When podcasting, you should have two goals in mind:
-You want the listener to feel like they’re part of the discussion
-You want the guest to forget you’re recording.
And I believe these goals are not mutually exclusive. I think they both occur when the guests and hosts have found their rhythm, anxiety has been assuaged, and discussion begins to flow naturally and enjoyably.
However this doesn’t happen right away. Podcasting can be a lot of fun, but it takes a bit of time to reach this point. Podcast guests (and often the hosts) are often tense for the first few minutes. After that, you can feel a shift in the discussion as everyone becomes more comfortable with the process and the people in the room.
Those first few minutes can be very intimidating, especially for people who are not accustomed to being recorded or talking with strangers, often about fairly personal topics. If you’re a podcast host or producer, it can be very easy to get lost in the planning, the busyness, and the excitement. It might not occur to you that your guest might be nervous.
So here are a few things you can say and do to put your guest at ease, and hopefully shorten that getting-to-know-you period.
1 – Prep-Talk Before the Pep-Talk
It’s generally best not to tell your guest the exact questions you’ll be asking because they’ll often start formulating answers in their head. You don’t want answers to feel rehearsed. Instead go over some of the topics you want to discuss, and what you want to achieve. It helps put them at ease when they know you’re not going to surprise them with something they’re unable or unwilling to discuss. Also ask them if there’s anything they would like to discuss that perhaps you’ve missed. It’s important for them to know that it’s a discussion, not an interview – a conversation, and not an interrogation. Casual, informal discussion before hitting record helps guests and hosts get acquainted and find each other’s rhythm.
2 – They’re There for a Reason
Everyone is an expert at something. If you’ve invited someone to talk on a podcast, let them know they’re there for whatever that expertise might be. It’s most likely something that you and your listeners know very little about, so you’re eager to hear what they have to say. Make sure your guest knows that they may not be feeling completely confident, but that you have confidence in them.
3 – Be Yourself
Nothing’s worse than an unfunny person trying to be funny. People can see through pretense, so why bother trying to be someone you’re not? Let your guest know that if they’re genuine, open, and relaxed, people will connect with them regardless of the subject matter.
4 – You Want them to Succeed
You’re in this together. Your success is their success, and their success is your success. As a host or producer, it’s in your best interest to make your guest look/sound as good as possible. Make sure they know this before you hit record.
5 – Swearing is OK (Sort of)
I tend to tell our guests that it’s immature to not be able to express yourself without swearing, but at the same time, it’s also immature to pretend you’ve never heard a swear word before. If you produce a podcast, it’s best to decide during its inception phase what your policy is on profanity. For the Kingston Live Podcast, we let guests know they can swear if they like, just don’t overdo it. There are certain podcasts where swearing may not be appropriate, but if you have a more lenient approach to profanity, let your guest know. It will ease a lot of tension and help them to communicate more freely and honestly, making your podcast feel more genuine. We recently had a guest jokingly say he couldn’t think without swearing. Needless to say, he felt a lot better when we told him that wasn’t an issue.
6 – It’s Not Live
This can be a big relief for a lot of people. When possible, give them a chance to listen to the podcast before it’s released. They’ll be more relaxed when they know there’s an opportunity to remove any errors or things they would rather leave out of the finished product.
7 – Dummy-Proof the Tech
The only thing your guest should be focusing on is the discussion. Making it sound good is your responsibility. The less they’re burdened with technical considerations, the more they can focus on the subject matter. Instead of asking them for a mic check, set their levels while they’re chatting with the host. That tends to be more representative of their natural voice levels anyway. I also tend to avoid putting headphones on guests. To some, this might be sacrilege. To them, I ask why? Unless you’re in a noisy environment, or they’re hard of hearing, how do headphones help them? Some may argue that they can hear if they’ve drifted away from the mic, but most people don’t have that sensitivity. In addition, not everyone’s comfortable wearing strange headphones, either for physical or sanitary reasons. Remember that you want them to forget that you’re recording. Removing the burden of technical responsibilities is a big part of that.
8 – Microphone = Power
Many years ago I was recording some fire safety PSAs with a group of firefighters. When I asked who wanted to go first, they all looked at each other waiting for someone to volunteer. I found it interesting how people who walk into burning buildings for a living could be afraid of a microphone. But the truth is, microphones can be intimidating to those who don’t use them regularly. To these people, try to explain that a microphone should not be intimidating, but empowering. When you’ve got a mic, and it’s your turn to speak, you’re the one with the power. You’re the one who sets the tone and rhythm. You’re the one in control. One of the functions of a microphone is to amplify one’s voice. If you’ve got something to say, and someone’s given you that power, even for a few minutes, seize the opportunity and say your piece. It feels good.
9 – Be Human
It’s also important for the guest to know that you may be nervous too. Sure the host tends to be more experienced, but every podcast is different, and every discussion is going to have its own unique dynamic and challenges. It’s your show, but you don’t know how it’s going to play out any more than they do, so you all might as well accept that and enjoy the ride.
Pictured above: Award-winning recording artist Miss Emily with Kingston Live Podcast host Riley Jabour