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Dear Podcast Host, You’re Not the Listener. Sincerely, The Listener

The one thing that every podcast host wants is for other people to listen to their podcast. And obviously, we want the listening experience to be a positive one so that they’ll keep coming back for more.

It’s tempting for the podcast host to take the role of the active listener: on the edge of their seat, looking the guest in the eye, nodding and verbally affirming what they say while doing an interview. That’s just good manners when you’re having a conversation, right?

But when you the host are affirming what they have to say, perhaps coaching and coaxing the best answer from them, it’s important that you don’t detract from the experience of the listeners, i.e. those who press “play” on their iPhone and listen to your show.

Imagine two performers on the stage, giving a concert for others to listen to and enjoy. When one is playing or singing, what does the other performer do? They get out of the way. They stand off to the side, smile, maybe dance a little bit to the beat. Whatever they do, they make sure the other person gets the spotlight during their solo.

Your role as the host is to be one of those performers, only you want your guest to have the spotlight on them as much as possible. Perhaps it sounds disingenuous, but the more you keep the focus off of you during an interview, the more your audience will enjoy your show.

That being said, here are a few things I’ve seen podcast hosts do that detract from the experience of their listeners:

  • Excessive “Hmms” “uh huhs” “right” “got it”. These are what I call the audio equivalent of the “head nod” that you see in a TV interview. Every so often, the interviewer will appear on the screen, nodding their head in agreement. This is to make the experience more engaging for viewers (quite effectively I might add.) Interestingly, these are usually filmed after the interview is done and spliced in during post-production.While you definitely want some of those “head nods” in your audio interview, keep them to a  minimum. If you hire an editor, make sure they know to leave a few in to keep the conversation flowing.
  • Lack of clarity in follow up to a guest’s answer. Follow up questions or dialogue are good, but make sure they’re targeted and confident. If you want to move on to another topic, perhaps briefly summarize their thought, add some finality, and boldly move on to the next question. For reference, here are some good transition phrases that will either finish a thought or rabbit hole into another one:
    • So it sounds to me like…
    • I always thought _______, but I’m hearing from you that…
    • I find it interesting that you…
  • Injecting personal experiences with the guest’s experiences. Obviously, you the host want to be personable and relatable to your audience. Nevertheless, resist the urge to share your own personal experiences in detail. The last thing you want to do is upstage your guest. Yes, I know it’s your show, just trust me. Something like, “I’ve experienced that first-hand with horrifying results,” is engaging, affirms what they’ve said, and keeps the spotlight on your guest.

I like to think of a podcast interview as a game of hot potato. Once the guest gives me the hot potato in the form of finishing their question, I try to give it back to them ASAP. I’m featuring so and so to discuss this issue, to give their perspective on that problem. I’m the host who owns the villa, my guest is the guest of honor who gets the spotlight for an hour. I’m doing all the thankless work behind the scenes to make it all possible. And at the end of the day, I get all the credit. I enjoy a glass of wine on the veranda overlooking the mountains that have been gently kissed with the sun’s benevolent rays.

In summary, you the podcast host are in control. While the guest is answering your question, you’re busy thinking of the follow-up question, thinking of the right transition phrase, etc. You’re definitely not enjoying a friendly chat with another human being. You’re hard at work making the listening experience as enjoyable as possible for others.

Hopefully these tips will help in your journey, and give more detailed instructions to your editor if you have the luxury of paying for one. If you have any questions, comments, or any ideas of your own to add to the discussion, let me know in the comments section below!

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