So you’ve been invited to a podcast.
Congratulations — that means you’re someone or you’ve got something worth talking about. So first things first, do away with imposter syndrome and acknowledge that you’re appearing on this show for a reason, whether that be your domain expertise, your unique experience, your interesting perspectives or your sense of humour.
I’m no expert —the term implies that there’s nothing else left to learn, which is never true — but I do know a thing or two about preparing for podcasts.
With the boom in podcasts, especially the advent of new ones in light of COVID19 lockdown, several friends have recently reached out to ask me what tips I have to prepare for podcasts. Below you’ll find what I shared with them. If you have any other suggestions, please add them to the comments.
Depending on the length of the podcast episode, you’ll want to bring some general topics or ideas to the table so that you’re not completely winging it.
If you’re an author, pick out between five ideas (for 30 minute episodes) and ten (for 60 minute episodes) from your book to elaborate on. Substantiate these ideas by having research, statistics, quotes and anecdotes handy.
Pro Tip: If it’s a remote podcast and you have an extended monitor, have your notes open on it so you can quickly glance at them if you need to recall a key piece of information, or get your bearings. Alternatively, a tablet or a piece of paper with key facts and figures on it — kind of like the cheat sheet you’d prepare for an exam— can work equally as well. If it’s in person, there’s no shame in taking a notepad or tablet along to refer to during the conversation.
The success of a podcast, like most media forms, is measured by both the size of the audience as well as audience engagement. To leave an impression on your audience, the host and be invited back to this and to other podcasts, you’ve got to be engaging. And the best way to be engaging is by telling stories.
Facts and figures are nice because they add scientific weight to arguments, but what people really remember and what has them glued to the edge of their seats is stories. So have some stories handy.
In terms of the story structure, it’s real simple.
Context and Characters
Brian was a writer who after 10 years of struggling as a freelancer, finally secured a book deal with a major publishing house.
But there was one problem. He had writer’s block. Now that he was writing a book for a major house, he was incredibly self-conscious and judgmental about every word he wrote, in contrast to his free-wheeling freelance writing.
One day, he met his friend James for coffee, and told him about his plight. James was a programmer, but he had some transferable advice for Brian.
“Just start and commit to 200 crappy words. When I code, I code messy and clean it up later. Otherwise it will take me 10 times longer if I pontificate over the elegance of every line of code up front”.
Brian took James’ advice and by removing judgment from the equation, he was able to build momentum, get into flow, and crank out his manuscript in just 8 weeks.
The book went on to be a bestseller.
Many podcasters, (like me) won’t share questions ahead of time because it can result in well-rehearsed answers that can compromise the conversational and thus engaging nature of a podcast episode, and also because all questions aren’t scripted. But they will usually be happy to share general ideas they’d like to discuss, so try and touch base beforehand if you can.
At the very least, you should be able to anticipate the kinds of questions they will ask, as well as any follow-up questions they might have to the talking points you prepared.
Pro Tip: Actually listen to an episode or two of their podcast beforehand to determine what the style of the host or format of the show is. This will help you to better anticipate how your conversation will go and best prepare for it. The show might even have a surprise ‘lightning round’ of several questions that it finishes each episode with, or even a general set of questions that the host asks many guests. By taking the time to listen to the show you will be much better prepared not just when it comes to content, but also style.
Aside from anticipating and asking the host what they’ll ask, propose 3 to 5 questions that you’d like them to ask. “It would make the podcast a home run for me if you asked me this”. You can either do this in the lead-up to the show via, say, email or just before the episode starts. The host may entertain your request or they might not, but there’s no harm in asking.
A great way to have an engaging conversation with somebody is to build rapport first. Invest 5 to 10 minutes in finding out a little more about the host(s) through a quick cyber-stalk.
Where do they live?
What are their interests?
What have they been sharing lately on social?
What commonalities do you have?
These can help trigger talking points to strengthen the relationship up front, and have a more friendly and free-flowing conversation.
