3 Qualities of Great Podcast Hosts

For Organizations and Subject Matter Experts

The talk show format dominates the podcast ecosystem for organization and subject matter expert shows. It may even start to overtake talk radio. Therefore, if you want to have a great talk show that stands out, you have to have a great podcast host.

To be an outstanding podcast host, you first have to understand what the host’s role is. It’s simple but often forgotten or ignored. The host is responsible for ensuring the listener gets value from the podcast.

In a talk show — that is, in an interview or conversation, the host is the proxy for the listener. They should be asking the questions that listeners want to be answered and get to the information the listeners want (or need).

#1: Great Podcast Hosts Provide Value to Listeners

The first key to being a great podcast host is, therefore, value. The host should know what value the listener will gain from the conversation before the conversation begins.

A very happy podcast listener.
Make your podcast listeners as happy as this guy.

A great host understands the reason they’re speaking with this particular guest, and the reasons the listener cares. They consider what the listener might already know about this topic, and how the conversation will add to that knowledge (rather than simply reiterating it).

If you want to be a great podcast host, you should be clear about the value your conversation will provide the audience. You should think about that value throughout the process of making an episode — from guest selection all the way to editing the final product.

#2: Great Podcast Hosts Prepare

When the guest and topic are selected and the value is clear, a great podcast host prepares for the interview or conversation. We've talked about this before.

A woman preparing to be a great podcast host.
This woman is preparing to be a great podcast host. You should, too!

Research. Being well-prepared requires researching the guest in detail. If you’re the host, you’ll want to review what the guest has recently written or posted about the topic. You’ll want to be clear and certain about their qualifications and credentials, so you can properly introduce them. And, of course, you should review all this information and have everything relevant at your fingertips during the recording.

Of course, you also need to prepare your questions and talking points. Think about the value listeners should get from the episode and focus your questions on that.

Structure. After researching, structure your questions and talking points into a story with three Acts, such as:

  1. Problem
  2. Solution
  3. Strategy 

or 

  1. Past
  2. Present
  3. Future

Don’t overthink this; any basic “beginning, middle, end” structure will do.

Conducting the interview or conversation in a story structure will help your listeners follow along and get the maximum value out of the show, while also helping you guide the conversation by a thoughtful transition from one Act to the next.

Rehearse. Hosting a podcast talk show is a performance, and like every other performer, you need to rehearse. Read over the guest’s information and become familiar with the details. Do this out loud. Go through your questions in the 3-Act storyline order. Read all your questions out loud.

You should be able to imagine the entire conversation in your head, without looking at your notes. But you will be speaking during the actual conversation so you also want your lips, tongue, and vocal cords wired to what you’re going to say before you have to say it.

Rehearsing out loud can do more to transform a mediocre podcast host into a great one than anything else in this article.

#3: Great Podcast Hosts Lead the Conversation

You’ve identified the value, done your research, and rehearsed. Now it’s time to record the show. This is when a podcast host becomes a leader.

A great podcast host leading the conversation.
One of these people is a great podcast host who is leading the conversation. Can you tell which? (Just kidding, it's stock photography! No one is in charge!)

A great podcast host will control the conversation to ensure the listeners get the value they want and expect. You’ll hear them provide cues to keep the guests aware of the time, using phrases like "to start off," "let's transition," and "as we near the end of our time".

When guests get off-topic, great hosts acknowledge what they've said before re-focusing them on the topic or question by saying things like, "I'm sorry to interrupt, but...", "I want to get to that in a moment, but first..," and "Before you finish that thought I want to make sure our listeners understand...".

When the guests get ahead of the agenda, a great host notes what they've said, redirects to the current topic, and repeats what they said when it's time to introduce that topic, as in, “a moment ago you mentioned…let’s come back to that.

As any great leader will tell you, the key here is to listen. That will help you guide the conversation while allowing your guest to be human, not just a voice. There are a few more tips here:

  • Don’t interrupt, except when you need to get the conversation back on track.
  • Let them tell stories, as long as the story is relevant to the topic.
  • Listen for opportunities to learn something new or unexpected. Give your guests the opportunity to surprise you.

Avoid These Mistakes

Never ask your guests to introduce themselves.

It’s your show and your audience, it’s up to you to tell your listeners who this person is and why they matter.

After your formal introduction, it’s ok to ask them to tell listeners a little bit about themselves in the context of the topic, e.g. “How did your life lead you to this line of research?”

Do not skip the guest research step just because you already know your guest well. 

You still need to have their most recent writing, posts, comments, and qualifications at your fingertips so you can reference them for your audience’s benefit.

It’s ok to tell the audience that you and your guest know each other well but you should remember that you’re both there for the audience’s sake — being too personal or detailed will alienate your listeners.

Avoid the “Eavesdropping Effect” 

Too much insider detail or too many undefined acronyms will alienate listeners. It creates the listener's perception of eavesdropping on a conversation that’s occurring at the next table in a coffee shop or restaurant, rather than sitting at the same table with you and your guest.

Value, Preparation, and Leadership

Remember these three keys to being a great podcast talk show host: Value, Preparation, and Leadership. Focus on succeeding at these three tasks and you will sound more professional with each episode.

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