Podcast Alchemy: How to Be a Great Podcast Host

A few simple actions can turn a good podcast host into a great podcast host. On the other hand, not doing them can lessen the quality of the episode.

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In Podcast Alchemy: 6. How to Be a Great Podcast Guest we looked at small things that could detract from a guest's appearance or, when done right, vault a guest into the realm of elite guesting. In this article we flip the mic and look at podcast hosting. As of this writing, I’ve been a guest on over 350 published podcast episodes (with scores more episodes recorded). I’ve met a lot of hosts and have seen a lot of things, good and bad. Below are some best practices for hosts. This isn’t the basics like having a decent mic and no background noise or being prepared for your interview. You can find that elsewhere. These are the things I don’t often see mentioned about how to make it a good experience for the guest and how to create a world class podcast episode.

If you are a guest, you might be thinking you can skip this one; don’t. Understanding the other side of the mic makes you a better guest. (The reverse is true, too, as I recommended in last week’s article; if you’re host, make sure you go back and read Podcast Alchemy: 6. How to Be a Great Podcast Guest since many of those tips will apply to you.) If you were on a show with a host who could improve, feel free to share this article (or series) with the host, it might be easier than bringing up any suggestions directly.

As a host, you’re busy. This is why you have your guests fill out a standard form and jump through your process. You may not have time to do deep research on your guest; or even if you do, you appreciate it when the guest makes it easier by answering some standard questions like providing a bio and headshot, so you don’t have to hunt for it, or by providing a few key topics for the episode. It’s all about minimizing your work. It’s reasonable and acceptable to ask for that from guests.

Your guests are no different. The guests you really want, the ones who are the biggest names and have the most value to share are very successful people. They run growing businesses, are top in their field, have deep knowledge, and/or are high achievers in other ways. None of those suggest copious amounts of free time.

You know how you're always juggling guests and shows? The best guests are probably on many podcasts juggling hosts and shows, too. Many guests are using podcast guesting as part of a marketing strategy. It might be due to a book launch or upcoming event, or maybe it’s just an extended marketing campaign. Regardless of the reason, they’re probably appearing on lots of shows, and certainly have lots of other tasks they need to do for their business. In other words, they have the same challenges you do. It’s all about minimizing their work, too.

Here’s how to make things easy for your guest, without asking you to do a lot of extra work yourself.

Provide an Overview

Have an overview sheet, web page, or standard email that answers the following questions. Many of these things a guest can find by search, but then you can find their info by searching, too. The whole point is to make it easy by having this on your website or in a standard email that you send them. Think of it like a reverse media kit, it’s a guest kit.

1. Who you are. This can be your bio.

2. Who listens to the podcast. Sure, if your podcast has “parent” or “leader” in the title I know it’s not aimed at surfers. What type of parents? Single parents? Parents of teenagers? Mostly US, or other countries? If leaders, are they aspiring leaders, middle managers, or executives? Are they in small companies or large? You may not know the answers but anything you can share is helpful, or just provide the type of people you’re trying to target. I hear “entrepreneur” quite a bit. A great guest will want to know this to provide examples most relevant for the audience. In my world of tech startups an “entrepreneur” or “founder” is someone raising VC money and aiming for a billion or bust. On many shows I do, “entrepreneur” means, “I started my own home business and don’t plan on hiring any staff other than maybe a virtual assistant.” Both are entrepreneurs, but I would offer different advice and different examples for each audience.

3. Audience size. The audience size or number of downloads is helpful for the guest to know, but to be fair, you may not want to share it. If you can, share an approximate size; certainly, if you ask guests about their followers and email list size you should be willing to share your own numbers as well; fair is fair. If you don’t want to share it, then, assuming you ask a guest for their followers on social media, be kind enough to provide your own.

4. Length of show. How long do you target for an episode? Any hard limits? For example, some people say, “we aim for thirty minutes but we never go longer than forty minutes.” On a related note, if you have a closing signal, please share that, e.g., “You’ll know we’re wrapping up when I say . . .”

5. Length of session. You may target 30-40 minutes for an episode, but there’s typically time before and after when you chat. How long should a guest block in their schedule?

6. Audio or Video. Some podcasts are audio only, others use video. Still others are audio only, but use video snippets on social media, or take still images. It’s imperative that you let the guest know so the guest can be prepared with attire, hair, makeup, and any lighting needed. (I had one podcast tell me it was audio only, so I was in a t-shirt. I found out later they used a screenshot for social media promotion, and I was very off brand in that attire.)

