Choosing Podcast Topics to Build and Engage An Audience

Written by
Brandon Copple
min read

If you’re looking to start a podcast — and, according to the data and the search that brought you here, you are — step one is figuring out what, precisely, you’re going to talk about. No matter what genre you plan to cover — whether it’s true crime, sci-fi novels, cooking at home, or true stories about sci-fi novelists murdering home cooks — choosing the topic for your podcast might be the most important creative decision you make. 

It’s also harder than it sounds. With more than 2 million podcasts already out there and more appearing every day, you can’t just say “I’m going to make a cooking podcast” and expect to get anywhere. You have to be far more specific, find a niche that either nobody’s talking about or where you have something new and fresh to offer. 

And once you choose a topic, your work is only just beginning. Choosing a topic leads to a cascade of decisions: What’s your angle on the topic? And what exactly will you talk about in each episode? How will you sustain a voice and tone from week to week, while keeping your listeners engaged? The answers are fundamental to starting a podcast.

“To come up with a topic, I think it's most helpful to think about the ‘why’ you're even starting a podcast in the first place,” says Sam Cheblowski, Head of Growth at Castos. 

Read on to learn how to do just that. And if you read our advice and still don’t have an idea, we’ve got a few suggestions for you. 

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How to choose a topic for your podcast 

When choosing a topic for your podcast, you’ll work through a series of thought exercises to take your idea from broad to specific — and at the end you should have a compelling concept that will draw listeners, leave them thinking about your podcast for the rest of their day (or life!), and set them on edge awaiting your next episode. 

1. What are your interests and goals? These might be the easiest questions to answer: Why are you starting a podcast? What do you want to share with the world? What kind of impact do you want to have? 

Indeed, says Chlebowski, a podcast should be rooted in your passion. The ‘why’ is different for everyone, but he suggests considering things like:

  • The topic you simply can't get enough of
  • A marketing opportunity for your business or brand
  • A community you want to connect and share information or knowledge with 
  • Starting a dialogue around challenging subjects

2. Who is your audience and what do they want? Once you’ve self-reflected, it’s time to think about who you’re making your podcast for. (Hint: not yourself) Think about your audience in several ways: Who are they demographically? What will motivate them to listen to your podcast — i.e., what will they get out of it? 

3. What’s your differentiator? Next, you’ll want to make sure your podcast is bringing something new to the conversation. What unique spin do you have to offer? It’s okay if the topic has been covered before — most have — but finding your own voice and your own point of view is key. You can stress-test your podcast topic for uniqueness by listening to the other podcasts in the same category. Make sure your voice feels genuinely original, and that no one has taken the same angle as you.

4. How will you monetize? Starting a podcast does cost money — you’ll have to invest in some basic equipment and a hosting service — so it’s beneficial to think proactively about how you’ll earn money from your podcast. Options include advertising, subscription fees, and donations. Ask yourself: What kinds of advertisers might want to reach your audience? Or would your audience be willing to pay for your podcast? Be realistic; you’re probably not going to get rich off of your podcast (just kidding — you definitely won’t), but you might make enough to offset the costs. 

Here’s how to follow the steps outlined above to execute on an idea that works for you and for your audience. Let’s say you want to start a podcast about parenting. 

  • Your interests and goals: You want to share what it’s like to be a parent to young kids during a pandemic. Before the pandemic (and the kids), you used to dabble in standup comedy, so your emotional goal is to give other moms or dads a little morale boost by helping them find the humor in their exhaustion, tedium, and misery.
  • Your target audience: Parents of one or more kids under 10 who are worried about COVID. They want to feel less alone (and more supported) as they try to make it all work while shielding their kids from the danger and the stress. And they could use a laugh.
  • Your differentiator: You’ve been there, and your brand of humor is raw and self-deprecating, so you can speak critically and frankly about your parenting behavior, with a little bit of levity, and harness that self-reflection into a lesson. So maybe leaving your kids in the room with the cat’s litter box wasn’t the best way to keep them busy during a work call on a rainy Thursday. 
  • Your monetization plan: Advertisers with products that help parents survive and thrive will be a perfect fit—think clothing subscription packages, meal delivery services, and wine brands. Also consider the parenting products you use and value — brands love (and will pay for) on-air testimonials from podcast hosts. 

10 Podcast ideas to spark your creativity

If you really want to start a podcast and you really can’t come with anything to say, here are 10 ideas to get you started. 

1. Stupid true-crime stories. Everyone loves stories about criminal masterminds, but what about crimes so seemingly dumb you can’t believe they’re real?

Why it’s unique: Well-publicized murders or crimes involving famous folk are stirring, for sure, but these are stories your listeners won’t hear anywhere else. Your initial description of the crime could be funny, focusing on how inexplicable it seems; then you could provide some empathetic background on why the person did it, and leave a listener feeling like they learned something about our society.   

