What does a host experience during a podcast episode and how can you prepare yourself for the challenge?
Yes, it's a challenge. A good challenge, a fun challenge, but a challenge nonetheless. I wouldn't be doing my job if I let you walk into it thinking otherwise.
Next to standing on stage and speaking to a crowd, podcast hosting is one of my favorite things to do. Partly because I get to learn from really smart and talented people and partly because there is a bit of improv going on at the same time. Note: I plan and script my podcasts, at least as far as outline and questions go. The improv comes with navigating the conversation and asking follow up questions, leading the conversation to a helpful conclusion for guest and listener.
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My first priority is making the guest feel comfortable and relaxed so they can share freely. I make them the center of the podcast episode and I serve as a guide, leading the conversation. Many people disagree with me on making the guest the center, and that’s okay.
At the core, the host has a conversation with a guest. Not a plain conversation, nor one that remains at the surface. Instead it is a discussion with depth and empathetic listening. I can't default to talking about the weather. 😎 For me, this means pre-planned questions based on researching the guest. The worst thing a host can do is show up unaware of anything related to the guest. I have interviewed leaders and CEOs where even with my research, I didn't quite grasp the level of influence this person had. It wasn't a lack of preparation, simply the understanding of context after the fact.
The next level of responsibility is remembering the audience and making sure this is something they want to listen to. I might geek out over details or take tangents which I might find fascinating, yet might not be relevant to the audience. At the same time, I must be on the lookout for those points or comments where I might understand what the guest says, but the audience may not. It could be an acronym, and marketing or business term, or anything that could appear unclear. When this occurs, my job is to ask follow ups and clarifying questions to make sure the audience understands what was said.
I want to engage the guest in a meaningful way, making it an enjoyable conversation for them. At the same time part of my brain is evaluating whether this is a good path for future listeners and whether to make an adjustment or take a different line of questions for the discussion. It's a two-fold task and the host walks a fine line between guest and listener. If it is an enjoyable guest experience but it doesn't help the listeners, I failed. If the listeners enjoy the episode but it is unpleasant for the guest, I failed. A good experience for both groups is the goal.
You might be thinking, “No way. Not possible.” Reading this can make it feel daunting, however, it is a skill that can be learned. The more repetitions, the better you will become at interviewing. I am continually learning each time I interview a guest and no episode will ever be perfect. If you are nervous about interviewing, find someone you trust and ask them to practice with you. Even better, find someone who is a podcaster or who is thinking about starting a podcast, and take turns interviewing and being interviewed. Remember, the more you do it, the better you will get.
Till next time!