7. Live? Just let the guest know if this will be a live show or not. It may be easier to combine this with #8. If live, let them know if you take questions from the audience or how you interact and engage with the audience. (Side note to guests, I personally love audience engagement because then I know I’m providing exactly what the audience wants to learn.)

8. Level of editing. The typical options are: single take, editing only if there’s a major issue (e.g., dark barking), basic editing (e.g., allowing a do-over for a question, removing long pauses), or active editing (e.g., removing disfluencies).

9. Format. Some shows have standard questions for some or all of it. Others do more of a dialogue. (By the way, about 10% of podcasts explicitly tell me how they’re “unique” because they do more of a free form conversation; that’s fine, but, spoiler alert, it’s certainly not unique.) Some do rapid fire questions at the end. Anything is fine, but let the guest know ahead of time. Should the guest know this? Maybe. Again, the biggest guests are likely busy people in the middle of a press tour. (We’ll revisit in more depth later in this article.)

10. Process. The process is the overall timeline. Some people do a pre-interview before booking. Otherwise do a pre-interview after the booking. Still others like to just chat for ten minutes before recording, and a few even prefer to go in completely cold. It’s your show, but let the guest know what to expect.

11. Timing. It’s helpful for guests to know roughly how long between recording the release, if they’ll be emailed when it comes out, and what assets, if any, you’ll provide. Many guests have timelines for product launches or events and want to understand how this will fit into the schedule. (Ideally, the release latency is on your intake form so a guest can think about timing for any key dates before applying and taking your time if it doesn’t line up.)

12. Background. Share a little about your background, your services, why you created the podcast, and your goals. Yes, some of this can be found online, but make it easy. In Podcast Alchemy: 6. How to Be a Great Podcast Guest I suggested to guests that they try to promote you. Make it easy for them to do so by sharing this information. (But don’t feel they have slighted you if they don’t work it in.)

Again, have an email template, web page, or document lets you make this once, and you're done. A little effort saves a lot of time for both you and your guests.

Pre-read the Guest Bio

Some hosts like to have the guest introduce herself, others like to read a bio. Either is fine, but if you read the bio, know how to read it. I’ve met many hosts who read the bio cold. I certainly don’t expect you to remember the bio sent in weeks ago and reading (as opposed to memorizing it) it is fine. What’s less professional is reading in a stunted way, one word at a time, seemingly surprised by each word in the passage. If you read through the bio 2-3 times before you read it on the air, you’ll know what words come next, where to pause, and what tone to use for each part of the sentence. It comes off as a much more natural reading and sounds much more professional.

In my bio hosts have struggled with “cryptography” and quite a few read “corals” (as in the marine animal) as “corrals” (as in enclosure for horses). Had they glanced for even a moment ahead of time they would have known “Plant a Million Corals” is much more likely to be about the former. It kills the flow of the bio and equally important they don’t look good mispronouncing words.

Go to the episode Podcasting Essentials: Essential Skills And Expert Insights From Mark Herschberg (specifically 12m 56s into it) on The Binge Factor by Tracy Hazzard of Podetize for an audio example of this. I read part of Tracy’s bio well, and then part in the more stunted manner I hear other people do. Hazzard notes that she likes to record the intro at the end, because this way she knows where the show is going. (By the way, her website’s episode page for Podcasting Essentials: Essential Skills And Expert Insights From Mark Herschberg is a great example of turning an episode into a blog post, something we’ll cover more in Podcast Alchemy: 8. How to Get the Most Out of Your Podcast.)

Pronounce the Name Correctly

Make sure you know how to pronounce the guest’s name. It seems silly but people get it wrong. Even when they get it right, some people will trip over it. My last name (Herschberg) often gets mispronounced as Hirshenberger (with two extra syllables “en” and “er”). Lots of people (even non-podcasters) do that. I’m not offended, but if you take a moment to get the pronunciation right, it sounds more professional. Obviously, it can get more complicated as many hosts and guests come from different countries and backgrounds.

Quite simply, ask the guest to pronounce his name right before you start recording. Say it once or twice if you need to. There is no shame or embarrassment by doing this. You can simply say, “I ask everyone to pronounce their name for me right before we start recording so I make sure I get it right.” If you’re doing it for everyone, you’re not making someone feel singled out because of his name.

On a related note, get the pronunciation right of their company, product, book, or other brand. Again, it could be a clarity issue. I never expected “Cognosco Media” to be a public facing brand, but it’s become one. Is it Cog'-no-sco or Cog-no'-sco or Cog-no-sco'? It’s not clear, so ask. (Answer: Cog'-no-sco.)

