Podcast Format Possibilities: Scripted Monologue
You don’t just want to make another branded interview podcast (and believe us — we don’t want you to, either). But if your podcast doesn’t follow the interview format, what are your other options? In this series, we’ll examine other types of engaging, entertaining podcast formats, so you can choose the right one for your show.
Hello hello! We’ve made it past the longest month in the history of ever and are in the midst of April; congratulations to all of us. As we continue to brave the bizarre wilderness that is life on pause in the middle of a pandemic, we’re carrying on with our latest series, Podcast Format Possibilities. Today, we’re taking a look at a classic choice: The Scripted Monologue.
What is a Scripted Monologue Show, and Why Might it be Right for You?
There are many beautiful things about the scripted monologue format. In it, a singular host delivers the entire show by themselves, reciting the monologue from a pre-written script. A script allows the host to make sure they can address every point they want to make, and it keeps them from going too far down tangents or clamming up mid-sentence. A monologue show means the host can re-start and re-record episodes as often as they like (they’re working alone, after all), but a script is a great way to eliminate too many takes if you’re the type of person who can lose your train of thought easily.
Personally, I need a script when recording shows, and I have tons of admiration for those who do not. (My band has a running joke that I’m not allowed to ad lib on the mic during live shows, because I tend to freeze and totally lose my thought, sometimes even mid-sentence. Not ideal!) But even if you are a bit more sure-tongued (that’s a thing now) than I am, a script can serve as a helpful anchor that ensures you say exactly what you want to and don’t leave anything out.
When might this format be right for your show? Perhaps your podcast centers on a topic in which you are the expert. Maybe you’re an SME or founder of your company — the person with the knowledge your audience wants about your brand, offerings, or industry. If you’re the kind of person who likes to be in control, a scripted monologue allows you to tell the stories your audience will want to hear on your timeline, without needing to schedule recordings with anyone else. Particularly now, as folks are quarantined and social distancing, monologue shows offer a whole lot of freedom to create wherever and whenever you want, while ensuring you share the complete message you intend to share.
Where Have I Heard This Show Format Before?
The Way I Heard It with Mike Rowe is a great example of an engaging scripted monologue show. In it, host Mike Rowe tells true stories from his point of view. He works to get the facts as accurate as possible, but the concept is wonderfully honest — he tells the story as he understands it, the way he heard it. Episodes are short, roughly between 7 and 20 minutes, which is nice and self aware (rarely do audiences want to listen to just one person talk for hours, no matter how engaging the subject. Unless you’re Jim Dale narrating the Harry Potter books, but that’s a whole different thing). Mike has a rich, resonant voice that comes from years as an opera singer and TV host. Yes, it’s helpful that he’s a trained speaker and storyteller, but this is a format that can work even for those who are less practiced. Scripts allow you to work on your inflection and vocalization to make sure you sound natural and polished while delivering your points. The professional, eloquent, and concise finished product that Rowe reaches would be hard to achieve with an unscripted monologue. While unscripted monologues absolutely work if you have more airtime to work with and are a natural improviser, it can be a lot harder to set a strong tone and efficiently make your points without a script in front of you.
A much different example of a scripted monologue podcast is Drew Ackerman’s Sleep With Me. The podcast is designed to help insomniacs fall asleep, and in each episode Ackerman tells a slow, drawn-out bedtime story designed to quiet the listener’s mind and help them drift into slumber. The rhythm of Ackerman’s voice is part of what helps lull listeners to sleep; a script is important to help him stay on track without jolting anyone uncomfortably awake. In this instance, the carefully crafted rhythm of the words are more important than an “off the cuff” feeling that an unscripted monologue would present.
Challenges to Anticipate
With a scripted show, the host risks sounding too rote or “memorized” (even if it’s clear that they’re reading off a page). Unless you’re Drew Ackerman, you probably don’t want your audience to fall asleep when they’re listening to your show. It’s imperative when writing for audio that you sound like a human being, not a robot.
That can be easier said than done. Something that’s written well for the page can sound terrible when read aloud. A trap scripted hosts can easily fall into is using too much flowery, expressive language. This is especially easy to do if you come from a writing background — you’re used to piling on the adjectives and having paragraphs of scene-setting time, but you’ll lose your audience in shows if you don’t keep the plot moving.
While writing, “My heart beat violently as I rushed away from the angered crowd,” would work well in an article or short story, try saying it out loud. Seriously do it, right now.
You sound a little wacky, right? Or at least like a character from a melodrama. A key when scripting a show is to sound like you really do when you’re speaking; to sound like someone your listeners are chatting with over a cup of coffee or a beer. Try saying: “My heart was pounding. I ran out of there so fast!” instead. Sounds much more natural, right? You might have the most extensive vocabulary in the world, but a general rule when show scripting is to leave the verbosity behind and speak like you would in person to a friend.
As when speaking to a friend, you have to be cognizant of how much time you’ve taken speaking uninterrupted. Again, Ackerman’s show drones on for a reason, but you should probably lean closer to Mike Rowe’s type of brevity when scripting your show. We humans have fairly short attention spans, and they’re even shorter when we’re not being served new stimuli. When we interact with just one voice telling us one story during a show, we’ll want it to clip along and end before we want to click onto the next show or song or Instagram story. A script allows you to share your message while keeping things concise.
If you’re a strong storyteller who knows that you are the person to tell us about your show’s topic and improvisational ad lib isn’t your strongest skill, a scripted monologue format sounds like your best option. Just make sure you sound like your true human self and that you keep it short and sweet, unless you want us to fall asleep. (And pro tip: the show to make us fall asleep already exists, so you probably don’t. 😉 Focus on what’s unique to you and your brand!)