Podcast Format Possibilities: The Unscripted 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.
Welcome to Podcast Format Possibilities, the latest series from Marketing Showrunners. We often encourage showrunners to look beyond the “expert interview” show format — you know, the one where a podcast host interviews a rotating series of guests with perfectly timed, strategic questions, a la Terry Gross in “Fresh Air.” Don’t get us wrong — this is a perfectly legitimate way to run a show, and it’s worked well for plenty of hosts. But as more and more shows emerge, they simply can’t all have the exact same format. If they did, audiences would get bored to tears, and we’d lose the delightful element of surprise that comes from stumbling across a show with a novel format.
Not only that, but not all shows should have the same format. Different structures work better for different topics and hosts, and part of your job as a showrunner is to decide which format best serves you and your show.
If you’ve only heard expert interview-style shows in the past, you might naturally be wondering: What other options are there? What do they look (sound) like? How will you know which is best for your show?
You’ve come to the right place. In this first segment of Podcast Format Possibilities, we’re going to walk you through the Unscripted Monologue style of podcasting. We’ll take a look at some examples of successful unscripted monologue shows, the pros and cons of this style, and why you might decide (or not…) to use it for your show. So, without further ado:
What is an Unscripted Monologue (And Why Would I Use It?)
An unscripted monologue is, well, pretty much what it sounds like: A show in which the host speaks alone (think: theatrical monologue rather than a dialogue) and does not script out what they are going to say ahead of time. Note that this does not mean that the host is unprepared or is “winging it;” likely, they have a list of bullet points or another plan dictating what they’re going to say, but they don’t explicitly read or follow a script to tell their story.
One major positive outcome of this format is that your show is bound to sound authentically off-the-cuff and spontaneous — because it is! As helpful as scripts and planned interview questions can be, they also run the risk of sounding too forced and dry. When people listen to a podcast, they often want to get a sense of who the host really is and think of them as a real human, not just a bot that can read a script with the right inflection. So, if you’re someone who struggles with delivering scripted language in a way that sounds honest and true to you, you might want to seriously consider an unscripted show. Or, if one of your brand’s goals is to establish a more personal relationship with your audience, then this type of authentic storytelling could be the right medium to achieve that goal.
Another plus of an unscripted monologue, specifically, is that you don’t have to rely on pinning down a guest and perfecting your interview technique — a skill that can take years and plenty of practice to perfect. With a monologue, you can record and re-record until you land on a take you like and are proud of, and you can likely record from the comfort of your home (ahem, for anyone self-quarantined at the moment) without adjusting for anyone else’s schedule. That means you can have more control over the end product, and you can also likely produce a higher volume of episodes in a shorter period of time.
What Does an Unscripted Monologue Show Look (er…Sound) Like?
An excellent example of an unscripted monologue-style podcast is Akimbo by Seth Godin. When beginning the “Status roles” episode with a funny, relatable anecdote about how he kept running for all manner of student elections but losing, Godin says, “I got to college and I ran for dorm rep, unopposed. And I lost! I don’t think the question is why I kept losing — I kept losing because people weren’t voting for me; they didn’t see me how I saw myself. The interesting question is: Why did I keep running?”
Now, I’ll be honest — when I first listened to the podcast, I thought, no way is this thing unscripted. In that opening anecdote example alone, I was reminded of a great hook that a comedy show might have in a good cold open. In short: it sounded incredibly planned. It sounded scripted.
Godin comes across as expertly polished and prepared, and the show has a clear throughline and structure. But he swears he doesn’t read off a script, and we have to remember that Godin is a professional speaker, so putting interesting, coherent sentences together is his day job.
And this brings up an important common misconception about unscripted podcasts — just because it’s unscripted doesn’t mean it’s messy or unstructured. Plenty of planning and outlining should go into an unscripted podcast, and rarely is any podcast ready to release after just one take. The structure of an unscripted podcast gives you the freedom to be a bit more spontaneous and perhaps genuine within it, but unscripted doesn’t automatically mean there’s no form to work within. The nature of this format also means that it’s not for everyone. Godin is a professional speaker, so he has thousands of hours of practice in speaking clearly and cogently without a script. Not every speaker will sound like Godin — and newbies might decide they actually need a script to gain comfort with the podcasting medium.
The Creative Introvert with Cat Rose is another great example of a show that sometimes follows the unscripted monologue format, while also occasionally having guest interviews. Cat allows for a bit more “um”s and “well”s in her speech than Godin, but in a way that comes across as relatable and honest, rather than sloppy or unrehearsed. She still carries a strong throughline throughout her show, and the concept of her show (discussing ways introverts can explore creativity) works especially well in these solo moments. Hers is also a great example of shows that can cross formats — perhaps sometimes a monologue will be the strongest format for an episode, but in others you might need to call in a guest or two. Variety like this can keep your show feeling fresh — and keep your guests tuning in.
The unscripted monologue is a great show structure if you’re a strong storyteller who excels at gathering all of the information your episode needs and shaping it into a cohesive, entertaining segment. If your show is built on getting new perspectives or information from other folks, though, or if you’re able to create your best tape by working off another person, an unscripted monologue is probably not the best route for you.
Challenges of Unscripted Monologues
One clear challenge of an unscripted monologue is, well, the lack of script. Not every showrunner works well without an exact plan of what to say — ideas can get lost or confused without a script anchoring the narrator (hence: the importance of a strong outline and plenty of reps). If you’re someone who tends to stumble over words or isn’t an especially strong improviser, you may feel more comfortable with a script in place.
Monologues also present the potential issue of monotony. Let’s face it — it can become incredibly boring to listen to just one voice for 35 minutes or so. Monologue show hosts need to have an excellent sense of timing and inflection in their speech patterns and keep things concise and to the point so that they don’t entirely lose their audience. Nothing kills a show faster than a bored audience, and no one wants to listen to a one-note voice droning on and on without a clear sense of purpose, and at the very least, an interesting vocal tone. An audience needs to feel like the show is moving along like a well-paced train, with plenty of interesting things to take in along the way. Even without a script, show hosts need to tell a compelling story that gets listeners from point A to point B in a nutritious and delicious way.
An unscripted monologue is tricky to pull off, but with the right combination of preparation, an engaging host, and strong storytelling chops, it can be a wonderful way to create content entirely on your terms that fully leverages your expertise. No need to worry about rescheduling interviews with finicky guests — it’s just you sharing segments of the material you’re best equipped to talk about.
Stay tuned for more Podcast Format Possibilities as we examine other options for structuring your show, and be sure to reach out with questions about any of these formats or just to let us know which one you prefer!