How to Be a Good Podcast Host
A podcast host is the creator, the mediator, the reporter, and the glue that binds a show together. Hosts play a crucial role in the success of any podcast because it's not just about having quality audio; there needs to be a leading voice at the helm. But how do you become a good podcast host?
With so much information and advice saying that you should just "be yourself," it's almost impossible to know precisely how to be a good podcast host in a meaningful and actionable way—especially in the beginning.
While you want to bring your own authentic voice to a show, becoming a top-tier podcast host takes a certain level of patience, skill, and practice.
Do Your Homework
While no one expects you to be an expert, it's never wise to go into an episode cold. Having a solid understanding of a topic can offer a different perspective, give you focus, and fuel a more profound understanding that will benefit your listeners.
A great host can provide hard-to-find information that targets a listener's specific pain point or knowledge gap.
One of the primary purposes of starting a podcast is to be the "go-to" guy or gal within your specific industry or niche. If you constantly have well-informed content and push conversations with great guest questions, you start to build a foundation of trust.
It's that trust that will resonate beyond just downloads and listens. It's well documented that listener trust will spill over into a host's other endeavors, including following them on social media, purchasing products or services, converting into a client, or simply becoming a brand advocate.
As you research, formulate a bullet list of all the important and valuable takeaways from your findings and use this list as a reference guide.
Know Your Audience
Your audience plays a big part in how you work as a host. After all, the end result is for them, not for you. So, you need to be tapping into what they need the most.
A good podcast host should speak to the audience almost as if they are friends. Taking this approach helps listeners connect with you and your content on a much more emotional level.
Who Are You Talking To?
Your podcast audience shouldn't be "everyone." A podcast made for every Tom, Dick, and Harry will often lack personality, direction, and meaningful content. Appealing to all might feel like the ideal selling point, but it could affect how you focus your marketing efforts.
You wouldn't try to sell scuba diving flippers to a long-distance runner—so why should your podcast be any different? So, who should you be speaking to?
Defining an ideal listener (also known as an avatar) will give you a clearer vision of the content you should be creating. Imagine your perfect listener. Give them a name, age, occupation, home life, and so on. Everything you do and every piece of content you create is in service to that one person.
A good host knows when they're heading in the right direction, largely thanks to their audience. If your listener base cares about you at all, they will gladly chime in if you ask them for feedback.
Feedback is crucial for evolving your podcast, so if something isn't working and your audience is telling you, LISTEN. Then, take action, improve, develop, and create the kind of content your listeners want to hear.
Listeners value a host's authenticity over almost every other podcast component. If the content appears to be unscripted and personal, the show tends to score higher in the Apple Podcast ratings, regardless of genre, speaker, or topic.
Podcasts are an incredibly intimate medium. Someone is literally speaking to you, on your headphones, in your personal bubble.
"I think of podcasters as my friends—and I am not alone," explains Rachel Aroesti, a writer for the Guardian. "To my relief, my actual friends seem to feel the same way about the podcasts they listen to."
This phenomenon is known as parasocial interaction, a notion coined by sociologists Donald Horton and Richard Wohl. In a recent survey, 83% of podcast listeners said their favorite podcast hosts felt like friends.
Considering that over half the US population alone is tuning into podcasts daily, it appears that most of us are just looking for a no-strings-attached buddy.
What this means for hosts is that there is a lot of room for authenticity. If you're striving to be an engaging podcast host, this parasocial interaction and deeply personal connection is something you should be adopting.
The best way to create these relationships is just to be yourself. Audiences love a host that shows their vulnerability, genuineness, humor, and individuality.
Use your everyday language and slang. If you have a particular point of view, express it! Tell personal stories, recount your mistakes, laugh, and above all, be human.
Don't Go Into Information Overload Mode
A human's attention span averages around the eight-second mark, a second less than a goldfish. Regardless of how enthralling the subject matter may be, there is such a thing as too much information.
While there are no strict rules on the ideal podcast length, focusing on a single point for minutes on end can drive listeners to distraction. So, how do you hold a listener's attention, especially if you're talking about a heavy subject or the topic is particularly dry?
Break up large chunks of information into digestible podcast segments. You can do this by adding a few personal anecdotes to help bolster your point.
If your guest is stuck focusing on a specific topic, interject with a leading question.
Keep your audience guessing. Feed little bits of information as opposed to revealing your point early.
Midroll ads or announcements can act as a mental break for listeners, giving them a moment to reset and refocus.