More commonly people mispronounce my app, Brain Bump. Knowing that it’s an app which takes ideas from books, blogs, podcasts, talks, and classes, to help users keep the ideas in their pockets and helps them remember those ideas, a few people have referred to it as “Brain Dump.” I totally see why, but that’s not the name. I know it’s an honest mistake and I’m not angry about it; but to be a top professional means getting the little details right. (I eventually added the tagline, “A nudge for your ‘noggin” to help people remember it’s a bump (nudge) not a dump.)

Confirm the Bio

If you use a bio your guests sent you, you’re all set. Some hosts like to come up with their own bio. Also great. But confirm the details. Details being the key word here. I have taught at MIT for over twenty years, but I am not a professor and never list myself as a professor. MIT doesn’t generally take adjunct faculty, and the few they do aren’t called professors. Some people have referred to me as a “professor at MIT” when doing the bio and that’s wrong. But since I don’t want to embarrass them (especially if it’s a live show and we can’t cut) I just let it go.

This is obviously minor but other mistakes can be bad for someone’s brand. It’s best to confirm the bio with the guest if you as the host are writing it. By confirm I mean confirm the details, to the point of sharing the bio, word for word.

Intro & Exit

This is a small, subtle point, but it does trip people up. Most podcasts open with something like, “My guest today is Chris who has . . . and we’re excited to have Chris with us today.” Then what? Should Chris respond or stay silent? Most of the time it’s clear, but sometimes the speech patterns of the host and the experience (or lack thereof) of the guest make it unclear. This is exacerbated where the host and guest may be from different countries or cultures and have different cultural norms (such as different pause rates in speech).

This is part of the process above but should be explicitly stated right before the recording, even if in your document. There are three things that can vary from host to host so be explicit about your process. Unlike the document you send out ahead of time, it’s best to mention this right as you record since it’s not information that is relevant to the guest except for right now at this moment.

Intro. Some guests record the intro during this recording session, others record it separately and just jump right into the first question.

Welcome. After you do the intro or “Welcome Chris” what should the guest do? Do you want the guest to respond or are you about to jump into your first question. Anything is fine but be explicit. Tell the guest, “I’ll go from the welcome to my first question” or “after I welcome you take a few seconds to say ‘hello’” (e.g., “Hi Devon, thanks for having me on your podcast”) or if you want the guest to do something else (see the standard questions section in Podcast Alchemy: 6. How to Be a Great Podcast Guest).

Ending. Likewise, many hosts thank their guest at the end for being on the show. Again, be explicit about whether or not you want the guest to respond or not. I often feel like I should respond but I also don’t want it to seem like I’m trying to get in the final word on the host’s show (and in some cases the host may have a final call to action I don’t want to talk over).

Warmup Question

Justin Peters, Co-founder of SimplePod Studios, uses a warmup question to help the guest be more comfortable. If you have a less experienced guest, or if you’re just finding your episodes seem to have a cold start, consider doing a non-recorded (or non-published if you prefer to start recording the instant you connect so you don’t forget to hit the record button later) question just to help both people get a feel for each other’s style. Explain the purpose of this question and why.

Provide a Countdown

Some recording studios give a countdown of a few seconds prior to recording. For the ones who don’t give the guest a little warning. Either check with the guest or give the guest a countdown. It’s a minor point, but hosts will sometimes start the recording mid facial scratch and it’s often the first frame that becomes the thumbnail. I had one host who was recording from the moment I logged into the meeting. I joined and we were live (it wasn’t a live show, so I was expecting at least a few seconds before the official recording).

Ideally, give the guest a few seconds after you hit record. Today (spring 2024) Zoom puts the recording notice on the top of the screen, and it can be left unclicked without interfering with the view. In the prior version of Zoom, the notice about the recording was dead center of the screen, blocking the view. The guest would need to move the mouse to the middle of the screen and click ok in order to see the host during the session. But it also means the first few seconds of the video were of the guest doing something on his laptop. That’s not a professional look since to the audience it looks like the guest is busy not paying attention to the start of the podcast. If the guest needs to click something, give him a few seconds to do so.

