Have you ever scrolled through your subscribed podcast shows, only to find that none of the new episodes appealed to you? Well, this happened to me recently: Sure, there were a handful of newly launched business podcasts, so I quickly downloaded a variety of episodes and hit play.
Sadly, I was underwhelmed by what I heard. The speakers had obviously not been trained on how to be a good podcast host. Show after show, it was more of the same.
Inexperience isn’t a crime, but because these hosts came off nervous, cocky, overeager, or goofy—sometimes all of the above—I was left distracted by their energy instead of being entertained by what they had to say. At its best, this kind of hosting can cause someone to stop listening; at its worst, it can hurt a brand’s authority on the subject at hand.
Astute brands have identified the opportunity that episodic audio content marketing presents and have launched their own shows. But with the sheer mass of podcasts that exist today—somewhere around 750,000 shows, Podcast Insights estimates—it has left a talent gap, and few training resources exist to get new hosts up to speed.
This inspired me to tap my own network of talent for some podcasting tips: I asked a few veterans in the space to share what they think makes a good podcast host. Here are the do’s and don’ts they say every newbie podcaster needs to know to go from just OK to a delight to hear.
Be yourself: Of the dozens of seasoned podcast hosts who lent me their advice, this was the most repeated tip. Nerves happen, which is when we usually get the awkward vibes from the receiving end. But instead of trying to be a certain way, new hosts should channel that energy into speaking about the topic enthusiastically and enjoyably. The best way to do that? Just be yourself.
Be real (without sacrificing positivity): Many content creators think that “being real” means speaking without thinking, venting, or complaining. But you can be authentic and admit struggles, all while keeping optimism alive in the conversation: This is one of the best ways to engage audiences across any medium.
Image Attribution: CoWomen via Unsplash
Prepare: This tip was repeated over and over as well. Veteran podcasters can’t seem to overstate the importance of show preparation. Granted, you won’t use every nugget of information you dig up, but when a guest references a big milestone in their company’s journey, you should already know how that story relates to your episode’s topic and audience’s pain points.
Allow your guest to be vulnerable: Relax guests with relevant but lighthearted background information. Set the stage. The more difficult the subject matter, the gentler you should ease into the conversation’s core. Then, let them tell their story, and stay quiet while they do.
Practice, practice, practice: If you don’t fall into the groove right away, that’s no reason to give up. Instead of airing your first go at this, consider recording six to eight episodes to give yourself a chance to calm those nerves and improve your interviewing and listening skills. This also gives you a chance to tighten up preparation with each episode. Then, when you feel as if you’ve got it down, go back and listen to those first few installments and decide whether they should see the light of day or be canned in the name of training.
Edit out every mistake you make: “If I screw up—read something wrong, push the wrong button, etc.—I will typically joke about what an idiot I am and keep going,” says David Yas, founder and CEO of the Boston Podcast Network and host of The Boston Podcast. “Then usually I will leave that part in, even though I could edit it out. People seem to like it, as it shows you’re not perfect and it invites the listener behind the curtain.”
Be thinking of what to say next: “Listen to the guest,” says Derek Myers, a podcast producer for Castaway Studios. “Don’t fill your head with what you want to say next because, in reality, it will be a response to something they haven’t said yet.”
Let guests be vague (or ramble): You are the advocate for your audience. So when guests speak in high-level, ambiguous “officespeak,” steer them toward specifics. “Often, a guest can steamroll our interview, until we’re left with some meh content for our audience,” writes Jay Acunzo, founder and host of Marketing Showrunners, for LinkedIn. “In that scenario, nobody wins: not them, not you, and not the guest. While initial questions help point our guests in a direction, as hosts, we can rely on our follow-ups to ensure we get the best possible final episode.”
Sound scripted: Whether you’re introducing the show, reading the sponsor bit, asking listeners to leave you a review, or even asking a guest the questions you wrote down earlier, you might slip into a robot-voice mode when reading. You know the tone; you’ve heard it before. Even the best on-air talent can sound like they’re reading if they return to the script.
And, unfortunately, when your listeners sense this shift, their listening tends to taper off: This reading voice undoes the hard work you’ve done to serve and entertain your audience to this point.
Jessica Hansen, the voice of NPR’s funding credit reel and the media organization’s in-house voice coach, says the trick to avoiding a robotic-sounding reading voice is to practice repeat or promotional segments in different, wildly dramatic voices. For example, first read it out loud as a cowboy would. Then, reread the copy in the voice of a toddler mid-tantrum. Finally, sing the bit like an opera singer. By the time you read it again aloud in your regular voice, your voice and your mind will have traveled many miles, generations, and emotions.
After this exercise, your natural personality will shine through in even the most tedious scripted segment. Your audience will pick up on your comfort, which will allow them to relax and take in the message.
Did you know that the word host originates from the same root word for hospitality? That’s no coincidence. No matter if you’re hosting a dinner party or a branded podcast, your guests’ good time depends on your hospitality. That’s why the secret behind how to be a good podcast host is in the approach: With the right decorum, you can engage your guests and your audience, put both parties at ease, and lead an enjoyable and informative experience.
Amusingly, the word hostage also originates from the same root word as host, a reminder to heed the podcasting tips from those who’ve been around the block. In the world of podcasting, there’s no holding guests and listeners hostage—they’ll simply move onto the next show. But if you know how to be a good host, you can be sure they’ll stick around a while.
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