Podcast Alchemy: The Philosophy of Guesting

Many podcasts’ guests go into the show with the wrong attitude. It creates a bad experience for the audience and host and misses an opportunity for the guest.

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In the last article we explored the question of hosting or guesting (Podcast Alchemy: 2. To Host or Guest). Before getting to the mechanics of finding and getting on podcasts as a guest, it’s important for a podcast guest (and host) to keep one thing in mind. This is so important that I’m devoting an entire article to it.

You are there to deliver value to the audience.

I can’t emphasize this enough. Put the audience first and make sure this is something worth their time.

It may seem obvious, but often guests see podcasts the wrong way. One common mistake is to see it as a sales pitch. They talk about their book, service, or awesome product, and how great they are, or the offering is. The podcast then becomes a commercial and no one wants to listen to a thirty- or sixty-minute commercial. (That’s what late night infomercials are for, not the host’s podcast.) Justin Peters, Co-founder of SimplePod Studios, observes, “people tune in for education and entertainment; they don’t turn in for advertising.”

Another mistake is to see it as a movie preview, and they don’t want to give away the ending. A preview may be fun for sixty seconds waiting for the feature film, but no one wants to watch a thirty-minute movie preview.

Instead of either of the above, you need to provide value. The question is, where’s the line between providing value and not giving away the store?

Consider a book with a title like, “The Six Secrets of X.” They’re afraid that if they mention the six secrets, no one will buy the book or their service. In fact, the opposite is true for good quality work.

First, chances are you’re not the only person in the world with those secrets. Everyone else in your space knows it and with a web search I can find it, too. Saying, “follow trends when doing social media marketing” isn’t the secret. Explaining how to do it is where the value comes from.

Next you might think, ok, well I can’t give away the details. If I tell them, “Check headlines, find trending hashtags, and see what your peers are posting” I’ll have given away my secrets. If you think that’s your whole secret, then, no, that wasn’t a secret either. If your book (or methodology) can be summarized in a handful of sentences and that’s 90% of the value, go back and write a better book; there’s clearly not enough content.

If you’re worried about giving away the store, remember that people like anecdotes. This way when you mention “check headlines” you can follow it with places to find headlines, examples of when you’ve done it or how others have (stories are ideal for podcasts), mistakes to watch out for (including stories of mistakes), and ways to do it well. Now instead of two seconds of saying, “check headlines” you can have three to ten minutes of examples, anecdotes, and additional details. The content is richer, and you don’t feel like you’re pulling back the whole curtain, but rather only on one small part of it; you won’t have time to get so detailed with all six of your secrets.

I very much give the specific, actionable advice my book away in the podcasts. I do this because I’m there to create value. I also, as noted in Podcast Alchemy: 1. An Unexpected Journey, wrote a book full of lots of content so I couldn’t possibly give it all away. Now if you listen to enough of my podcasts, you can probably choose not to buy the book. If your time to money tradeoff goes in that direction, I was probably never going to sell to you the book anyway. (BTW, if you do want to get all my tips without buying the book, you can get them all for free on Brain Bump. While on your phone click the link once to download the free app. Once installed you can click it again to get the tips for free or just find the book tips on the Add page and download them.)

My friend Alexandra Watkins is a brand naming expert. She charges an appropriate price, one that’s well worth it, but it’s big enough that it’s not a corporate impulse buy (unlike, say, buying a $200 printer). Many people choose to buy her book Hello, My Name is Awesome in which she walks you through her step-by-step process so you can do it yourself. (It’s how I came up with the name Brain Bump; thanks Alexandra!) You might think she’s undercutting her premium service by giving away her secret sauce for less than twenty dollars, but here’s the thing, many of her clients are ones who first bought her book. In other words, by explaining her process, they see that there is significant value to what she does and are more willing to pay for it. I would argue that giving away your “secrets'' demonstrates your value to the audience and will lead to better sales of books and services than if you don’t. (She does go on podcasts but doesn’t have time to get into every detail of her book.)

A weight loss coach isn’t going to tell you some Illuminati secret; she’s going to tell you to eat less calories and spend more time exercising. You hire her as a coach, already knowing those two key pillars, because she can help you plan and execute a food and exercise program that works specifically for you.

There are two exceptions to the above. The first is if you have a fiction book; obviously don’t give away the ending or all the plot twists; in this case the audience prefers it that way. Second, if you’re already a big name with credibility, you may not have to present much. If Warren Buffet wanted to promote some new book of his on a podcast and didn’t go into details people would buy it anyway, since they already know he has something valuable to offer them. For everyone else the rule is: show, don’t tell.

Ultimately, go with the mindset that you’re not there to sell. That may be your motivation and you will try to sell your book, service, or product, but that should be the natural outcome of the value you offer. Nearly every podcast will (certainly everyone should) give you a place at the end to pitch your book or service. It’s fine to drop the name or even say, “as I cover in chapter 3 . . .” once or twice during the show but focus more on the value and not on promotion. (I do know some people who suggest that you need to mention the name of your book or company at least three times. It comes naturally with your bio at the start and call to action at the end, and it’s ok to drop the name once or twice during the show as long as it’s alongside value being given.)

One note to hosts, please, please, please ask, “Where can people get in touch with you?” at the end of the show. Most do, but a few simply say, “there are links in the show notes.” Remember that many people listen to shows while driving or exercising. The episode is long over before they can look at the screen. Orally providing the contact information at the end of the show is key, in addition to having it in the show notes.

Think of podcast guesting like networking. If you think, “there’s an important person I want to network with because she can do something for me” it’s disingenuous and you will come across that way. On the other hand, if you think, “here’s someone nice, let me meet her and build a relationship with her; maybe in the future I can help her, or she can help me” you’ll have much more success.

In every outreach, every email, every pre-interview, and every recording, I focus on the audience first. I do this even for podcasts where the audience doesn’t matter to the host (we’ll talk about this in Podcasting Alchemy: 9. Who is Helping Whom? Podcast Hosts, Podcast Guests, & Audiences). Tip for hosts: make sure you tell you guest who your audience is. We’ll get into this more in Podcast Alchemy: 6. How to Be a Good Host.

Audiences aren’t stupid, they know a sales pitch when they hear it and will tune you out. By leading with value, you start to build the relationship with the audience and build trust in your brand. With value and trust established, sales will follow. As a guest, and as a host, too, focus on providing value to the audience.