Guest Contact and Call to Action

Every host should let the guest do a call to action or pitch at the end. This is usually “Where can your listeners find you?” A mistake is for the host to simply say, “We’ll have your contact information in the show notes.” Many people listen to podcasts while driving, cooking, or exercising. They may not remember to go back and look at the show notes later. Even if they do, repetition of the brand helps your guest. Absolutely include the guest’s links in the show notes but have it in the audio as well. It also lets the guest include a call to action, e.g., “You can go to my website at . . . and if you click the free gift link you can get a free guide, 99 ways to build a social media profile for your pet!”

Consider putting the call action right before the end. If you go to a Marvel movie you may notice many people sitting through the end credits. It’s not that we’re all big fans of the key grip, it’s because we know there’s a final scene at the end. Some listeners know the promotion is at the end, yours and theirs, and shut off the podcast early. If you can put the call to action a minute or two before the final question or content, people are more likely to hear it. Tracy Hazzard, CEO of Podetize, has found that the best place for a call to action is after you’ve delivered the core value of the episode but right before any closing thoughts, or last advice. The law of reciprocity is coming into play since the audience just got value. Now people are open to what’s next, wherever you’ll direct them.

If you want to be really nice, drop in the name of the guest’s company, book, or other thing during the episode as well, just so the audience hears it a few times. (But there’s no need to force it in.)

Some experts will disagree and say the call to action should only be the host’s website since the goal of the podcast is to drive that traffic. The host will certainly include links to the guest’s websites but only from the page, encouraging the listeners to first go to the hosts website. I understand the theory but respectfully disagree (a late-night talk show host doesn’t say, “my guest’s book is in bookstores now go to our website to find out what and where” but will hold up the book and show the cover to the audience) although as a host you may prefer this approach.

Ask for Feedback

A handful of hosts have asked right after we stop recording, “Is there anything I can do better?” In the corporate world, we have review and feedback sessions (at least in theory, not all companies do) to help people grow. Podcasting is often a solo activity so there’s no mechanism within your company-of-one for that. Asking for feedback is a good way to continue to improve. (Podcast guests, you can ask for feedback, too.)

Likewise, some hosts ask, “How was that?” This is to check if the guest realized after the fact there was an issue. Maybe the guest realized she mentioned a client by name that she shouldn’t have or would like to redo an answer. It’s not an obligation, but it’s certainly nice to do this check-in. (Podcast guests, you can ask, too, to see if there’s any chances the host may want.)

Email When the Show Drops

This seems like common sense but there are still plenty of hosts who don’t do this. Let your guest know when the show drops. I have Google Alerts on my name, but they don’t always catch a new episode.

Ideally, you should provide a heads-up ahead of time so guests can prepare and promote. Some guests, especially the bigger names, have social media calendars that are planned ahead of time. Giving the heads-up lets the podcast be prompted in a timely manner by getting it into the social media calendar closer to the drop date.

Share Resources for Promotion (Email or Shared Folder)

Guests want to promote the episode. Help us do it. Send the guest logos and images. Do you have a standard image with the guest’s headshot and your logo? Send that along. Even if you only have your basic cover art and not episode specific ones, make that accessible. I often have to go find it online and download the image file to use with my social media posts. Every mouse click you save me makes it more likely that I’ll promote it.

I’ll actually always promote it and do the work, and all guests should promote it, but this tilts the odds in your favor. Even if they will promote it, it’s better to promote it with your cover art, than just text; and by providing your cover art you make that more likely.

Do you have quotes from each episode that you share with your audience? If so, give them to the guest to do the same. You can send it in an email or share it in a shared folder along with audio and video clips.

You ask your guest to send in their social media so you have it handy, please provide the same to your guest. It makes it easier for the guest to tag you. This could be in a standard template email you cut and paste. I hate having to hunt down the socials of my host and at times just give up.

Share Downloads

Very few podcasts actually do this, and it’s not an obligation, but it’s a very nice thing to do. Let us know how the show did. Share some information a week or two later. We rarely get feedback so anything you can share is helpful.

If you don’t want to share the actual number, which is understandable, sharing a relative number is appreciated, e.g., “Your episode was 10% lower than our average episode after one week.” That’s helpful to know. If I hear this consistently from podcasts it tells me maybe I’m going on the wrong podcasts or need to help craft a more compelling tag for the episode, or I need to up my game. On the other hand, if I hear that it’s one of the better episodes, it tells me I’m hitting the right audience with the right message.

Likewise, if you get any feedback that are specific comments about the guest, please do share. Like you, we like to hear feedback, good and bad.


Peters also suggests asking guests how they like to share the episode. There’s no point generating clips for a social media channel if you’re not using it and the guest isn’t using it. On the flip side, if the guest promotes through her email list, then providing a one-paragraph blub to go with the link might be better for the guest than a bunch of social media images she wasn’t going to use. Help her, help you.

