If you’re going to be a guest on a podcast, you need to know how to be a guest on a podcast. It’s easy to think, “Oh, we’re just chatting like on the phone,” and nonchalant your opportunity to be interviewed. When you take that approach, you wind up sounding bad, dumb or both.

I share this information as someone who hosts two podcasts, one of which is a live-stream video show, the other a traditional, audio-only podcast. Because my background is in public and media relations, I’ve also done my fair share of media training for executives. For 15 years, I trained college student-athletes to be interviewed by various media outlets prior to every sports season. But I also share this as a frequent podcast guest who sees the opportunity from the same perspective you should.

How to be a podcast guest

You Never Get A Second Chance to Make a First Impression

When you appear on a podcast you’re more than likely being put in front of a whole audience of people who don’t know you. So, your podcast performance is your first impression. If you blow it, you don’t get that chance back. Best case scenario, it can make people skeptical you’ve got your shit together. Worst case scenario, they just shut you down and move on to the next episode or distraction.

For the last couple of years, I’ve interviewed anywhere from one to five people per week for various podcasts or programs. I’ve compiled a list of oddities and hiccups that can drive an interviewer, a host, or an audience member mad. They range from making sure you set up your equipment for a successful interview to understanding your audience so you communicate the right ideas the right way for maximum benefit. Knowing these going in will help you prepare to not be that guy or gal and make your first impression a great one.

Understand The Technology

Have you ever wondered why podcasters have big, fancy microphones or carry around crazy looking mixing boards when they interview someone at an event or conference? It’s because they want the sound to be as pristine and perfect as possible. For video podcasts or live streams, you may see people use television-grade video cameras, massive lights and clip-on or big boom microphones. That’s also because they want the final product to look and sound clear.

When you’re the guest and, in today’s virtual communications world, do your interview from your home or office, the quality of their show sometimes hinges on the quality of your equipment. This doesn’t mean you have to buy expensive stuff just to be on one podcast. But if you anticipate being interviewed a lot, it’s probably a smart plan. For example, in order to promote my new book, I’ve targeted over 200 audio podcasts I’d like to be a guest on this spring. At that kind of volume, it’s smart to invest in a nice microphone and have an audio expert help set up your home computer so you sound great.

The biggest mistake people who don’t do a lot of interviews make is thinking the external microphone and speakers on their computer is sufficient. They are not. Not only does that microphone pick up all the background noise and echo from the room, but the sound coming out of the speaker can go back into the microphone creating echos and feedback. When you hear that annoying “waggle” cutting speakers off on Zoom calls when two people are talking, it’s probably because someone’s mic is picking up their speaker and the system is confused.

Speakerphones of any kind are not good enough quality for a strong audio podcast, so use a microphone. And be sure to position yourself so you can speak into the mic at all times. I had a guest once who thought it would be perfectly fine to turn and look out her window, and talk while she tied her shoes during the interview. Her audio volume was a 10 out of 10 one second, then the next sentence was 3 out of 10. It took me an extra hour to edit that episode so the audience could hear her properly.

At a minimum, you should have a USB microphone or headset microphone plugged into your computer, and use earbuds, headphones or the headset with mic, instead of the external speakers. I use the Blue Yeti microphone for two reasons: First, it has several microphone sensor patterns. Without getting too technical, it has options for how the mic senses your voice. Second, a Blue Yeti has its own headphone jack so you can actually hear yourself. Most computer headphone jacks are not wired that way. I’m an old radio guy, so I like to hear my own voice as well as whomever I’m talking with on the show.

I typically use regular Apple earbuds for the audio output, but any headphones or headsets will do. For those that use wireless headphones, like Apple Earpods, I’ve seen them work, but know they’re temperamental, so you may want to have some wired headphones handy as a backup.

A Video Interview is not a Zoom Call

For video podcasts, live streams or other “interviews” you should think of your setup like putting on your Sunday best. This is not a Zoom call, even if Zoom is how you connect for the recording. You need to ensure you are well-lit, the camera is set at the right eye-level and there aren’t visual distractions in the background. Most people are used to Zoom calls, but look at the people on your next one. Do they look like a television anchor or someone being interviewed on the television news? Probably not.

