What does it take to be the ideal guest on a podcast or radio show?
After conducting thousands of interviews over thirty years (along with being a guest on countless podcasts, radio shows, etc…), I’ve seen (and heard) a lot. I’m going to break down the skills of becoming a better guest into two sections. One, will be the gear, technology and tools, and then we’ll dive into some performance tips. Being a great (and prepared) guest is not as easy as it looks. David Letterman used to always tell his guests: Show up, have two really funny/interesting personal stories to tell and go home. It all takes practice and preparedness (even when you’re famous and asked to appear on late night TV). Right now, there are over three million podcasts available for an audience to choose from. The quality of sound and the advancements in digital technology (hardware and software) has been astounding in the past few years. In short, the shows need to sound great, and that burden should fall on the guest as much as it weighs on the host.
Section One: The Ideal Podcast Guest Gear, Technology And Tools:
- Use a wired connection to the Internet. As strong as your wifi is, it’s still not as good as being directly connected into the router. It’s the most stable (and best sounding) connection.
- Use the best computer that you have (don’t record on a tablet or a smartphone) .
- Make sure that every program and every tab on your computer is closed. Only leave open the application/tab that you’re using to record the podcast.
- If the show includes video, make sure that you have a solid camera (for webcams, I’ll recommend the Logitech Brio 4K Pro or Elgato Facecam), but preferably go with a real camera like the Sony ZV1.
- If the show includes video, also make sure that you have good lighting. A basic ring light can work wonders. I like the Elgato Key Light Air or the Key Light.
- Get a solid microphone (remember, it’s all about great sound quality). For USB mics, I’ll recommend the Shure MV7, but your best bet will be a more serious microphone like the Shure SM7B, Samson Q2U (which is both USB or XLR) or the Shure SM58. I use the Rode PodMic, which is also great. These XLR microphones require an audio interface to connect the mic into the computer (this can be as simple as the Scarlett Solo from Focusrite, but I use an actual podcast mixer/recorder called the RodeCaster Pro which allows me to record, use multiple inputs and even have sound files that I can play). XLR mics might also require something like a Cloudlifter to get the ideal volume/sound. Don’t forget that — depending on your setup — you will also need cables and a microphone stand (I use a boom arm microphone stand like the Rode PSA1+). I would stay away from a headset that combines headphones and a microphone, unless you really like the way it looks and feels. Also, never use the microphone that is built into the computer or the webcam.
- Always use wired headphones/earbuds that are plugged directly into the computer or your mixing board. Never use external speakers (the sound bleeds back into the recording, but — more importantly — you will never have that situation when one person cuts another person off and it chops the audio). Also, AirPods or Bluetooth headphones can be troublesome — from both connecting them to the setup to making them work — and they often get confused with the mic setup… and hilarity never ensues as the computer attempts to figure out the “right” mic to default to. More importantly, the sound is never good. I use Audio Technica ATH-M50x headphones for audio recording, and if video is being used, these MEE audio Sport-Fi M6 Noise Isolating in-Ear Headphones cost under $20 and are invisible when you’re on screen.
Section Two: The Ideal Podcast Guest Performance Tips And Tricks:
- Offer the host a digital copy of your book or, better yet, prepare a media kit (PDF file) with all of your information (bio, selection of photos — both horizontal and vertical sizes, book abstracts, areas of expertise, conversation prompts, great questions that stimulate conversation, links to all of your websites and social media platforms, etc…). Personally, I like to buy the books that my guests have written as a way to both support them and to selfishly build my personal library, but a solid media kit goes a long way.
- Don’t ask the host to provide you with questions or topics in advance. It’s your job to know your domain of authority, and it’s the host’s job to do their own research and come up with creative questions or conversation starters. Most podcasts are not there to create a “gotcha” moment.
- Think of the recoding as a conversation. How would this go if you and the host were just talking over a coffee? Apply that mindset to every podcast recording.
- Ask the host if they will be editing the show or if it’s all done in “one take.” Assume that it’s all one take and that everything you say can and will be used in the court of public opinion.
- If video is being recorded, make sure to look into the camera (and not down or up or wherever the host appears on your screen). Ideally set your camera at eye level.
- Make sure there’s about a fist’s worth of space between the mic and your mouth. You want to avoid plosives and pops as much as possible.
- Never type/text while the show is being recorded.
- Try not to shuffle too much, and watch out for jewelry and other “things” that are on your body that might quickly become grating sounds to an audience.
- If you have to cough or sneeze, try to hit the mute button on the mic, instead of assuming that the host will edit it out.
- Even if the show is not “live”… act like it is.
- Keep the content as timeless as possible. If you have a new book out that you are promoting, use phrases like: “My new book,” instead of lines like, “my new book came out two days ago.” When you’re recording the show and when the show gets published can be weeks/months apart. Think “timeless.”
- Try not to talk over anyone… I’d prefer to edit out blank audio spaces than hearing two people talk over one another. Give the conversation space between the host’s questions and thoughts and your own.
- Know your filler words. We all have them. They’re tough to get rid of, but knowing yours and practicing to not say them will make you a much better guest. Filler words are words/phrases like: “Umm,” “you know,” “sort of,” “I think,” “like,” “kind of,” “what not,” “basically,” “I mean,” “And so…”. There are many more. Take past recordings of your guest appearances, and start making a list of your filler words (maybe even count the number of times that you use these phrases in a recording). Try to catch yourself before you say them. Also, slow down… you will find that repetitive and habitual phrases start to disappear when you take more time to think before you speak.
- Listen to your voice at 1.5x and 2x speed. Many people listen to podcasts at that pace, so you want to ensure that you’re not speaking so fast, that you sound like a member of Alvin and the Chipmunks at that speed.
- Smile while you speak, and amp up your enthusiasm by about 20%. That energy and smile will come through in the audio. Promise.
Anything that you might add to this list?
Are you interested in what’s next? How to decode the future? I publish between 2–3 times per week and then the Six Pixels of Separation Podcast comes out every Sunday. Feel free to subscribe (and tell your friends ;)