I’ve been doing a number of podcast interviews for my upcoming book Mind Hacking, which hits bookshelves in January 2016. It’s a little unusual to do publicity so far in advance, but I’m treating it as a way to work out the material for the official promotional tour.
My first interview was with the programming podcast Giant Robots Smashing into Other Giant Robots. These guys have a dedicated podcasting studio, and a terrific host (programming luminary Ben Orenstein). You can listen to that podcast here.
The next interview was with The Busy Creator, hosted by the graphic designer and brand developer Prescott Perez-Fox. This podcast is targeted to creative professionals, and was done via Skype. I thought Prescott did a great job, and you can listen to that podcast here.
No matter what you are trying to promote — your book, your business, or your brand — there are dozens of podcasts who would love to have you as a guest. But how can you be a good podcast guest? I’ve done plenty of author interviews over the years, and here are a few things that have worked for me.
Know Thy Audience
Before you appear on a podcast, do your homework. Listen to a couple of episodes, develop a sense of the audience, and get comfy with the podcaster’s style. Being interviewed is a weird, disorienting, and unnatural experience. You have to be “on” from the time they hit the record button, so the more you can know what to expect, the better you’ll be.
Your potential audience can be wider than you think. Mind Hacking, for example, is a self-help book for geeks, yet we are approaching not just programming podcasts, but also podcasts related to business, entrepreneurship, startups, productivity, and self-improvement. If you have a few good ideas to share, you can tie them in to multiple audiences.
Indeed, you’ll do best if you approach the podcast with the attitude: What useful ideas can I share with this audience? In a sense, you’re there to serve the audience. What helpful advice or takeaways will make your interview worth the listener’s time? Remember that time is money, and even though listeners get your interview for free, their time is not free. Make it worth their time.
Prepare Content “Hunks”
Whatever you’re promoting, you need to have some pieces of material ready to share, which I call “hunks.” A hunk can be a concept, an explanation, or an analogy, about one to two minutes in length. Stories make the best hunks, since the human brain is hardwired for stories. You need to rehearse these hunks, but I find it best not to memorize, since it needs to sound natural.
Before an interview, I plan out the hunks, then write down the name of each hunk on my interview cheat sheet. For instance, the “Disobedient Dog” hunk might talk about how the human mind is like a disobedient dog, perhaps with a humorous story of an out-of-control dog, leading to a takeaway point. Each hunk will be stronger if there’s a useful takeaway for the listener.
You want some pre-planned hunks, but you also want to think through the audience for each podcast to see if you need to prepare some new hunks, or reposition them slightly. With the two podcasts above, for example, one was targeted to programmers, and one was targeted to freelance creative professionals. Position your hunks accordingly.
Be Informative, Not Entertaining
I used to think my job as a guest was just to be funny, but now that I listen to many longform podcasts with comedians (like Marc Maron’s WTF and Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist), I’ve realized that even the funniest guests are not constantly funny. If you can get a couple of chuckles over the course of an hour, that’s pretty good.
On The Busy Creator podcast above, they linked to two video interviews I did several years ago. In the one for Internet Underground (2007), I was definitely in “entertaining” mode, talking quickly and throwing in a lot of jokes. In the one for Babson Magazine (2012), I was in “informative” mode, talking more calmly and directly.
Part of this was that they were for two very different audiences: comedy fans vs. business students. Part of it was that I was sober in 2012. But the biggest part was becoming more comfortable with the “informative” approach, trying to add value instead of acting like a caffeinated clown.
Don’t get me wrong: I am still a big fan of bringing energy to the interview. You have to be “on,” which means mentally focused and poised, like a dancer just before she goes on stage. You also need to be a little more over the top than feels natural: turn up the energy knob one notch higher than you think it needs to be. But try not to leave your listeners exhausted. It’s a balance.