To make sure you look “camera ready,” even from your home office setup, do a few things:

  1. Make sure you are well lit from the front so your face is bright on the screen. Try to use at least two sources of light as one will cast shadows from your hair, nose or eye glasses. The best lighting is typically with two lights set as points in a triangle with you as the third point. They should be about 45 degrees off to your right and left.
  2. Make sure you are lit a little from the back as well, perhaps with a lamp off to the side, so your head doesn’t disappear into the darkness of the room.
  3. Close any windows or blinds behind you. Nothing makes you look worse than the sun glaring over your shoulder. This might happen with lamps behind you, too, so turn them off or put them off to the side.
  4. Prop up your computer so the webcam, or camera you’re using, is at eye level. This prevents the camera from shooting up your nose and helps frame you in the shot so you look like you’ve been interviewed on TV before.
  5. While some people may think virtual backgrounds are “neat,” they make you look like an amateur. Set your camera or computer web cam to shoot you with your regular office background, a wall with a piece of art or even an actual screen or plain wall behind you. Just give yourself at least 3-4 feet between you and the wall so your head doesn’t cast weird shadows while you’re interviewed.

And, it should go without saying, but I had someone try this once: Do not do a video interview holding your phone like you’re Face-timing mom. Most television and even web video shows are shot landscape perspective. If you must use your phone instead of a computer and web cam, turn it on its side for landscape perspective and—by all means—use a stand or clip to keep it steady. No one watches a video interview to get motion sickness.

Be “On the Air”

While you’re being interviewed, you want to be fully present without distraction, for you and your interviewer. That means you need to be in a quiet spot without interruptions, from others or technology. Do your interview in a room where the door can close and family, pets and other noises or interruptions are minimized. Insist the other adults in the house manage the children and pets while you’re doing your interview. If you might be disrupted by young children, dogs barking or even by sirens going by on the street, give the interviewer a head’s up that you can’t be in a fool-proof situation. It’s a COVID-19 world. They’ll adjust.

But also, turn off all devices or notifications and minimize other software and screens on your computer. Remember: You are introducing yourself to a new audience of people. If an Outlook “ding” happens or you keep looking at your text notifications as they pop up on your phone or computer screen, the audience is going to get the feeling they aren’t your priority. It’s unprofessional and, frankly, rude.

And speaking of rude, I have to share this story with you. I once interviewed a young lady I’d never met or talked to in person, or over the phone. That’s always a little risky, but I knew she had been on other people’s podcasts and video interviews before, so I wasn’t worried. It just so happened that our interview time was scheduled at the end of a very trying day for her—nothing she or I could have anticipated—but she made the interview just fine. However, 10 seconds into the conversation, I could tell she was high as a kite. My guess is that she forgot about the interview and had just finished off a fatty to relax. I politely asked if we could reschedule since I could tell she was, um … distracted.

You’re there to be the center of someone else’s attention. So make sure they are yours, too.

Respect the Format

The last two groups of pointers get into more advanced communications. These are the kinds of things you learn if you’ve ever been through media training. They aren’t difficult to master, but it takes practice. The first is to know and respect the format of the show you’re on. Doing so allows you to answer the questions as short and quickly, or as long and deeply, as the program audience is used to.

For example, if you ever have the good fortune to be on The Joe Rogan Experience, one of the most listened to podcasts in the world, you’ll need to know his average interview lasts three hours. You’re going to talk deeply about your life, your experiences, hot topics of the day. Heck, you might even be invited to drink (Joe likes Buffalo Trace Distillery bourbons. They’re a Cornett client!) or perhaps smoke weed on the show like Elon Musk.

That is very different than being interviewed for The Accidental Creative. Todd Henry’s episodes run about 15-20 minutes tops, so any interviews are shorter than that. Your answers will need to be crisp, tight sound bytes like you’d hear on the evening news.

If you’re doing any type of recorded video format other than long-form interviews, keep your answers to 15-, 30- or maybe 60-seconds. Television interviews are almost always edited and the finished product will just be a couple of sentences. Even if the interviewer asks you for “an explanation,” keep it simple and brief. The more you drone on, the harder it will be for them to make you sound smart when they cut out the 12 seconds they actually use. This applies to any sort of interview for radio or television journalists. Unless they tell you otherwise, talk in sound bytes.

