Should you script, ad-lib, or outline your podcast episodes? – TAP146

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Whether you’re launching your first podcast, or thinking of reformatting the one you have, you should think a lot about how you will present your content.

I see three different formats for presenting content.

  1. Script—you write and read the script verbatim into your podcast.
  2. Ad-lib—you speak freely without restriction or direction.
  3. Outline—you have a basic list of content you want to share

This topic was inspired by Alan’s question.

Hi Daniel, I love your podcast . I am new to listening to podcasts and I am intending to start my own soon.

I have a question about episode 144 which I have just listened to today. It’s the one about finding the time to podcast.

How much scripting do you do, if any, for pre-show prep? It sounds to me that you do none as its so natural sounding.

I love the way you describe how to break it down into parts. ( the P’s) This makes it all seem so do-able to me.

many thanks and you get my vote for the annual podcast awards.

Alan ….. in London U.K.

Script

When you’re concerned about perfection, the highest accuracy, or you’re not yet comfortable speaking into a microphone, you may be considering, “Should I script my podcast?” This may be the right way to go for some podcasters.

Scripted audio and video is all around us.

  • Movies and non-reality TV shows are scripted and performed by (usually) skilled actors.
  • News broadcasts on radio and TV are scripted and either read from a teleprompter or script.
  • Political speakers usually read from a teleprompter, too.
  • Commercials are almost always scripted.
  • Some popular podcasts—like Grammar Girl and others from Quick and Dirty Tips—are scripted.
  • Even late-night comedy shows are partially scripted.

Scripting ensures that you’ll get the message exactly right, often to precise timing, which is crucial in all of these media. But this precision and accuracy comes at the cost of time and presentation quality.

The downside to scripts is that they must be read. It takes professional coaching or years of practice to get good at reading a script naturally.

Scripted podcast content doesn’t work in long form. I think around ten minutes is the longest you should let a scripted podcast be.

Because most of us aren’t professional voiceover artists, reading a script will often produce loads of editing as you struggling to perform perfectly.

When I first started the Ramen Noodle – clean-comedy podcast, I scripted my episodes and performed them verbatim. This took many hours to produce a single episode, and it’s why I only had nine episodes in two years.

Ad-lib

On the total opposite to scripting would be ad-libbing. This is when you speak freely and have no restrictions or directions for your content.

This can be very comfortable for some people to present, but others will be very uncomfortable with publishing something unpolished.

Ad-libbing allows your personality to fully show through (as long as you’re presenting something you truly care about).

Conversations are a form of ad-libbing as each participant speaks as the thoughts come to them.

Free-flowing thought can be hard for a listener or viewer to follow, and they may often be annoyed by the rabbit trails and excessive emptiness a podcaster speaks to make a simple point.

I know I can struggle with a little too much ad-libbing. This means I’m wasting your time to tell you something in five minutes that could take me one.

Outline (my recommendation)

A hybrid between a rigid script and ad lib would be an outline. This is when you have your points you want to cover, and the extra information handy, and then you present from those points.

This doesn’t mean every episode is “10 ways to …” or “How to … in 5 steps.” You may have some of that (and it makes for great episode/post titles!), but you don’t need to share your outline. You can present great content from a 5-, 10-, or 50-point outline without your audience ever knowing your list, but still receiving the information.

This is my top recommendation because it gives your content flow, while still allowing freedom to ad-lib as you elaborate your points.

Even multihost podcasts can follow outlines. In our Once Upon a Time or Once Upon a Time in Wonderland podcasts, we have taken notes on what we want to discuss, and we work our way through those notes.

Using an outline in conversations keeps the discussion moving and ensures you present a structured message to your audience.

A hybrid for your show notes

If you want the most effective podcast show notes, then I recommend combining all of the above.

  1. Outline your content with headings, subheadings, and lists.
  2. Script or transcribe the things that must be accurate (quotations, technical descriptions, etc.).
  3. Ad-lib by writing some concise sentences that summarize what you spoke, without being a transcript or commentary.

These hybrid show notes become very useful:

  • to you, as you present the content and have an outline and certain wordings you must get right;
  • to your audience, as they have the option of consuming (or reviewing) your content without rewatching or relistening to your podcast episode;
  • and to search engines, as this more thorough content can be laced with search-engine-optimized (SEO) keywords, human text, and quality content.

What about you?

How do you prepare your content presentation? Do you script, ad-lib, or outline? What has been your experience?