Expect the Unexpected
You really never know where an interview is going to go. No matter how prepared you are, the interviewer will usually ask you something you totally did not expect. I am going to share with you a secret about interviews, which is that you do not have to answer the question.
You see this in political debates all the time. The moderator will ask the politician a question about education, and the politician will go on and on about some totally unrelated topic, like Cuba. It is better to fall back on one of your preplanned hunks, and have something useful to say, than to stammer out a poorly-considered response to a question you’ve never thought about.
You can hear this in my interview with The Busy Creator, where he asked me the difference between biohacking and mind hacking. This was actually a good question, but I did not have an answer prepared. So I defaulted to another answer. If you’re not listening for it, you’d never notice. If you are listening for it, it’s actually kind of funny.
Next time I get this question, I’ll be ready. In the meantime, no one wants to listen to you try to figure out an answer. Try to maintain a sense of poised self-confidence, no matter what the interviewer throws at you. It’s fun to think on your feet, but it does take a lot of practice. And there’s no way to practice except just to do it. Hence, the reason for starting my book tour six months early.
Many podcast interviews now take place over Skype, which is much more convenient than traveling to a studio. The tradeoff is the split-second audio lag that causes you to talk over each other. If you and I are having a face-to-face conversation, I might throw in a joke offhandedly, but you can’t do that via Skype. You have to resist the urge to interrupt.
Similarly, you should wait until the interviewer is completely finished with the question before responding. The hosts above are both good interviewers, but sometimes you get a host that doesn’t know when to stop asking the question: se just keeps filling in. Wait patiently. When se finally finishes the question, then you answer it.
My experience with Skype is that it is also better to turn off the video. First, I never know what to wear. Second, I never know where to look. Finally, video consumes a lot of bandwidth, which makes lag more likely. Better to streamline the streaming, and go audio-only.
Make it a Conversation
Unless it is a very short-form interview, it is highly recommended to ask questions of the interviewer. Keep in mind the audience knows the host — that’s why they’re listening — and they don’t know you. When you ask interesting questions that the listeners probably want to ask the host themselves, it makes your interview more interesting.
This is counterintuitive, but also the way we operate in real life: a good conversation is two people sharing information. There’s a give and take. Approach podcasts the same way, and it will give you a better result than just blathering on about yourself.
Also, use the podcaster’s name. Don’t overdo it, but work it in here and there. Whenever you listen to the talking heads on TV news channels, they always know the anchor’s name, and they use it frequently. It gives the interview a comfortable familiarity, and makes for a more relaxed conversation.
Listen and Learn
One of my favorite documentaries is a little-known film called Comedian, about Jerry Seinfeld’s return to standup comedy. On the DVD commentary track, Jerry Seinfeld and Colin Quinn talk about watching themselves perform. They mention how excruciatingly difficult it is for them to watch their own standup performances.
I remind myself that if these great comedians find it difficult to watch themselves, even after all these years of performing, then we shouldn’t feel so bad about listening to our own performances. That comes in handy when listening to your finished podcast interview, where every flaw, every stutter, every flubbed joke will come back to haunt you.
In order to get better, you have to listen to the finished podcast. While you do so, you have to maintain a curious double-state of mind (elegantly summed up in this review of Comedian). On the one hand, you have to accept completely how it went. There is no use beating yourself up with I should have said or I could have said, because you didn’t. It’s set in stone. That interview is going with you to your grave.
On the other hand, you have to continually look for areas of improvement. After I did the Giant Robots podcast, for example, I wrote down a short list of what went well (including some of the items above), and what I could improve (including some of the items above). A few weeks later, on The Busy Creator, I could hear some of the improvements, as well as identify new ones.
Podcasts are an easy way to get your message out there, a uniquely effective kind of content marketing. In a nutshell: Do your homework, add value, and work on getting better. That’s how you get invited back.
Sir John Hargrave is the CEO of Media Shower and author of the upcoming book Mind Hacking. This post is free to distribute under CC 4.0: if you like it, please share it.