Podcast Topic Ideas: An Expert Guide to Choosing

Gone are the days where a few friends could get a microphone and skyrocket to the top of the charts because they’re funny. In 2017, businesses spent over $200 million in podcast ads. It’s an industry now. And success in podcasting comes from intentionality and planning from the very beginning.

The first step to podcasting glory is not reading microphone reviews or creating branded accounts on social media. Every show must start with a solid idea.

Ideas can be really easy. You’ve probably heard someone tell you their amazing podcast idea before. You’ve probably been that person. But it isn’t as simple as going with the first thought that captures your attention. Here are 7 tips that will help you refine your creative ideas into podcast gold.

Know Your Goals

Why do you want to start podcasting? People come into the industry with varying goals and figuring out what yours is will help guide your decisions and make sure that they are cohesive and moving you in the right direction. Here are a few of the most common reasons I hear people come into podcasting:

  • To have fun with or keep in touch with a friend
  • To share information about something they’re passionate about
  • To tell their story and let people know they aren’t alone
  • To talk about something no one else was talking about
  • To build a business or brand
  • To create a unique story or perfect a new art form

You might be looking to do one of these, a mixture of a few of them, or something entirely different, but answering the question “what do I want to get out of this?” can act as the first filter for all other ideas. If you’re just looking to have fun, choosing a topic solely because it may help with download numbers makes no sense. So answer this question before you move any farther.

Follow Your Passion

This might seem obvious, but once you know your goal try and mesh it up with something you love diving into. Creating a podcast can be a years-long commitment and if you aren’t excited about your topic there’s a really good chance you’ll burn out before you’ve accomplished what you set out to do. Even if you’re in podcasting as a business move, if the process isn’t at all intriguing and enjoyable you and your audience will quickly lose interest. 

When I ask podcasters why they chose their specific topic, they often mention that it was the thing they were always talking about. It was Dan Carlin’s refusal to stop retelling world history at the dinner table that led to Hardcore History and Jennifer Briney got tired of venting to only her husband about politics and started Congressional Dish. So what is it you can’t stop talking about? Not sure? Here are some of the top genres people come to podcasts to hear about to get some ideas rolling:

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Don’t worry if the genre you are thinking of entering isn’t up there, because genres with less than 19% interest can still boast 27.3 million podcast listeners that would consider downloading. So more than likely, whatever it is you’re talking your friend’s ear off about has a much wider — and more interested — audience waiting for you. 

Do Your Research

If you’re like me, you can BS your way through most of your conversations if you need to (or need to win an argument). And while that can carry you through school, your job, and most of your family dinners, it won’t get you too far on a podcast. That isn’t to say there are no podcasts with false information or uninformed positions. It is to say that if you want your show to grow, solid content is key because people are happy to let you and potential listeners know when something is wrong.

So as you study up, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Read Up: being able to point to books, articles, and numbers in your show notes that back what you’re saying increases listener loyalty and trust
  • Read Up: this is where I tell you to listen to podcasts to get information and see what they’re up to, which would usually imply “Listen Up.” But maybe more important than listening is checking out what listeners are saying in ratings and reviews (and Podchaser is happy to help you find lots of those).
  • Read Up: I know that there are way too many podcasts in every genre for you to listen to in order to make sure you have an original idea, but you can Google the idea you have and see if any podcasts come up. Take some time and read the descriptions of shows, check out some websites and make sure that you’re making something unique

I know this all sounds like a lot of work, but all of it helps narrow your focus and push you toward the best possible idea.

Find a Stand-Out Shtick

To quote the highly relevant 1959 broadway musical Gypsy, “You gotta have a gimmick if you wanna have a chance.” Trust me, there is very little chance that you have an idea for a podcast that no one has ever tried. Nothing against your brilliance, the numbers just aren’t in your favor. But when I talk to podcasters who have done well and found their audience, they don’t tell me they had an entirely original idea. Instead, most of them either covered a very specific topic within a broad genre or covered an existing topic in a new way. 

When I ask why they started their podcast, so many creators respond: “no one had made the show I wanted to hear.” So what’s the show you want to hear? A documentary on comedians that isn’t very funny? A cooking show entirely dependent on sound with no instructions? Economic explanations over red wine? Politics as explained by kindergarteners? Hair products tested and approved by dads?

Sure, maybe there are a ton of podcasts that are already talking about what you love but are they saying it the way you would? Do they have your format, your charm, your witty back-and-forth, your original score, your hilarious best friend? If not, you have something unique to offer listeners, as long as you stick to what makes you stand out.

Don’t Try To Be Someone Else

While back in the day a lot of people started a podcast without being a huge fan of the medium, you’ve probably listened to quite a few shows. And you probably love at least a few of those shows (aka the ones in your Top Eight). And some of those you love may even be in the same genre you want to enter. And that is a beautiful thing. BUT.

No matter how good those shows are, the industry doesn’t need a second one. You will probably spend a lot of time hearing great ideas on podcasts, from ways to format a show to topics to guests. Some of those you may be able to learn from but never sacrifice originality in an attempt to get better. The top podcasts today are at the top because they do something unique and they do it well.

Here are a few questions to keep you on track as you consider adding new elements you’ve found in your research:

  • Does this get me closer to reaching my goal for having a podcast?
  • Will this require me to entirely restructure my show format and is it worth that? (especially if listeners love the format)
  • Will this match my topic as well as it matches the original podcast’s topic?
  • Is there a way to mold this to my shtick?

If the idea can hold up under these, then go for it! And even if it doesn’t and you still want to try it, awesome, give it a try. Just never give up what it is that sets your show apart.

Ask For Help

I cannot explain how important this is. Podcasting is a community and the vast majority of creators are more than happy to talk with you. From equipment ideas to formatting to managing community to getting advertising, there are people who have been successfully making podcasts for years and they have learned a lot. And as wonderful as my articles — and the rest of Google — are, we can’t teach you everything.

So email those favorite shows of yours, join some Facebook groups, take a class, or think about talking with a network about starting up. I know it sounds ridiculous that people would just want to help you, but as I have interviewed more and more podcasters I have found that creators are happy to encourage and educate those coming up behind them. It may take you some time to build helpful connections, but they will prove to be absolutely priceless in the long run.

Okay, quick recap:

  • Know Your Goals
  • Follow Your Passion
  • Do Your Research
  • Find Your Stand-out Shtick
  • Don’t Try To Be Someone Else
  • Ask For Help

Trust me, I know it’s a bit of work but starting with this kind of foundation will keep you headed in the right direction as you craft the next big hit.

This post is part of Podchaser’s series ‘How to Podcast,’ where we aim to create the definitive podcasting guide. If you have expertise to lend or questions you’d like answered, email Morgan at morgan@podchaser.com