched the topic extensively, you can portray yourself as an expert among co-hosts or guests. If your research is fleeting, your attitude toward the subject should convey this.
Furthermore, if you aren’t well-versed on a subject, relay this to listeners. Not every listener wants to listen to an expert; instead, there are plenty of listeners who enjoy hearing others’ points of view.
The other aspect of researching a topic is to find a topic worth discussing. Tools like Google Trends and even Google Alerts can offer a wealth of information on what kind of topics you should be tackling.
Research Your Guest
Before you create a list of questions for your guest, do some research. While researching a guest, do it to develop questions that add value to your episode and your listeners.
Guests will also appreciate the non-cookie-cutter questions allowing you to build rapport with them.
When researching, try to find information on:
- Who is your guest? The aspects of their personal or professional life that relate to the overarching message of the podcast.
- What is the general perception of them? What do their detractors and supporters say about their work?
- What are some of the (unanswered) questions their followers may want to know?
Consider researching on their social media or other platforms where they express their views and opinions, as this is fertile ground for developing stimulating conversation.
Then, with this research in hand, create your questions.
For guests that may not be known to your listeners, you should also ask some establishing questions that give a listener background into the guest.
Write the Way You Talk
Any scripted segments that will form part of your podcast should be written as you would speak. They don’t have to be grammatically correct or exclude slang you may use to express yourself.
That’s easier said than done, especially if you’ve spent any time in corporate America or college when writing is more formal.
To combat sounding unnatural, you can talk while you type or use a voice assistant to type for you and then edit the document to tighten the dialogue and home in on the topic.
You may also find it helpful to think of your scripted segments like a speech if you want to sound more professional on your podcast. It’s still you talking, just not in a conversational tone.
Related: Best Comedy Writing Podcasts
Keep it Loose
Another way to guarantee you sound like yourself — especially if you’re a solo podcaster — is to keep your script loose.
Perhaps ditch the word-for-word format for a combination of key points and the script. For example, your bullet points don’t just need to be your talking points but specific subjects you want to address within that topic.
In this type of scripting, you’ll have your core topic, the segments that fall into that core topic, and then scripted talking points. Rather than type out every “and,” “the,” or “but” that makes your writing easy to comprehend, use a self-styled version of shorthand.
Unless you’re joining the podcasting arena with some prior recognition or following, sponsorships are unlikely to be top of mind. Nevertheless, when sponsors become a feature in your podcast, adding them to your script without sounding like a used car salesman can be tricky.
Any sponsor ad should be entertaining while including the talking points they give you. This can be challenging.
Essentially, you can tackle the sponsor message as nothing more than an ad read, reading it like a message directly from the sponsor without necessarily endorsing the product. This works if your podcast follows a similar format.
However, most companies won’t like a generic sponsor ad. Therefore, you’ll have to find some aspect within the product or service you’re promoting that you enjoy and home in on that.
Depending on the agreement, you can add these points to your dialogue to make the ad personalized.
To compel listeners to act on the sponsorships, you can remind them that using a sponsorship helps you create content consistently, and if they enjoy the podcast, this is something they would want to do.
If your podcast is intended to provide value to listeners in the form of actionable insights or in-depth data and information, having a summary allows them to walk away from the podcast with key takeaways.
If you’re hosting guests, you can allocate each guest time to summarize their points before you give the conclusion.
With co-hosts, you can do the same.
However, if you’re a solo host, you can take a few minutes to give listeners a cliff notes version of the episode.
This summary allows you to transition to the podcast’s outro with ease, rather than having to cut guests off mid-sentence.
While you could wrap up your podcast with a simple “bye,” having a greeting at the end of the show allows you to insert valuable real estate that helps with the feel of the show.
The outro allows you to leverage the loyalty of listeners who’ve gotten to that point by providing them with next steps. This is also the ideal time to thank your guests and sponsors.
Call to Action
Start your outro by asking listeners to perform a specific action. This can include visiting your website, signing up for an email list, or following you on social media.
For new podcasts, your most prominent call-to-action should be that listener’s rate and review your podcast. Getting more ratings, especially on apps like Apple Podcasts and Spotify, will help boost your podcast’s rankings.
Thank Team/Third Parties
Use the outro to express your gratitude for those who’ve made the podcast possible.
This is the time to thank your team, cohosts, guests, and sponsors. A short message expressing thanks followed by a missive about how they’re valued and the episode could not be possible without them should go a long way in building rapport.
Thank Your Listeners
Show appreciation to those who’ve listened to the entire episode by scripting a thank you message that relays your gratitude. It should be brief but powerful.
Hint at Future Episodes
If you have a schedule, the final moments of the podcast can also be an excellent time to ensure listeners remain engaged in your content. Now is the time to tease future episode topics and guests, rewarding your audience for listening to the end.
Related: How To Craft A Podcast Strategy
Transition, Segues, and Music
It’s not unheard of to have a voice-only podcast, but using jingles and other sound effects makes the podcast dynamic.
You can use music to start and end the podcast, linking the sound to your podcast. A short 15 seconds sound or track should work in this regard.
For segments like sponsorships, introducing guests, or recurring bits, consider using sound effects because they make the transition smoother.
Most editing software already has a library of sound effects, but for peak customization, you can download other copyright-free sounds or have some created for your podcast.
To record a podcast that isn’t frustrating to edit or challenging for the audience to follow along, your podcast needs to be scripted. But, scripted means different things in different situations.
You could write what you’ll say word-for-word, or you could opt to use bullet points to focus your conversation and thoughts.
Nevertheless, every podcast has the same fundamental elements that you would benefit from understanding.