It takes skill and practice to keep someone's attention for any length of time, and it is an even tougher task for podcast hosts. It's your job to keep the dialogue flowing while also maintaining interest. So, use audio cues, and change directions regularly to mix things up.
A Simple 'Thank You' Goes a Long Way
Thank your audience. After all, listeners have invested their most precious commodity in you: their time. Everyone is busy, so busy that time may be considered a more valuable asset than money.
Think about it, your audience is an intrinsic part of your podcast; you would fail if it weren't for them. They are your fifth Beatle, the Sonny to your Cher, a Bert to your Ernie, and the very lifeblood of your podcast.
They give your podcast direction, help bring your voice forward and provide feedback so your show can evolve and grow. That's why you should always strive to thank your listeners at the end of every single episode and beyond.
So, thank them for their support. Maybe create a "thank you" Tweet, Facebook post, or Instagram video. Include your listeners in your success, especially when you celebrate milestones. For example, if you have just reached your 100th episode or hit 1,000 subscribers, then tell your audience about it on social media. Maybe host a giveaway, or have a special message dedicated to just them in your next episode.
Avoid Sounding Scripted
Before we get too deep into this point, it's worth noting that there is absolutely a time and a place for scripted content. If you're creating a narrative podcast, reading out an ad, or presenting a guest bio, then scripts are ideal as a guide.
There are ways to improve your speaking voice for hosts reading from a script to avoid sounding monotone or just plain dull.
The best thing you can do is read out loud every day and strive to read ahead as you do. It may feel unnatural at first, but it will get easier after you do it for a while. As you're constructing your scripts, try to write in a similar way to how you speak.
Use words and phrases that you would in real life. Then, before recording, read through the script out loud and re-write sections that are difficult to say.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind when you're speaking:
Use emotion in your voice. Don't talk like a robot.
Project your voice. Be clear, but not loud.
If you mess up, pause, relax, and say the word or sentence repeatedly.
Don't rush. Speak a little slower and with intention.
Speak clearly and enunciate; make sure you say every word correctly.
Embrace your natural voice. It's yours. It's unique. It's perfect.
So, the bottom line here is to write a script similar to the way you speak. As you read out loud, relax and talk with your natural voice.
Here are the experts at NPR to give you some tips on training your voice for better podcasting.
Transcribe Your Podcast Episodes
Being a good podcast host doesn't just apply to looking after your guests or the overall audio you record; it also involves the content that surrounds your show. Provide as much value as possible for your audience by offering speech-to-text transcriptions of your episodes.
Transcripts are the written version of your podcast's audio and can be created via AI technology or a human transcriptionist. Providing transcripts increases your podcast's accessibility.
Some eager audiences cannot listen to podcasts, such as those who are deaf (or hard of hearing), non-native speakers, or those struggling with ADD and Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder. Then you get some who just prefer to read or can't listen at that time.
Not only that but transcripts can drastically increase your show's discoverability by maximizing your podcast's SEO efforts while also providing you with a lot of opportunities for repurposing content.
Creating transcripts can take a lot of time for solo podcasters or small teams. Using a dedicated transcription company such as Rev or a freelance specialist can save you the hassle.
Hosting a Podcast Guest
Hosting a podcast interview isn't always as straightforward as it sounds. For the most part, it's not as simple as having a friendly exchange between two mics. As a host, you need to be prepared because you could end up with a sub-par, lifeless interview if you don't.
So, how do you interview someone for a podcast?
Research Your Guests
One of the most fulfilling things about hosting a podcast is interviewing experts and thought leaders from your industry.
But so many interviewees are asked the same questions again and again. Therefore, your conversation needs to stand out from the crowd. This is where you need to do some pre-interview prep work to get your guests talking.
Go on a fact-finding mission and gather as much information about your guest as possible. Look at their social media, connect with them on LinkedIn, listen to other podcasts they've either hosted or participated in, skim through their articles and blogs, and read their books.
Ideally, you want to know:
What areas do they specialize in?
Are they known in the industry for something specific?
Have they recently released a book, podcast, or article?
What's their company known for?
Are there any pivotal events in their career that deserve some focus?
A great example of how effective guest research can be is the YouTube show "Hot Ones." The twist is that celebrities are interviewed while consuming increasingly spicy chicken wings.
However, watching celebrities squirm with spicy discomfort isn't solely what draws tens of millions of views per episode. It's the interviewer, Sean Evans.
Sean's thoroughness and intelligent questions consistently stun guests and are a large part of why people are drawn to the show. Even Steven Colbert complimented him on his interview skills! And it's all down to the team's research efforts.