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  • surlesroutesdelasie

    Thanks for this very useful episode Daniel! I’m happy to realize that I follow your suggested “outline method” in my podcast :)

  • http://jwfinancialcoaching.wordpress.com/ Jon White

    My podcast really took off in quality when I started to outline them before I recorded it. Making an outline allows me to get my thoughts organized and allows me to focus on what I truly want to share on my show and not wonder off on tangents.

    There is a trade off though. I do spend more time upfront making the outline but to me it is worth it to have a better quality show.

    • http://DanielJLewis.net/about Daniel J. Lewis

      I concur on more time upfront. But this is easier to spread out and I think it can make publishing the episode even faster.

      I write my TAP shownotes before I record. So when I finish, all I have to do is touch up a few things and publish the episode. This episode published 30 minutes after recording, with these shownotes.

  • http://virtual-pizza.com/ Virtual Pizza

    I think that moving away from scripted to outline comes with time, unless you find it naturally easy.
    I script a lot of my content, but want to move to working from an outline, as scripted does sound like you’re reading it out. I’m also looking at some public speaking lessons to help me loosen up behind the microphone. I’m still very self conscious.

  • Alex Mayer

    I dont run a podcast but I have submitted audio to podcasts. Whenever I am going to record something I make a short outline of what I will be covering and generally stick to that. I sometimes “rabbit trail” away from the outline but with an outline it is easy to get back on track.

    • http://DanielJLewis.net/about Daniel J. Lewis

      That’s a great approach! I sometimes have to edit recorded feedback because the sender didn’t fully know what they wanted to say or how they wanted to say it.

      • Alex Mayer

        I usually edit my own audio (not saying its perfect). but ive already had a time or two where I will re-record a sentence or two and cut it in over a portion where I stumbled or REALLY went down a rabbit trail.

  • Ron Eastwood

    In radio, withe the proliferation of pre-recorded voicetracking, it is not uncommon to write out what you want to say ahead of time. Whether you stick to the script or not, at least you have set up a roadmap of where you are headed. I think if you at least outline ahead of time, you will allow your subconscious mind some time to pull up some things to add when you record. How often do you publish the podcast and then think “I wish I had thought of that earlier!”.

    • http://DanielJLewis.net/about Daniel J. Lewis

      Great thoughts!

  • http://SpinalColumnRadio.com Dr. Thomas Lamar

    I have a number of podcasts and have experimented with ALL three options. I find that a hybrid of the scripting and outline works best for me. The trick (like you point out Daniel) is being able to read the script without sounding like you are “reading” it. Really… what you need to do is “act” it. I have a number of years of drama in my background and have found it to be an incredible asset for getting behind the mic. For me, completely ad-libed podcast formats tend to ramble way too much (not my strong-suit)… but they DO sound more natural. So sometimes the trick is to “script in” some rambling. :-) Complete scripting is not advisable when interviewing someone though… I think it is really important to have the flexibility to move with the flow of the interview for a number of reasons…. on the other hand, it is also important to have a roadmap of where you want to ultimately direct it. I have found though, that having portions of an interview and/or podcast scripted…. are a good fall back if the host (me) lets their nerves get the best of them in a live (streaming or on-stage) recording… or if I they are interviewing someone “famous.” Ultimately, completely scripted podcasts take a boat-load more time to prep for… but if done right, can end up delivering excellent, well produced content.

    • http://DanielJLewis.net/about Daniel J. Lewis

      Thanks for sharing! I also see my music background as helpful to my approach for podcasting.

  • Tomboy Tarts

    Thanks Daniel for this. There was a friend asking us how we went about this for our sitcom comedy chat podcast Tomboy Tirade and we actually have a Google Excel document (which we can share amongst ourselves and with guests) that serves as a rundown. Because we all work in TV and production and have worked on entertainment shows before, we took this practise and brought it over to our podcast making our podcast like a mini TV-show, except it’s audio. So we have the segments, jingles (that serves as breaks) and upsound between banter. All this is indicated in the rundown. The scripted bits are the intro and outro with the scripted lines and the closer/call-to-action. Sandwiched between those are scripted ‘throws’ or links to segment topics an then the talking points which are ad-libbed, to maintain a sense of spontaneity to the show. Web links related to the stories being discussed that episode is researched and put in columns next to the topics and believe it or not, we actually time our recordings to 15- 20 min max for one topic because we edit our show a lot for our sitcom bits with sound effects and what not, so having too much recording clips to plow through is a pain. So in short, it’s a mix of scripted, talking points and ad-lib all in one episodic rundown.

    • http://DanielJLewis.net/about Daniel J. Lewis

      Thank you for sharing! It sounds like you have a well-balanced meal there!