Virtually every marketing expert agrees that if you want to get your message out there in 2018, podcasts are the way to go. We're told we need to launch our own podcasts, or at the very least be frequent guests on podcasts.
This is all very well and good, but how exactly do you go about being a guest on a podcast? How do you make sure that the resulting episode is both fun for listeners and achieves your goals*?
While that might be an obvious question to some, I'm surely not the only one who feels like he is flailing around in the dark. Over the past 18 months I have been a guest on a half-dozen podcasts, and even though I tried to prepare for each interview and studied up on how to be a guest on a podcast, I still had to learn almost everything the hard way.
The following post details a few of the things I wish I had known before my first guest spot.
Edit: This post was updated in October 2019 to include the section about prepping your content. (I am working on a similar post for podcast hosts, BTW.)
What to Say
It took me until October 2019 to figure this out, but the secret to being a better podcast guest is to work out everything you want to say in advance.
Being a guest on a podcast is a form of extemporaneous public speaking, and as you may or may not know it takes a lot of advance work to speak off the cuff and sound natural and comfortable. The closest analogy to being a podcast guest is being a speaker at a conference, and the role of guest really does require about as much work if you want to pull it off.
In fact, if you have spoken at a conference on a topic, you are already halfway ready to talk about that topic on a podcast. All you need to do is adapt your speaker notes and your slides so they can be used as a series of talking points.
But if you don't have those notes and slides, here's what you should create.
- A Pitch: You need to write the pitch where you will sell the podcast host on the idea of bringing you on their podcast. Study the podcast so you can understand the host's style and the podcast's audience, and then be prepared to tell the host why their will benefit from what you have to say.
- Questions: Here's a trick from radio and tv interviews. Write out a list of questions for the host to ask you, and then write out your answers. You should do this not just because this will make for a better show, but also because writing out the Q&A forces you to learn a new way to share your knowledge.
Once you have the content ready, it's time to address 1the technical side, where I have learned a couple key lessons: Make sure you have good equipment, and set aside time to run a "mike check" before each guest spot.
Before your schedule first guest spot, you need to invest in hardware.
The equipment you will need will vary between podcasts, and will range from a smartphone with decent audio to a webcam and/or a headset.
The first thing you should invest in is a headset with a noise-cancelling microphone.
You're probably thinking that the microphone on your webcam will be enough, or that a lapel mike will do, but I had audio issues during one of my guest spots because my speakers were conflicting with my lapel mike. I don't understand the technical issues, but I do know that the right headset would have solved them.
My headset costs $24 on Amazon. (The lapel mike cost $30, which just goes to show that trying to save money by buying less equipment can actually cost you more.)
Once you have that headset, it's time to get a better webcam. Podcasts are primarily an audio format, but a lot of them are now recorded as video or even streamed live.
This is why you should get a decent-quality webcam. The webcam on your average laptop ranges from adequate to "is that a nipple", and that is more than enough for talking over Skype but not enough for a podcast. I had to learn this the hard way during my first podcast guest spot. It went okay, but if I had known that I would be on video I would have gotten a webcam before rather than after.
My webcam was made by Logitech and costs $50.
Once you have your equipment, be sure to store it properly. Then whenever you have a guest spot, set up your equipment in advance and make sure everything works. Ideally you should arrange with the host of the podcast to have a dry run the week before your guest spot. (This is doubly important for any live-streamed spots.)
If the host doesn't propose the dry run, you need to suggest it.
If there is one aspect that is consistent across all my podcast guest spots, it is that testing the equipment ten minutes ahead of time revealed problems that I couldn't actually fix in ten minutes. The best I could do is cope with the problem, and then fix it the next day. For example, if I had scheduled a dry run a week in advance then I would have had the webcam and headset when I needed them.
To be honest, most of the technical issues were merely nuisances, but I wish I had fixed them in advance rather than afterwards.
Listen to the Podcast
In addition to performing a dry run, you should also take some time to listen to several episodes of the podcast. Learn what you can about the hosts, the show's structure, and its focus.
Your goal is to understand how the podcast is run, and your role in the operation. Are you going the subject of an interview, or will you be expected to provide color commentary on a topic? Will you be teaching the audience something new, or simply joining the host in conversation?
On second thought, maybe you should instead ask the host for the info. They may have a plan for the role you will play that differs from the one you gleaned from listening to the podcast. At the same time, talking to the host will also help you find out how much the host knows about your area of expertise and what the host thinks the audience will want to know.
Once you know the part you will play, ask yourself how you can best fill the role. If you are going to have a conversation, try to schedule a pre-interview so that you and the host can learn to talk to each other. If you are being interviewed, you might want to work out a list of questions for the host to ask you.
O O O
Here's the thing: Most of the time you will only have the one chance to record a podcast episode. The host will be as busy as you are, and they won't have the time to record a replacement episode if your episode is sub-par. (To be honest, their time would probably be better spent recording an episode with someone who hadn't already muffed an episode.)
This means that you need to do all you can to make sure that the episode is great from the get-go. The prep work I mention above is the minimum required effort, and you should actually devote as much time to prepping as you can afford.
The time you spend on preparing for the podcast will pay off in the long run.