How to Be a Great Podcast Guest
Have you noticed that everyone and their dog seems to be starting a podcast these days? That’s because we’re living in a podcasting goldrush. Look into it and you’ll discover a perfect storm of evidence. In the last few years:
- Smartphones and other devices have enabled billions of people to record high-quality audio.
- Spotify, Apple Podcasts and other streaming platforms have distributed unlimited podcast content.
- Corporations discovered the engagement levels of podcast listeners and invested millions.
All these factors have exploded the careers of podcasters, not least Joe Rogan who scored a $100 million exclusivity deal with Spotify in late 2020. But it’s not just the hosts who have benefited. Indeed, many authors and other creative entrepreneurs have exploded their careers by appearing as guests. Memorable visitors have catapulted their sales as listeners bought into their personal brands and sought out their work.
If you’ve noticed this happen then you might have also considered pitching to appear as a guest author yourself. At the same time, however, a few nagging insecurities might have caused you to hesitate:
Have I missed the window of opportunity?
Am I interesting enough?
Do I have a big enough name?
These are all valid concerns, but they’re largely unfounded. Yes, podcasting is more crowded than it was a few years ago, but there are also far more listeners to go around, and their numbers are still growing.
What’s more, you’re probably more interesting than you think. Contrary to popular belief, podcast guests don’t need a silken voice to engage an audience. Nor do they have to be comedians or explorers with a story from every continent. Your life might seem mundane to you, but one person’s normality is exotic to someone living on the other side of the globe. And say you’re a new face in the industry; you can still offer a fresh perspective, which is interesting to veteran podcasters who often worry they’ve lost touch with beginners.
Anyone can make a decent appearance. Standing out is slightly harder but – don’t worry – we’ve got that covered. Read on if you’re tempted to make the leap because today’s blog post contains a list of tips you can use to become a great podcast guest.
Pitching the biggest shows in the world might seem like the best way to reach as many readers as possible and sell lots of books, but is that really a good idea? Theoretically, yes, that would lend you lots of ears. But are they the right ears? Many large podcasts are true crime. Could you flog their listeners a cozy cat mystery? Likewise, could you hold your own on a comedy show? Your answers will differ from the next author but, in many cases, targeting huge shows simply for the sake of their numbers is a waste of time, especially if what you have to say won’t align with their vibe.
In podcasting, relevancy is key. Many shows have defined brands and their hosts work hard to deliver their listeners a consistent experience. By pitching purely based on listener numbers, much of your effort spent pitching to gatekeepers will be wasted as they’ll see you as a bad fit. Worse still, if you get a slot and are a bad fit, you could actually end up inciting listener backlash. To avoid wasting time or angering an uninterested audience, start by screening your podcast choices based on relevance. You’ll get a better result chatting about your cozy cat book to 500 kitten enthusiasts than 20,000 catless mechanics who only want to hear about the purr of a motorcycle engine.
Organise in Advance
One aspect of self-publishing that attracts new authors is its flexibility. Lots of us take advantage of the freedom it affords by releasing books into the world to our own schedules, whether that’s once a week or once a year. And while some podcasters work with a similar whimsicality, many prefer a more disciplined approach. In fact, professional hosts often plan and record their episodes months in advance. As a result, you can’t pitch to one today and expect to see your name emblazoned on their show by the end of the week.
If you want to score popular shows, you often have to pitch well ahead of when you want your episode to air. This is especially true when aligning your appearance with a book launch or event. Six months is usually enough notice. That might sound unreasonably far away, but you’d be surprised how many podcasters schedule their guests 20-plus episodes in advance. Yes, some might offer you a closer window, but you can’t count on it. Pitching too close to your event creates an unsolvable problem. Being too early, on the other hand, is easily remedied; you can just organise to record whenever and ask your host to delay your episode launch.
Write a Good Pitch
Podcasters sometimes talk about all the pitches they receive on their shows. The more popular they are, the more they get – sometimes over a dozen a day. There’s a lot of competition. The good news is that many of your competitors sell themselves poorly, opting for begging sob stories, entitled assumptions or boilerplate pitches that reveal they’ve clearly never listened to the show. These offers are easy to outshine but, even if you commit none of their crimes, you still have to stand out amongst potential guests who have done their homework and have something to offer, which can prove challenging.
Crafting an effective pitch, though, is easy once you have a formula. One attention-grabbing way to start is to talk about how you know the host. Perhaps you’re a long-term listener or you’ve met them in person. If so, mention it to soften your approach. Once you’ve clarified your link, explain briefly why you want to be on their show. Sell your premise in a way that will appeal to the podcast host and their audience. Remember, they’re not interested in flogging your book; they want to provide an entertaining, inspirational or informative show for their audience. If you can convince them that you or a discussion about your book can deliver on that promise, they will see the value in your pitch and offer you airtime.
Ask for Question Prompts
One reason why hosts like to schedule guests far in advance is so they can do their due diligence before an interview. Most don’t have showrunners, sound engineers and researchers. They do everything themselves, including vetting guests, photoshopping graphics, editing episodes and distributing their work to streaming platforms. Hence, they need time, either to read your book or watch other interviews you’ve conducted in the past to gain background information. And while this process can be frustrating, you can use it to your advantage.
You could, for instance, request a copy of their planned questions or talking points. Most will happily send notes if you ask. In fact, many prefer it so you can prepare answers. They like guests to make off-the-cuff remarks because they help the conversation flow, but preparing ensures you don’t get caught off guard and lose your train of thought after getting slapped with a curveball question. You can never anticipate every question as podcasts often meander off topic, particularly if they’re streamed live. However, having a general framework of answers gives you the best possible chance of giving intelligent responses and staying on track.
Rehearse and Prepare
The best podcast guests sound relaxed, but don’t be fooled. Most of that nonchalance comes from preparation. Just as you should never publish the first draft of a book, you should also never enter a podcast recording without having done at least some rehearsal, even a quick one alone while glancing over your notes. Yes, you might know your genre inside out and be an expert in your field, but can you recite a succinct elevator pitch when prompted? Can you spell your social media handles without stumbling? How about segueing from one talking point to another? Listeners appreciate genuine chat, but you should rehearse these details to ensure a smooth delivery.
What many authors often find when rehearsing is that their notes are too detailed to read mid-interview. If you discover this, try condensing yours to between one and three words per talking point so you can interpret them at a glance. Identify linking phrases you can use to shift effortlessly between them. If you have anecdotes prepared, consider whether they’re appropriate for your intended audience. If you’re using a new microphone or laptop for your recording, ensure you know how to find the controls just in case issues arise. The more you prepare, the more likely you are to sound great and gain a reputation as an excellent guest.
Interviews can go awry, but don’t let that daunt you. As much as the tips here can help, remember that plenty of guests ignore or abandon them and still become fan favourites. Much depends on the author and show. Even if you struggle, a good host will carry your interview and even remove awkward pauses if you lose your train of thought. Nobody is born a great podcast guest. It takes practice, just like writing. You will improve.
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