I am in the early stages of launching a podcast called The Website in a Box show. My show is going to explain why websites are built the way they are, but before I can launch that show I first have to solve a few basic issues (my goal is to be a publisher, not just a podcaster).
One of the problems I needed to solve was how to vet a guest that wants to come on my podcast, and then prep them for being a guest. I will cover prepping a guest in a related post, but today I wanted to share my solution for vetting a guest with you.
But first, I’m going to let you in on a secret. Over the past few years I have been guesting on podcasts. In that time I have gotten the impression that, when it comes to making sure a guest was really prepared to come on the podcast, most podcast hosts are either just winging it, or they assume that the guest knows what to do, or they just never thought about the problem at all.
I feel safe in making this declaration about podcasters in general because in the past three years I have never found a single article that actually helped me be a better podcast guest. (Actually, after I finished the first draft of this post, I went looking again and found a post that would have helped - but just the one.)
Edit: I am going to have to walk this back. When I wrote this I had forgotten that I did not get on all the podcasts where I asked to be a guest. It is only reasonable t point out that the podcasts that turned me down successfully vetted me, and I came up short.
This might surprise you, but almost all the posts about being a better podcast guest share a similar flaw: they were written by podcasters for other podcasters. While I am sure the authors meant well, those posts assumed a basic level of knowledge that you only develop after you become a podcaster, so they are no help to your typical guest. They contain advice that made no sense to me, a non-podcaster, because I didn’t understand the context.
I was a podcast guest who knew hardly anything about being a guest, and from what I could tell few hosts really understood the situation I was in. So I have set out to solve the problem for myself, and then share it with you.
What it comes down to is that the host needs to prep the guest for their role. The host may be used to winging it, but the guest needs structure. Extemporaneous public speaking (which is what the guest is doing on your podcast) requires a lot of advance work to come off as sounding natural and comfortable.
The podcast host can just wing it because they’ve already done the advance work by recording the previous 50 or 100 podcast episodes, but the guest might be only on their first episode, or fifth, or tenth. (Did you feel you really knew what you were doing when recording your fifth episode? That is how the non-podcasting guest feels.)
BTW, I have a related post on this topic for guests. One of the things I cover in that other post is how potential podcast guests need to write the answers to the questions that I am going to have you ask.
I am not helping them cheat by giving them the answers; the reason I give them the questions is that I know first-hand that taking the time to develop the answers to the questions is how someone becomes ready to be a podcast guest.
Ask your potential guest to give you an elevator pitch. Why should you have them on your podcast? What do they want to talk about? Why should your audience care about what they have to say?
The reason you want to hear a pitch is not just to see if they are a good fit but for your show but also to find out whether they understand your podcast and its audience. Did they do their research? It’s okay if the answer is no if their pitch reveals they are also a podcaster (ideally with a similar audience) or are otherwise good at extemporaneous speaking.
When I started pursuing podcast guest opportunities, I had the interest but no real clue about what I was going to say or how the process worked. If I had been asked to pitch then my unpreparedness would have been obvious.
On the contrary, I was recruited to be a guest on several podcasts, which brings me to the converse situation. If you are a podcast host and want to recruit a guest, you need to pitch them. I am not trying to make you jump through hoops so much as give them enough information so that they understand their role in your podcast.
The Question List
Ask them if they have a list of questions you can as conversation starters while recording the podcast. Or, if you know enough about their topic to draw up the list yourself, send it to them and ask them to work out a series of answers.
You don’t have to use these questions but you should still have them because they will help the inexperienced guest get in the right mindset, and it will also get them accustomed to a new type of collaboration.
The thing about being a podcast guest is that it requires a completely different type of creativity than what most guests are used to, one that is closer to being interviewed by the press than anything else. I don’t know if you are aware, but the pre-arranged list of questions is a common interview method in tv and radio. The interviewer often won’t have time to prep relevant questions, so the interview subject will sometimes supply both the questions and the answers. While this might seem self-serving, it does make for a better experience for the audience.
I have a list of questions and answers that I could send to a podcast host. I originally wrote them for a Twitter chat in September 2019, but I kept them because I knew they would prove useful the next time I went on a podcast. Since then I have continued to add more questions to the list, and also add alternate answers. (I don’t want to be repetitive.)
If your potential guest has no pitch and doesn’t know the questions to ask, and you still want them to come on your podcast, here’s a fallback question.
Ask your potential guest if they’ve ever spoken on this topic before, or given a talk, or organized a workshop. It would be great if they have a video of the presentation, but if all they have are the source material then that can also be useful.
Public speaking is not quite the same as going on a podcast, but it is fairly similar. It requires you to organize what you want to say in advance, just like I am asking you and your guest to prep for the podcast. If the guest has developed the slides, notes, and other material required to give a presentation then they are already halfway to having a list of discussion points that can be used for the podcast.
Or at least that is what I have found based on developing notes and slides for a presentation, and questions for the podcast.
P.S. This post is the second post in what has accidentally turned into a series. The next post in the series will focus on how a guest can get the most out of a podcast guest spot, and the one after that will cover (at the advice of Tim Lewis) how a host can prep a guest for a podcast.