Legal Form Clause Reading, “no endorsement”

I’ll start by saying I am not a lawyer, so this is not legal advice, and you should check this with your lawyer. Many podcasts have a release where the guest assigns all rights to the podcaster. You should absolutely have rights to the work and derivative items like audio clips.

The catch is where the agreement asks for rights to name, likeness, image, etc. with no restrictions. My understanding (again, I am not a lawyer) is that if I sign that and give you my rights you can then use them however you’d like. You could use our audio clip or images to promote products, services, or causes I don’t support. For someone like me who has a lot of name integrity, I don’t like signing blank checks. Please note that I’m not saying you will do this, but down the road someone can buy your company and then they would have the right so they can do it. We don’t know what the future may hold, even if today both parties have the best of intentions. I’ve said no to dozens of podcasts for this single reason.

Instead, make sure your form has some limitations such as, “. . . in conjunction with promoting the episode” or, “. . . cannot be used to promote products and services unrelated to the episode.” This gives you rights to use the content in the podcast and derivative content such as blog posts and books but not for things you probably wouldn’t have used it for anyway. Again, I’m not a lawyer. Hopefully the industry will standardize on this terminology.

Don’t Ask, “What prior show did you like and why?”

I see this on quite a few guest intake forms. If your podcast guests are only intended to be your superfans, this is a great question. If you are looking to bring on experts, this question has no relevance.

As noted at the outset of this article, the best guests are busy people. They are running a business, launching a book, and/or doing a whole bunch of other things. They are probably not fanboys of your show, and that should be ok. Do you think Steven Colbert asks his guests, “Before I have you on, which of my episodes did you like best?”

I have people reach out to me to be on podcasts and other media. I don’t respond, “Which chapter in my book most resonated with you and why?” You have lots of guests, I don’t expect that you’ve read every book, and certainly not my book. (Again, do you think a talk show host watches every movie, hears every album, and reads every book of his guests? Of course not.) If you book me, you should look over my background, but even then, you don’t need to have read my book. Likewise, if I go on your show, I should know something about your show but don’t expect me to have binged a bunch of prior episodes.

The common reason I hear is, “I want to guest to get a sense of my style.” As I’ve noted elsewhere, 95% of you or more have the same style. I don’t mean that to be insulting. Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, and Steven Colbert all have slightly different styles but really their show formats aren’t that different from other talk shows; neither is your podcast that different from other podcasts. Sure, a guest who has never done a podcast before should listen to some episodes and even practice some mock podcasts. If you’re targeting first time guests to be on your show, then maybe this is a good question. If you’re targeting experts, authors, executives, and others who are successful they likely don’t need to listen to a bunch of your episodes to be able to be on your show.

If you really think your show is unique (and some of you might be, but honestly 99% of podcasts shows are not) then in your intake form explain the unique format of your show. If you don’t think you can sufficiently explain it, then ask the guest to listen to one episode. Better yet, recommend the episode that epitomizes your style. Why make it harder for your guest? (But if you can’t sufficiently explain it in your intake form, ask yourself if podcasting is the right field for you, since making things clear is kinda what we do.)

Build a Relationship

The podcast recording is a one-time thing, but the relationship can last a lifetime. The fact that you two are doing a show together means that you have some interest in common. The recording should not be the end, but rather the beginning of a relationship. Dave Jackson of the School of Podcasting observes, “The biggest benefit of guesting is the relationship you build with each host. Don't do a drive by interview. Follow up from time to time to see how they are doing (easier said than done).”

I always spend ten to thirty minutes afterwards talking with the host. We get to know each other. We cover this more in Podcast Alchemy: 8. How to Get the Most Out of Your Podcast. Sometimes there are other ways to work together in the short term, other times not.

It was actually during these conversations that someone asked about whether the Brain Bump app I was building for books could work for podcasts. The app was designed to help readers better retain and use what they read, and helps authors stay top of mind. With that one question I realized podcasts listeners and hosts have the same challenge. That was huge value gained from an easy conversation. The two of you are in the same field, or an adjacent one, and the conversations can help you discover new opportunities or trends to capitalize on.

The list above may seem like a lot, but most of it is one-and done, or is a small action taken during the show. Justin Peters, Co-founder of SimplePod Studios, has a great podcast host checklist (most of which applies to podcast guests, too). The tips above will greatly improve the experience for your guests (encouraging guest referrals), and the overall quality of your show.