These guys spend hours if not days investigating their guests. The result? One of the best interview shows around. Just watch the video below to see why.
Guests appreciate it when a host is well-informed and prepared. Not only will you be able to formulate non-generic questions, but the answers you'll receive in return will be podcasting gold.
Prepare Your Guests
No one performs well when they're nervous or anxious. It's a host's job to make a guest feel relaxed and comfortable while they're on the show because anxiety is the enemy of authenticity. Therefore, you'll want to set their mind at ease so that they'll actually forget you're recording at all.
The best way to prepare your guest is to ensure that there are no surprises. So, tell them what to expect.
Before you record with your guest, they should:
Know what your podcast is about
Understand how to join you for the recording
Know why you are having them on your show
Be briefed on what you'll be talking about
Send over an introductory email with a brief description of your show and a summary of the types of questions you intend to ask. If you can, send any previous episodes that best represent the podcast's tone and format.
Plus, include clear instructions about where the interview will occur and how it will be conducted. Finally, give your guest some time to prepare.
A great host wants their guest to sound great. Assume that your guest knows almost nothing about recording and talk them through the techniques and technology they'll be using. For example, explain the whole process if you're recording via Zoom.
Give them guidance on finding a good recording location. Ask them about the microphone they'll be using (whether they plan to use their phone, laptop mic, or one that connects to their computer) and how comfortable they are using it.
Preparing your guests is an essential step as it can help bring their own personality to the recording and really makes for a great interview.
Have a Pre-Interview Process
Not all of your guests will be an acquaintance of yours, meaning the initial interview will likely be your first interaction with that person. So, to help the conversation flow you need to immediately establish rapport and make them feel comfortable. One way to do that is to have a pre-interview process.
Before you start recording:
Spend some time with your guest
Maybe grab a cup of coffee and have a friendly chat and get to know each other a bit first
As they become more at ease, use that same conversational energy when you come to record
Guide the Interview
A podcast host is like a conductor. You're the one who sets the tempo of a conversation and maintains the right rhythm throughout. As the conductor, your guest will be looking to you for those subtle cues on how they should act and hold themselves.
When nervous, your guest may start to mirror your tone of voice or language, which isn't necessarily bad if you keep up the right momentum. If you're speaking in a serious tone, your guest could follow you and assume they should also be serious.
If you're laid back, telling stories, and encouraging a light-hearted back and forth, guests will often follow suit. Be the leader, set the tone, and keep guiding your guests, and they'll meet you with the same level of energy.
Have a Post-Interview Process
Once your interview is over, it's only polite to follow up with your guests. Many hosts miss this step, but it's a very basic action that can have a significant impact.
Craft a customized email for your guest with the date their interview will air, a link to their episode, and what they can do to help promote it (review the show, share it on social media, etc.). It's also a perfect opportunity to thank them for their time.
It has been known that some podcast hosts send post-interview gifts and merch as a way of saying thank you. No matter how you choose to do it, it's important to maintain a good relationship with your guests. Be kind, thankful, and proactive.
Practice Active Listening
One of the best things a podcast host can do is pause and just LISTEN. This might seem a little counterintuitive—after all, weren't we all told that dead air is a big no, no?
But, being purposeful and smart about your listening is a critical skill that all good podcast hosts need if they want to become effective interviewers.
As its name suggests, 'active listening' means dedicating your focus and full concentration to what is being said rather than passively 'hearing' the speaker.
Research shows that being a good listener can make you more influential and a stronger leader. In addition, it helps you (the listener) retain critical information, become more empathetic, promote trust, and build stronger bonds within relationships—all things that are ideal for hosting a premium interview.
Here are some ways to actively listen:
Face the speaker and maintain (non-creepy) eye contact
Be aware of non-verbal cues
Listen without judging or jumping to conclusions
Don't start planning on what to say next
Show that you are listening by either nodding, smiling, or verbally agreeing
Don't impose your opinions or solutions
Paraphrase and summarise*
*Repeating a point or notion back to a guest allows the speaker to correct you if you haven't understood them.
You can cultivate good interviewer and interviewee relationships; it just takes some practice and special consideration on your part.
Patience and practice are the keys to becoming a great podcast host because it certainly doesn't happen overnight. Hosting a podcast is hard work and requires constant improvement.
However, you can always be more aware, and in tune with your audience, better understand your topic, become more engaging, and be prepared.
Yes, it can seem like a lot. But you have to remember, your listeners are there for you. So be yourself, be prepared, and create great content with your audience in mind.