How to Be an Exceptional Podcast Guest

My work with authors often goes beyond editing into the realm of brand building and book marketing consulting because no matter how great a book is, book sales will be limited if the author can't get in front of their ideal audience.

And when it comes to building an author platform, I encourage clients to reach for the highest quality low-hanging fruit they can find. Podcasts are my top choice.

For the sake of this post, I'm going to use the word "podcast" to describe audio only and the rapidly growing video podcast format. I will use the word "audience" to cover listeners and viewers.

Why Every Author Should Care About Podcasts

According to Nielsen Insights, "The latest release notes that the number of heavy podcast listeners—those listening every day—grew by more than 3.6 million. Concurrently, the average number of episodes heard per week increased by 10%. But podcast engagement isn’t just growing among heavy users. The total podcast audience is growing at a compound average growth rate of 20%."

Not only are people spending a lot of time listening to podcasts, podcast listeners are allocating more and more of the 24 hours they have each day to consuming content in that form. To ignore that in favor of media with shrinking audiences would be silly.

Moreover, podcast appearances are easier to leverage than blog posts and other print media because audio and video content appeal to a broader group of people and is easier to consume on the go.

When I say that podcasts are low-hanging fruit, I do not mean that they are inferior to the written word or appeal to a less intellectual group of people. I mean that in any given niche there are many high-quality podcasts, and podcast hosts need a steady stream of guests to meet output requirements.

Podcasts like audio books appeal to a broader group of content consumers and are readily available. Podcasts provide an excellent time to value ratio, so it pays to incorporate regular podcast appearances into your marketing and promotion plan.

But you need to know a few things before you jump in.

Your #1 Job as a Podcast Guest

Your number one job as a podcast guest is to keep the audience on the platform.

I recently found a publishing industry podcast that I've been binge-watching, and one of the guests is someone I've had contact with and who some of my clients are interested in working with. I've had some questions about this person's business model, so I was especially interested in listening to an interview that might tease out some of the more opaque aspects of the guest's business model.

But oh my goodness, the person's answer to the interviewer's first question was so long, winding, and self-focused that I found myself saying out loud, "Get to it!"

I would have clicked away within the first 5 minutes had I not been so professionally invested in the content of the interview. That need and only that need kept me engaged on the platform.

Podcasters build their reputations and grow their audiences by putting out high-quality, engaging content.

Platforms financially reward podcasters who have high engagement.

It's your job to immediately capture the audience's attention and sustain their interest throughout your appearance.

Qualities of Excellent Podcast Guests

Excellent podcast guests align themselves with the goal of the host, which is to meet the needs and expectations of their audience.

If the podcast leans to the comedic, the guest is funny and charming to entertain.

If the podcast leans serious, the guest stays on-point to educate and empower.

If the podcast leans adversarial, the guest is adept at argument and armed with facts and contextual information to create a lively but productive debate.

Excellent podcast guests give their hosts something to work with and audience members a reason to stay tuned in. The best guests give audiences a reason to think about them and their message long after the outro.

How Being an Excellent Podcast Guests Benefits You

Obviously, if audience members bounce before your time is up, they aren't interested enough in what you have to say to care about the product, service, or message you're there to promote. If they don't care, they won't buy.

And the benefit and problem podcasts create for guests is that they live forever. A simple internet search of your name can bring up a list of interviews that allow other prospective hosts to audition you without you ever knowing it.

Being an excellent podcast guest can pay off immediately in the form of sales of books or services and it can pay off in the long run by establishing you as a high-quality guest, increasing demand for what you have to offer.

How to Improve Your Podcast Guest Appearance Skills

Think like an actor. Think like an athlete. Listen to dialog, and watch the tape.

Specifically, binge listen to and watch podcast interviews. Don't bounce on the bad ones. Pay particular attention to what those guests say and do and how they say and do it. Compare their performances to the guests you identify as ones you want to be like.

But that will only get you so far.

All great actors rehearse, and all successful athletes practice.

Unpracticed podcast guests like unpracticed actors and athletes show poorly when in the spotlight.

  • If you're a subject matter expert, write a list of FAQs and your answers to these questions. (If you aren't a subject matter expert, wait until you are for reasons outlined below.)
  • Anticipate objections and next-level questions, and craft answers to those.
  • Review your answers and edit for clarity and flow.
  • Practice your answers out loud and in front of a mirror. Pay attention to and reword anything that's "sticky." That typically means shorten and simplify. Notice your body language. Where does insecurity become obvious? Ask yourself why and find a way to overcome it, whether it's developing your stage presence or revising your answers to stay close to your area of expertise.
  • Highlight the short, memorable lines (sound bites) and make sure you use several of them during each guest appearance.

Practice makes perfect. Scratch that. Perfect practice makes perfect or as close to perfect as any of us can get in a situation we can't control. But, using early podcast appearances as rehearsal time instead of doing the work upfront not only disrespects the host and their audience, it leaves a less than stellar media resume.

Serious actors learn their lines and craft their performances before taking the stage. Athletes hit the weight room and practice against qualified teammates before they step on the field. Authors and editors, as self-proclaimed expert communicators, must do the same.

Confessions of a Terrible Podcast Guest

I've learned a lot about what to do and what not to do from listening to and watching others and look back at my 2018 appearance on Mark Woychick's So Called Podcast, a podcast "that explores how and why we work," with embarrassment and gratitude. (Thank the media gods it wasn't live!)

Here's what I did wrong:

  • I gave long-winded answers. As an information junkie and analytical thinker, I gave overly nuanced answers to Mark's questions. I tried to address every possible listener and speak to their individual needs.
  • I worked in off-topic information. I'd met Mark through connects at my alma mater. Our mutual connections are people I respect and admire, and I'm embarrassed to say that I was speaking more to them than to Mark's audience.
  • I wasn't the subject matter expert the host booked as a guest. Most of what I talked about was how other people's work had helped me grow professionally. What I didn't offer was a listener experience focused on my area of expertise, something uniquely me.

In short, I didn't keep Mark's brand and audience in focus and missed an opportunity to demonstrate my experience-based approach to commercially viable writing and editing. Perhaps unforgiveable considering what I do for a living, I checked my editor brain at the door.

Mark was gracious enough to stay on a call that lasted well over an hour. The final podcast cut was 30 minutes and 1 second. No doubt my rambling created an editing nightmare for him. Any value listeners get from that interview is thanks to Mark's skill, not to me as a guest.

I know better now and am grateful for the risk he and others take when booking me to speak.

Being a Podcast Guest Can Create Long-Term Mutually Beneficial Relationships

Many podcaster invite the same guests again and again because they enjoy the interaction, and those episodes get higher audience engagement. Being an excellent podcast guest is a way to establish long-term relationships with specific hosts and their audiences, earn recommendations and easy yeses, and rapidly expand the number of people who know about you and what you do. These are all relationships that can benefit you for years to come, and podcasting--like writing a book--allows you to reach the hearts and minds of people for many years to come.

I hope this blog post and examples of my failures prepare you to be an excellent podcast guest and encourage you to make a list of ones that are a good fit for your topic and level of experience. The only thing left to do after that is the really hard part, acting on your stated goals by pitching yourself as a podcast guest.

When you do, let me know. I'd love to support you by adding your name and a link to your appearance to this post.


Recommended: 2021 Podcast Stats & Facts by Podcast Insights


Nielsen Insights

Photo by ConvertKit on Unsplash


CI Communication Strategies

March 22, 2021