As an aside, chatterboxing (which is what I call someone who just talks and talks like they’re having coffee with the YaYas) is a big, flashing neon sign that tells the audience you don’t listen to the question. After a minute or two, we’re all listening to see if you even remember what the question was in the first place, because there’s a good chance you’re not answering it.

In my couple hundred or so episodes of the various podcasts I’ve done over the years, the most memorable bad guests are the ones who drone on and on with an answer, not realizing that a 1-2 minute response is what I’m used to. We’re having a conversation. If you let one thought lead you down a rabbit hole only to be distracted by a squirrel and then remember something else you wanted to say, it’s 8 minutes later and I’m debating not airing your interview at all. That happened to one guest of mine, some time ago. He was so bad at responding with reasonable brevity, I deleted the file without ever trying to edit it.

If you haven’t listened (or watched) a few episodes to get a feel for the flow, ask the host. They’ll tell you how long the interview will last, how in-depth the answers need to be and what they expect from your performance. If they just say, “it’s an informal conversation, just have fun” like I do, then use common courtesy guidelines like you were talking with someone over lunch or drinks. Even though you are the guest and are there to answer questions, you don’t want to dominate the conversation. Relax and just chat normally.

Polish Your Message

The final piece of the puzzle to sounding (or looking) good when you’re interviewed on a podcast is to prepare yourself to hit your talking points and deliver the message you want heard. Obviously, the precision you’ll need to bring to the table will vary depending on the type of interview. But know going in the 2-3 things you want to be sure to cover or say and be sure to work those into your answers where appropriate.

The best way to prepare for this is to put yourself in the role of the host and ask what you would ask you, if you were interviewing you. For my interviews about the new book, I know they’re going to ask me things like, “Why did you write this book?” “What is the main point you want people to take away from reading it?” Or even, “How does one get started with influencer marketing?” If I’m being interviewed by a local television station, where they’re going to ask 3-4 things and perhaps only use one or two of them, I’m working in my main points early and often.

This is the often unspoken reason you hear coaches, athletes and politicians say the same thing over and over in interviews. They’ve been taught to say, “The important thing to remember is _________” and even divert any other question back to the important thing to remember.

If I’m doing a 10-15 minute interview for something like The Accidental Creative, there’s opportunity to just relax and answer the questions Todd might throw at me. I know, however, he’s going to ask the 1-2 important ones, so I have a good outline of an answer ready to go.

For a longer-form podcast interview, like one I did recently for a future episode of Social Pros with Jay Baer and Adam Brown, I’ll be relaxed and ready to just have a conversation, but primed and ready to answer, “So tell us why we need to ‘reframe’ influencer marketing?” That is, after all, the hook that will get people to buy the book.

And one final word about polishing: As you listen to yourself on podcasts, you’ll notice little quirks about how you sound. You’ll use those reviews to continually work on being better, but here’s a head start on the things most people notice so you try to get rid of them early:

  • I say “um” “like” or “ya know” an awful lot
  • I start every answer with, “Good question …”
  • I talk too fast (or slow)
  • I slur my words and need to enunciate better
  • My accent really comes out. I should work on that. (This is true for Appalachian/rural folks, as well as people from Boston, Wisconsin, Pittsburgh and other places with linguistic nuances.)

Now You’re Ready to be a Podcast Guest

The essence of being a good podcast guest is to be thoughtful, considerate and grateful for the opportunity. These people don’t have to interview you for their podcast to be interesting or successful. It’s a gift. They’re welcoming you into their living room and introducing you to their friends.

  • Make sure they can hear and see you clearly
  • Don’t be distracted
  • Listen to the questions and know how long to go with your answers
  • Be ready to make the points you want and need to make

And if any of that makes you nervous, then go to the bathroom, look in the mirror, and practice. You may laugh, but the people who are great guests do it, too. A lot. Trust me.

Have more tips to being a good podcast guest from your experiences? The comments are yours!

Note: Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

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