Do you need to script your podcast?
This is an important question podcasters fail to consider before even recording their first episode. The instinct when folks get started is to just jump right in and let things work out. There are no hard and fast rules about how you set up your podcast.
The reality is, however, that a majority of podcasts are scripted in some form. And, a general consensus shows that planning out your own podcast episodes, especially scripting, is a critical factor for success.
But how you go about scripting isn’t the same across the podcast spectrum. There are many factors that come into play--from who is hosting to the show format--that determine just what level of scripting you’ll need. Understanding these, the types of podcast scripts, and particular tips and tricks will put your show in a position to succeed. If you want to have a successful podcast, consider all the factors involved with scripting.
Factors that affect podcast scripting
There are three major controlling factors when it comes to determining how you'll script your podcast: length, content, format, and hosting. These influence how much scripting may be necessary. It’s important to understand these aspects of your podcast before you even hit the record button for the first time. Otherwise, your scripting and planning will not be as effective.
The length of your podcast episodes is an important thing to be aware of, and fairly straightforward when it comes to scripting factors. Determining how long each episode will be will partly be your own determination, as well as the content you decide to talk about. How much you script out may change if your show is 25 minutes long versus 90. Don’t let length deter you from drafting the necessary script, however. It’s better to take the time to prepare what you need than let that preparation limit you.
One good way to control length is to nail down your intros, outros, and segues. And if you decide to do show recaps in future episodes, come up with a general length you want them to be. Making all of these as tight as possible and reusable between shows will help cut down on your scripting time, as well as time spent in post-production. Same with any sponsor messages you want to include.
Is your podcast a narrative true crime series? Are you exclusively doing interviews? Are your topic and theme complex? How scripted your podcast should be will fluctuate on how you answer these questions.
If your show is informational, then you have some amount of responsibility as its presenter. You want to make sure that information is:
- Accurate and up-to-date
- Thoroughly researched
- Appropriately sourced and cited
In situations like these, it may be best to have a more detailed script. But if your content is more casual--say an interview with a friend or a panel discussion--then you don’t necessarily have to be as detailed. What you’re talking about will dictate how much effort you should put into your podcast scripts.
There are many different podcast formats out there, as alluded to earlier. The format you decide to choose will dictate how much script preparation may be necessary. For example, a narrative-driven podcast requires a firm, guiding hand when it comes to getting the content from start to finish. Having a thoroughly-written podcast script helps with this.
However, storytelling and/or comedy podcasts might not need as much guidance word-for-word. Same with interview-style shows. For interviews, having a list of questions to ask is a good place to start. Locking down your show’s format is a definitive step toward identifying what level of scripting it will need.
We’ve talked all about the elements of the show itself so far, but not about the people who make it. Whether you’re the host or a co-host, your needs matter when it comes to scripting. After all, you are the final say in how your show gets made.
First, consider who you’re hosting with. If it’s by yourself, then the level of scripting is ultimately at your discretion. But if you have a co-host or are working with a panel of folks, then you need to readjust your approach. Heavily scripted shows might not work in a co-host dynamic. You want to leave room for conversation while not going off-track. At the same time, you want to make sure you’re differentiating talking points and making sure everyone gets an equal chance to talk on the show. Again, while there are no set rules, how you manage a co-hosting environment is going to impact how you script.
There’s also your own comfort level to consider. Some people have a natural ability to talk on a topic and let the information and conversation flow freely. That is not the case for all of us, though. So, depending on your comfort and experience with speech delivery, you may want a more detailed podcast script, at least to begin with. As you gain more confidence and experience, the level of scripting necessary is likely to change.
Types of podcast scripts
Once you’ve worked out all the factors that will influence your episode scripting, it’s time to think about the format your script will take. It’s important to note that while there are a few types of scripts you should consider, they’re not set in stone. Podcast scripting is ultimately more of a spectrum. It will not only depend on the needs of you and your show, but also change over time.
Keeping that in mind, there are three general approaches to scripting your podcast. Choose the one that will work best for you. Once you've gone through the process of writing a few times, you can eventually develop a podcast script template that you can reuse over and over again--saving time and effort.
A word-for-word script is exactly what the name implies. Almost documented like an essay or film script, this type of podcast script is intended to be read verbatim. Essentially, you want to write out the entire show. It’s most effective for narrative or monologue podcasts. Also, it’s great for those who are new to podcasting and/or less confident in their speaking abilities.
Consider adopting a word-by-word format if you are covering a complicated subject. This full script helps you make sure everything you want to cover is included and your information flows coherently. It also helps prevent you from wandering too far off topic. Overall, a word-for-word script is ideal for detail-heavy and narrative-focused podcasts.
Less detailed than a word-by-word script, an episode plan is sort of a middle-ground approach you can take. It has a similar level of organization, but provides more room for ad-libbing. A lot of content in an episode plan may still be scripted. However, rather than blocks of text, you might use more of an outline.
This type of podcast script is very flexible and can be used over many different formats. It helps your show from sounding too scripted as well. Use it to detail the main points you want to make, how long you want to speak on each outlined topic, and the best way to pace each episode.
Just a step above full ad-libbing, a bullet point outline is the most flexible script format there is. However, it’s also the least detailed. This type of script features a rough outline of the points, segments, and themes you want to hit. For highly conversational podcasts, a bullet point outline might be the best fit.
The one drawback to this script format is that it can be a little too free-flowing--especially for new podcasters. If this is the style you can manage best, then go for it. But be aware that the lack of structure might cost you more time in editing and episode management if you’re prone to wandering between topics.
Podcast scripting tips
Whatever format of podcast script you decide to go with, there are a few universal tips that will help you maximize the time and effort you put into it.
Practice and rewrite
As NPR puts it, you want your podcast to sound “natural, alert, and energetic.” Even for the most experienced podcasters, this means practice. Read the scripts you’ve put together out loud. This will help you catch any filler language you’re using, identify lines you’re struggling with, and cut down your language to make it more digestible. It’s worth putting in the effort before you start recording--finding your rhythm and pacing will help improve the quality of each episode. A complete script may not end up being perfect, but it should at least have gone through a few iterations.
Keep it conversational
You want to make sure your scripted content isn’t too dense. Otherwise, it might not be accessible to the average listener. Because our speech is much more casual than our writing, you want to sound as if you were talking to a friend. The more natural-sounding you come across, the better. So if you can ad-lib, go for it; if not, work on building your ad-libbing skills.
Also, it is still possible to be descriptive in a conversational tone--just try to be as concise as possible. You don't want to ramble, but you don't want to under-explain either. Striking the right balance is vital.
Don’t let the script restrict you
It’s tempting to let your podcast script become a crutch. As such, there is a potential for it to make your show sound stilted. It can also restrain your content, which might be an issue for your listeners. Allowing some room for flexibility and ad-libbing might seem impossible early on, but as your podcast grows and matures, you’ll be able to find the necessary room to include it.
At the end of the day, no one is going to require you to have a podcast script. Whether you have one or not is your prerogative. However, there are real added benefits to planning out each episode with even just an outline. Keep in mind, too, that parts of your show may be more scripted than others.
Script writing is, by no means, easy. So work on tweaking and adjusting your script until you find the right balance that works for you. The effort you put in ahead of time will pay off dividends in the future.