The nature of what you talk about, and how you say it, might shift somewhat depending on the audience.
At a minimum you’ll want to find out:
Knowing this you can tailor your message to the audience, which again, helps when it comes to engagement.
If you’re asked a difficult question, rather than blurting out the first thing that comes to mind and regretting it later, try paraphrasing the question first.
It’s amazing what buying yourself 5 to 10 seconds can do to help your brain catch up to your mouth!
If, like me, you get a little nervous before a podcast appearance, then this might show up in the cadence of your words. The faster you speak though, the risk of articulation and thoughtful selection of words going out the window increases.
Remind yourself that it’s not a race and that by slowing down, you’re doing yourself and the audience a favour.
If you need some inspiration, listen to the likes of world-class podcasters such as Tim Ferriss or Sam Harris who slowly and carefully select their words, whether as a host or a guest, for maximum effect.
If you’re on a podcast tour because you have something to promote, then it would be a shame to invest the time preparing for, appearing on and promoting tens or hundreds of podcasts without maximising the opportunity to say build your mailing list, or increase sales of your product.
Having said that, it’s important that you don’t come across ‘salesy’ during the conversation, but that you at least leave the audience with a compelling offer.
For example, if I’m on a virtual book tour, I might mention that listeners can download the first chapter of my book, or a free ebook, or some other kind of valuable download, from my website.
Alternatively, I might have a SaaS product which users can get a free trial for, or 30% off of with a promo code at a given URL.
At the very least you’ll want to ask people to connect with you on your preferred social channels.
Pro Tip: If you create unique URLs or landing pages for each show, then you can track which shows translated to more sales or sign-ups, and therefore double down on those shows the next time.
As with riding a bike, surfing, standup comedy or writing, nobody is great at anything on their first, second or third attempt.
If you’re just starting our on the podcast tour trail, adopt a growth mindset and concede that you won’t be amazing on your first few outings. Instead, treat them as opportunities to learn, improve and build new relationships. Enjoy the process.
Pro Tip: At the end of the conversation, ask the host “what do you think I could have done better to make this more engaging for your listeners?”. It’s always a difficult thing to hear but it will ultimately help you to improve much faster.
If it’s a remote podcast, invest in decent lighting, an appealing backdrop (or a Zoom backdrop), a high quality microphone or headset, and earbuds or headphones if using a stand-alone microphone.
You don’t need to break the bank but if you invest $100-$200 on decent equipment, it will be most appreciated by the hosts of the podcasts you appear on.
Many podcasts won’t even have guests on if they don’t have decent equipment, as the poor sound quality compromises the listening experience.
Put on pants, put away your smartphone, have a glass of water by your computer and try to be 100% present for your host.
Pants also apply to in-person podcasts… in case you were wondering.
What I found on my previous virtual book tour was that after about 10 or so episodes, 90% of the questions I was being asked I had answered before.
As a result, I was able to respond quickly and progressively sharpened answers with more compelling stories or statistics as I went on.
The brain has a way of making connections between stimuli, and the same goes with questions and answers. What initially might’ve required me racking my brain for an answer became an almost auto-pilot response by interview #15. At this stage, you’ll want to avoid sounding like a robot so building upon or evolving your answers helps.
While this post is essentially about preparing for a podcast, it would be remiss of me not to mention promoting the episode when it goes live — something too few guests take seriously. When a host shares episode links and image assets, spend 5 to 10 minutes actually sharing them with your audience.
A lot goes into running a podcast, and your host has invested at least several hours in preparing for, recording, producing, publishing and promoting the episode. Do your bit, and you’ll also be a lot more likely to receive a call back!
Podcasting is fun, and I usually walk away from my early morning podcast appearances and interviews feeling absolutely buzzed — a positive energy that I take into the rest of my day.
Have all of my appearances been perfect? Hell no!
Do I regret any of them? No way!
From small beginnings come great things.