2. A worst-date tell-all. In some form, we’ve all had bad dates — you create a space to commiserate about them.

Why it’s unique: So many podcasts are about the podcast host’s point of view exclusively; this one, however, is all about the listeners. You’ll invite your friends and listeners to come on and share their most hilarious, embarrassing, and disturbing dating stories. It will be funny, but you should push to also make it helpful: what can a bad date teach us about what we're looking for out there? If nothing else it’ll help ensure that everyone feels less alone in facing the horrors of the dating world.

3. Celebrities, they’re nothing like us. This pop-culture podcast features fun celebrity run-ins in the listeners’ own words. Think: Old-school radio show with audience callers. 

Why it’s unique: Rather than giving the latest news like a supermarket tabloid, this piece will feature fun stories of celebrity run-ins by real people, just like your listeners. Everyone tells these stories to their friends, which is a good indicator that it’s podcast material. 

(Note: You should probably respect the privacy of our public figures and don’t include any personal or sensitive information, even if listeners submit it. Otherwise, make fun of them all you want.)

4. A day in the life of various careers. Everyone knows what a software developer does. But what do they actually do? You break it down, from the first task of the work day to the closing whistle — and give your listeners a deep and realistic understanding of what different jobs are really like. 

Why it’s unique: This podcast isn’t about career paths and workplace culture; it’s immersive and honest, allowing listeners a view into lives they aren’t living. Whether you’re the narrator or simply a bystander as the featured guest goes about their day, this will allow your audience to dive right into a world with which they aren’t yet familiar, and  maybe consider if it’s the right world for them.

5. Parenting special-needs children. All parents need support, and parents of children with special needs are no exception.  

Why it’s unique: Combining real-life, relatable stories and expert guests, this podcast is all about making your audience feel supported, included, and more knowledgeable after each episode. They’ll most definitely thank you for it.

6. Vintage car crusaders. You’ll track down the coolest, rarest, and most awe-inspiring vintage cars and interview the owners about how they acquired them, what drew them to the cars, and what they’re going to do with them.

Why it’s unique: There are plenty of podcasts for people who love cars, but this one will focus on the stories of the owners: How they fell in love with vintage cars, and how they managed to acquire their most prized rides. Bonus points for directing people to your social media channels with images of the cars — and getting your subjects to share your podcast on their channels as well! 

7. Real-life, everyday jerks. We all encounter them: rude, inconsiderate, selfish people. You’ll collect stories of interactions with these people — then track down the jerks themselves to find out what they’re really like, get their perspective on what happened, and find out what else happened to them that day. 

Why it’s unique: Everybody wants to celebrate the everyday heroes — and that’s great! But what about celebrating the people who had a bad moment? Who act out of character, or whose life experiences have made them react in off-putting ways? It won’t be easy — you’ll have to do some serious sweet-talking to get them to share — but that’s why nobody else is doing it. 

8. Non-recipe recipes. Weeknight cooking is, for so many people, all about ease. Ditch the recipes and cook with ease thanks to your simple tips. 

Why it’s unique: Imagine cooking by instinct, no matter your level of culinary skill. That’s just what this podcast will teach your listeners to do — with instruction on the basic flavors and pairings that will enable them to make something delicious out of whatever is in their fridge. If you already have the culinary skill to pull it off, great. If not, you can bring listeners along as you learn to cook by the seat of your pants.

9. Weirdo hobbyists and their weirdo hobbies. Some people’s passions seem very strange. And in fact, they are. But that doesn’t mean there’s not something compelling about their passion for that very strange thing. Maybe the person who collects Pontiac owners manuals is honoring a grandparent who wrote Pontiac owners manuals.

Why it’s unique: Each episode will seek the humor in unusual pursuits, but never at the hobbyist’s expense. Instead, you'll treat them with real curiosity and empathy, asking why they choose their bizarre-seeming hobby and letting them tell their story without judgment. Your listeners get a window into the lives of people with the guts to follow their passion to places others wouldn’t go.  

10. Follow the fear. You tell stories about people who accept a challenge to try the thing that scares them the most. A vertigo sufferer goes rock-climbing, someone terrified of dogs spends a day at the animal shelter, and so on.

Why it’s unique: Everyone wishes they could conquer their fears. Telling stories about people who did that, in spectacular or just colorful ways, will leave listeners with valuable lessons on how to confront the things that hold them back in life. And it can be really funny.

Written by
Written by
Brandon Copple

Head of Content at Descript. Former Editor at Groupon, Chicago Sun-Times, and a bunch of other places. Dad. Book reader. Friend to many Matts.

Descript is a collaborative audio/video editor that works like a doc. It includes transcription, a screen recorder, publishing, and some mind-bendingly useful AI tools.
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Brandon Copple

Head of Content at Descript. Former Editor at Groupon, Chicago Sun-Times, and a bunch of other places. Dad. Book reader. Friend to many Matts.

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